Sunday

24th Jan 2021

EU to scale back Greek asylum aid

  • Moria camp in Lesbos in late 2015. Conditions remain deplorable. (Photo: Save the Children)

Stranded refugees on the Greek islands will soon have to rely on the Greek government for all basic services.

Athens is set to nationalise services over the summer that were previously funded by the EU amid concerns that it won't be able to deliver, as some 60 people continue to arrive from Turkey to the islands on a daily basis.

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Greek socialist MEP Miltiadis Kyrkos, at a hearing on the issue at the European Parliament on Wednesday (12 July), said that the transition of aid from EU-funded NGOs to the Greek state will be a "disaster."

Conditions at some of the camps on the islands remain deplorable, with asylum seekers setting fire to tents earlier this week at Moria in Lesbos.

Crowded conditions, poor food, and lack of security has pushed many to the edge of exasperation.

Human Rights Watch, an NGO, over May and June had also documented the mental health of asylum seekers and migrants on Lesbos.

Self-harm, suicide attempts, aggression, anxiety, and depression are becoming more widespread, it noted. Around 14,000 people are stranded on the islands.

Their plight is likely to become even worse amid persistent fears that Turkey may renege on its shaky deal with the EU to prevent Syrians from leaving towards Greece.

Kyrkos said Lesbos currently hosts ten doctors, eleven nurses, and eight psychologists, who can be accessed 24-hours a day.

Once the state takes over, Lesbos will have two doctors, one nurse, and one psychologist, with eight hours per day access, Kyrkos said.

"It is not possible to leave the islands to the Greek administration, you should intervene," he told Simon Mordue, the deputy director general at the European Commission's home affairs department, also present at the parliament hearing.

The warning appears not to have been heeded.

Mordue maintained that Greece must now "own the response" to the challenges and that the EU commission stands ready to provide the state with any further funding, in case of need.

He also noted that a call for proposals to provide shelter for unaccompanied minors had ended on 30 June.

"These are currently under evaluation, and to be concluded, and I hope [them] to be signed by the Greek government by 1 August," he said.

But broader questions persist on how well Greece has managed the EU funding, given the poor state of reception on the islands.

Last winter, asylum seekers on the islands woke up in deep snow, despite assurances by Greek migration minister Yiannis Mouzalas that the camps had been winter-proofed.

The EU has earmarked over €500 million for Greece between 2014 and 2020.

An additional €362 million has been made available for emergency assistance, either directly to Greek authorities or international aid organisations and NGOs.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) received a record €340 million from the EU between 2015 and 2016.

"We are absolutely ready to progressively step back and disengage from Greece as long as this done responsibly," said an official from the UNHCR.

Greece has since published calls for reception services on the islands. This is currently under evaluation.

The plan is to create an additional 2,000 spaces available for unaccompanied minors before the end of the year.

But NGOs working on the islands remain wary.

"To date, no national response plan has been released, and information about how the transition will be implemented is severely lacking," a group of NGOs, including Doctors without Borders and Save the Children, said in a joint-statement.

In 2016, Greece recognised 2,700 people as refugees, compared to over 3,000 since the start of this year.

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EU Parliament pressing for inquiry into Frontex

MEPs are drumming up support for an inquiry into the EU's controversial border and coast guard agency, Frontex. So far, the Greens, the left-wing GUE, and Renew Europe are on board - amid expectations the centre-left S&D will also join.

Turkey snubs Greece on migrant returnees

The Greek government last week requested that the European Commission and EU border agency Frontex help return 1,450 failed asylum seekers to Turkey. Turkey has refused, citing the pandemic.

How Belgian government got caught up in human smuggling

Former Belgian minister Theo Francken gave one of his party friends the power to put Syrian Christians on a list to get Belgian humanitarian visa. This week that colleague was convicted of human smuggling.

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