The European Commission said today (1 March) that it was “very concerned” that refugees had been tear-gassed on the Macedonian border with Greece, as it confirmed plans to use overseas aid in the EU to deal with the refugee crisis.
Border restrictions have blocked refugees’ journey from Greece into northern Europe. On Monday (29 February), Macedonian border guards fired tear gas at people trying to break down the border fences.
Spokesman Margaritis Schinas said, “The Commission is very concerned about the images we say yesterday. It is up to Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to defend their borders but the images we saw yesterday show that the only solution is a European solution, a collective solution.”
The European solution advanced by the executive involves relocating quotas of refugees across the EU and the creation of an EU border guard. Ireland has opted-in to the relocation scheme, it was announced today.
Macedonia’s foreign minister defended the use of tear gas, which was also used by French police yesterday in the razing of the Jungle refugee camp in Calais.
“What we have seen is some 400 young male people trying forcibly to enter Macedonian territory from Greece,” Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki told BBC Newsnight late Monday.
The European Commission will earmark €700 million euros of humanitarian aid – usually destined for conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East – over the next three years to deal with the flood of refugees, according to reports.
Funds will be sent to set up emergency programmes in Greece, where more than 7,000 refugees are stranded, if the plan is backed tomorrow by the Commissioners.
Schinas told reporters in Brussels the plan would be discussed by Commissioners tomorrow morning before being officially unveiled. He refused to confirm exact figures.
The spokesman said said, “This is a necessary step the Commission is taking to provide necessary funding. From start of crisis the priority has been to save human life.”
The plan has already been backed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the 19 February summit. Other EU nations and the European Parliament will also have to support the plan
Tusk on tour
Macedonia is on the so-called Western Balkans Route. European Council President Donald Tusk is touring the region to heal deep division between countries before the summit he will helm on 7 March.
Today, he is in Vienna, which has put a cap on asylum seekers entering Austria. That triggered a domino effect among counties along the route, including EU member states Croatia and Slovenia.
EU leaders, and Turkey’s prime minister, will meet in Brussels on Monday (7 March) for a summit on the refugee crisis. Many refugees travel through Turkey to Greece.
The EU has offered Turkey €3 billion in cash to help the refugees but to keep them in Turkey, and outside of the EU. A visa liberalisation scheme has also been put on the table.
A Commission spokesman said the summit was a chance to discuss all issues linked to the refugee crisis, including Turkey, and Austria’s introduction of strict border controls.
Those border controls were criticised by Merkel in an interview with German television on Sunday. Germany has accepted the largest number of refugees in the EU.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker yesterday called Greek premier Alexis Tsipras to pledge his support for Greece.
Greece has asked the EU for €480 million in emergency funds to help shelter 100,000 refugees, the government said Tuesday, warning that the migrant influx threatened to overwhelm its crisis-hit resources.
Government spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili told reporters, “We cannot bear the strain of all the refugees coming here […] these are temporary measures, there needs to be a permanent solution on where the refugees will be relocated.”