The European Commission will this week propose using funds usually earmarked for catastrophes outside the bloc to provide aid to EU countries affected by the migrant crisis, a spokeswoman said Monday (29 February).
If confirmed, the plan will send funds and set up emergency programmes in Greece, where more than 7,000 people are stranded as border restrictions block their journey to northern Europe.
The Commission’s emergency programme is usually intended to help deprived areas and conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East and signals that the EU is resolved to take unprecedented solutions to fight the refugee crisis.
“I can confirm that the commission will present the proposal to provide emergency aid within the European Union,” a spokeswoman told AFP in an email, adding that the plan would be unveiled Wednesday by Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides.
Stylianides will reportedly announce an aid package of €700 million over three years, mainly to Greece.
The plan is a direct result of an EU summit on 19 February where European leaders, pushed by Germany’s Angela Merkel, requested the commission “put in place the capacity for the EU to provide humanitarian assistance internally”.
The measure would allow the Commission to build on experience “in cooperation with organisations such as the UNHCR, to support (EU) countries facing large numbers of refugees and migrants,” the leaders said.
Greece is the main arrival point for the huge flow of people fleeing war and poverty who are arriving in Europe — mainly via Turkey — in the worst crisis of its kind in EU history.
On Sunday (28 February), the Greek migration ministry said Athens had submitted an emergency plan to the EU, “requesting 450 million euros in equipment and staff for the temporary camps of refugees who are expected to be trapped in our country”.
Several EU countries, especially those along the so-called Balkan route, have expressed their impatience with Greece, accusing Athens of doing little to secure its borders and stem the migrant flow.
Tensions boiled over on Monday when hundreds of refugees tried to break through a border fence into Macedonia from Greece. Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov on Monday said that the Balkan refugee route will have to close once Austria shuts its border to more migrants, a decision he warned could be imminent.
US under pressure to take lead in Syria migrant crisis
The United States is under growing pressure to play a stronger role in dealing with a flow of Middle East refugees that threatens to plunge Europe into chaos.
Senior former and serving US officials told AFP that some in Washington regard the Syrian migrant crisis as an existential threat to the European project.
President Barack Obama, already under fire for his handling of the Syrian crisis itself, now faces calls to show more US leadership in accepting refugees.
“This risks unraveling the European Union as a political construct,” Ryan Crocker, a former US ambassador to Syria, Iraq and Lebanon said Monday. “This current refugee crisis is by far the largest crisis since the end of World War II — literally in 70 years — and it is getting worse.”
The United States regards the exodus of Middle Eastern refugees to Europe as a “global challenge,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday, reassuring his German counterpart of US support.
“It is not somebody else’s problem. It is a test for all of us,” Kerry declared, at a Washington news conference with Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
“The United States considers the refugee crisis to be global. The impact first was felt obviously by Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. They’ve born an unbelievable burden in the course of these four-plus years of war.”
Washington boasts of being the biggest single donor to the refugee relief effort, having spent $5.1 billion, largely to support refugee camps in Syria’s neighbors Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.
But President Barack Obama has only ordered that the United States itself resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year — and managed to screen just 942 in the first five months of this period.
Some in Washington regard the crisis as the worst challenge to Europe since the aftermath of World War II and a threat to the survival of the European Union. The administration is under pressure to do more.
But Kerry has said the priority is to push for a political settlement in Syria that would end the war and stop the refugee flow at its source.