EU unveils €700m refugee fund with Greece in mind
By Eszter Zalan
The European Commission unveiled Wednesday (2 March) plans for an emergency fund of €700 million over the next three years to help EU countries struggling with the huge influx of refugees.
While the EU has been providing humanitarian assistance to countries outside the bloc for decades, this is the first time the EU will do the same for its own members.
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“The fund will reduce humanitarian suffering of refugees in Europe,” commissioner for aid Christos Stylianides told journalists.
He said there’s no “magic formula” for the crisis, but said the new fund “will help to ensure that we can provide a European solution.”
The planned help, which is to provide quick and targeted assistance, will be available to all 28 member states, but is aimed at EU countries overwhelmed by the influx of refugees, especially Greece.
“This assistance, to a great extent, will go to Greece, it goes without saying, because that’s where we recently have the biggest humanitarian crisis due to the new circumstances which have developed,” Stylianides said.
“Front line member states will be first beneficiaries,” an EU source added.
The money will only be available once EU member states and the European Parliament amend the bloc’s budget to make €300 million ready this year, and to earmark €200 million each for 2017 and 2018.
Officials said they would prepare the paperwork in the next two weeks. They don’t know yet which other parts of the existing budget the money will be taken from.
But they say overall ceilings won’t go up, in a decision immediately welcomed by financial hawks, such as the UK.
Stylianides also declined to say how much money will go to Greece.
But Athens has already requested €480 million to help shelter 100,000 people, amid a build-up of refugees caused by border restrictions in Austria, Macedonia, and Serbia.
EU officials said they are assessing the Greek request in time for the EU-Turkey summit on Monday. Sources added that the money to meet the Greek request would have to come from a mixture of sources.
According to commission estimates, 25,000 people are stuck in Greece and up to 3,000 more are arriving each day.
The situation is acute at the Greek-Macedonia crossing of Idomeni, where 10,000 people are camping in the open to be let through.
On Wednesday, Macedonia allowed some 170 Syrian and Iraqi refugees to cross. It was the first such group since Monday, when local police teargassed migrants, including children, after some tried to force their way through a fence.
EU officials also say work on potential aid projects is to start immediately, to be ready to act once the money is available.
“We are preparing the actual operations with partners on the ground within the next few weeks rather than months,” an EU source said.
The assistance will not go to member states’ governments directly, but will be used by aid organisations or UN agencies on the ground.
It will pay for food, shelter, medicine, clean water, sanitation, and basic health and education services.
Other EU funds on migration and internal security have already been used for dealing with the refugee problem, with €327 million in assistance previously allocated to EU states.
Greece was awarded €148 million, while non-EU members Serbia and Macedonia received €20 million.
Another €22 million was allocated for humanitarian aid to the Western Balkans on a regional basis.