EU to allocate €700 million for refugees stuck in Greece
The European Union is preparing to allocate up to €700 million over the next three years for humanitarian aid inside the bloc, primarily for Greece, where tens of thousands of migrants are being bottled up by the imposition of border restrictions by countries further north.
Under the plan, to be formally put forward on Wednesday by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive, EU funds will be used for humanitarian operations within the bloc as they currently are in conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East, according to three officials familiar with the talks.
At present, the bloc’s budget and staff can only be used to a limited extent to deal with humanitarian operations inside the EU, mainly to coordinate bilateral aid sent by other EU countries to a member state in distress, for instance when there is an earthquake or other natural disaster. Setting up refugee camps in tandem with the United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR) has up to now been something that could only be done outside the EU.
At their last meeting in Brussels on February 19, EU leaders said it was “necessary to now put in place the capacity for the EU to provide humanitarian assistance internally, in cooperation with organisations such as the UNHCR, to support countries facing large numbers of refugees and migrants.” They asked the commission to come up with a proposal as soon as possible.
The instrument will only need the approval of the bloc’s member states, as it is based on a provision in the EU treaties that doesn’t require the involvement of the European Parliament.
National border restrictions put in place by Austria and the Balkan countries, combined with the bloc’s declared objective of reinstating the rule under which migrants must apply for asylum in their country of arrival in the EU, has accelerated the humanitarian crisis shaping up in Greece.
Tensions flared on Monday at the Greek-FYROM border, as hundreds of migrants tried to force their way up north, the main migrant trail that so far has brought over one million people to Europe, mostly to Germany and Scandinavian countries.
Earlier this month, commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker promised Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras €500 million to help him cope with the imminent humanitarian crisis, according to one official. Greek officials estimate that the costs relating to the migration crisis, given the likelihood that more people will get stuck in the country, will reach €1 billion this year alone.