Sunday

23rd Jul 2017

Greece struggling to spend EU migrant funds

  • Fewer people are 'overtly' arriving in Greece since a March deal with Turkey (Photo: Christopher Jahn/IFRC)

Hundreds of millions of available EU funds have yet to be used by the Greek state to help migrants and refugees.

Administrative bottlenecks on the Greek side mean that facilities to house people remain deplorable, and in some cases, even worse than under the previous government, according to one Greek aid worker.

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  • A 2010 photo of migrants in a centre in Greece, when conditions were better, according to one Greek aid worker (Photo: Human Rights Watch)

The European Commission, for its part, said it will soon be sending someone to Athens to help the government resolve its issues in an effort to better spend the money.

"We have received very, very few expenditure claims so far [from the Greek state ]," an EU official told this website on Friday (16 September).

What has been dispersed has gone primarily to NGOs, international aid organisations, and EU agencies working in Greece.

To speed up the spending, the EU commission wants the Greek state to transfer the responsibility for the overall management of its national programmes to the Greek ministry of economy.

The struggle within the Greek government was highlighted when the state's general secretary for migration, Odysseas Voudouris, resigned last week.

"Facilities are unregulated. New employees are arriving now ... there is no one in charge to tell them what their task is," he told Greek radio Vima FM.

Money pot

Greece has some €509 million of long term EU funds for its national programmes up until 2020.

A first pre-financing payment of €33 million was made last September and a second one of €36 million was disbursed in February this year.

It means a total of approximately €70 million has been disbursed so far. But a lot of that money has ended up with NGOs and international organisations.

"It's not all been given to the Greek authorities because precisely they've had an issue spending the funds," said the EU official.

The €509 million awarded to Greece is taken from the EU's Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) and the Internal Security Fund (ISF).

Emergency assistance and NGOs

Greece has also obtained a lot of separate EU emergency funding, but it too has mostly bypassed the government.

In January, the UN refugee agency UNHCR received some €80 million.

Over €352 million in emergency assistance has been awarded to Greece since last year. And another €115 million was announced only earlier this month.

Some of it has ended up at the Greek ministry of defence and interior. In mid-July, the Greek defence ministry gained access to over €50 million.

That money is supposed to help set up shelter, accommodation, catering, healthcare, and transportation at open accommodation centres.

Abusive conditions

But none of the emergency money has gone to pre-removal and detention centres.

Spyros Rizakos works for the Athens-based Aitima NGO, which monitors Greek detention facilities.

He says many people still have no access to basic services like social and health workers and that detention centres are in desperate need of repairs.

"The funding has not come yet," he said.

There are far fewer people being held in detention centres, when compared to a few years ago. But the conditions are far worse in comparison, says Rizakos.

"In the previous government, we had about 7,000 detainees and at the same time the detention centres were in a better state, in a better condition, because there was funding at the time," he said.

The issue was highlighted in a report earlier last week by Human Rights Watch, which found minors living in squalid and abusive conditions.

"Children face unsanitary and degrading conditions and abusive treatment, including detention with adults and ill-treatment by police," noted the report.

Feature

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Asylum centres on the Greek islands have borne the brunt of implementing the EU-Turkey deal. The centre on Samos island has struggled more than the others.

Italy's 'nuclear option' on migrants unravels

Media has reported that Italy may issue visas to migrants to allow them to travel further north. But the plan is unlikely to work due to EU rules underpinning such decisions.

Austria readies for migrant border surge

Foreign ministers in Brussels agreed to toughen up measures against Libyan migrant smugglers amid Austrian claims it is ready to "protect" its borders from any sudden mass migrant movements from Italy.

EU backs Italy on NGO rescues

The European Commission has said that the EU and Italy merely want to “better organise” migrant rescues in the Central Mediterranean.

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