Cohesion money ‘won’t buy our consent,’ Greek islands governor says

Human rights activists protest in front of European Parliament during debate on Greek Moria refugee camp crisis at plenary session of European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, 17 September 2020. [Shutterstock/Alexandros Michailidis]

EU cohesion policy funds to support social and professional integration of migrants and refugees will not solve the problems faced by Greek islands hosting camps, the governor of the region told EURACTIV.

For six years we haven’t seen the solidarity, we have been left alone. Greece didn’t show solidarity, Europe didn’t show solidarity,” Konstantinos Moutzouris, governor of the North Aegean region, said.

The 2021-2027 financing period of the EU’s policy to decrease social and territorial disparities between its regions, foresees EU funding for local migrant integration strategies, a new innovation.

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With the EU’s New Pact on Asylum and Migration presented recently, the issue of migration remains on the top of the agenda for decision-makers across the bloc. Though most often thought of as the competence of national governments, local and …

The Asylum and Migration Fund will focus on migrants’ short-term needs upon arrival while the longer-term cohesion policy will support their social and professional integration.

“Yes, it’s something to have this money, but it’s not all. We prefer not to have the money at the same time not to have the immigration problem here,” Moutzouris told EURACTIV.

“It’s not the money that will buy our consent,” he added.

The Greek islands, which became one of the main reception points for the migrants and refugees taking the Mediterranean route to Europe, have hosted hundreds of thousands of people since 2014.

According to Moutzouris, “this immigration problem is a European problem, it is not mainly a Greek problem, it’s a problem addressed to all of Europe. We are not here to have a camp for immigrants on a permanent basis. We accept to have an installation for registering who is arriving, and then to go away.”

In the meantime, Brussels is not oblivious to the growing resentment of locals to the migration issue.

Briefing MEPs on the current situation on the Greek islands on Wednesday (27 January), Beate Gminder, deputy director-general at the European Commission’s department for home affairs, said “something I have now witnessed for the last five months, when you speak to the local authorities, including the mayors and the governor, there is a lot of resentment on the Greek islands for having  camps available on the islands.”

“Because they feel in the last five years, they have been left alone by Europe and they have done their share,” she said.

“So if it doesn’t matter to what spectrum of the political life you speak on the islands, they have very clear messages,” Gminder added.

After the Moria camp on the island of Lesvos in the North Aegean burned down in September leaving thousands without shelter, a number of Western European nations, including Germany and France, pledged to relocate those eligible for asylum in their countries.

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By the end of last year, however, there were still more than 17,000 people left on the Greek islands out of a total of 64,756 remaining in the Greek reception system.

Though transfers to the mainland have increased and the asylum process sped up, only 2269 relocations have been completed to other European countries out of the 5145 pledged.

“One thing is important for Lesvos, it is a temporary camp and it’s always been set like that,” Gminder told European lawmakers.

“It has been built in haste because it wasn’t planned to be built on that location, it hasn’t been planned to be rebuilt [after the fire] at all like that,” she said.

According to the official, “a key job to deliver [is] a fully state of the art reception centre on the [Lesvos] island.”

Nevertheless, Gminder pointed to the frustration of the local population as one of the issues the European executive faces in building facilities for migrants and refugees.

Gminder said “it’s also difficult to find a good solution for quick works in this camp because you need to work with the electricity services to water services. and a sewage services on the island and that is often very complicated.”

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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