EU to launch humanitarian aid plan within its own borders

Elaionas Refugee Camp

Three times per day, the volunteers from the Hellenic Red Cross prepare and deliver food to the refugees at Greece's Elaiones refugee camp. Athens, September 2015. [International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent/Flickr]

EXCLUSIVE / The European Commission is set to adopt today (2 March) a new plan aimed at providing humanitarian assistance to refugees inside the European Union, according to a draft proposal seen by EURACTIV Greece.

The Commission will propose a regulation on the provision of emergency aid within the EU’s borders, breaking with normal rules, which restrict humanitarian aid to overseas countries only.

The lack of cooperation among member states has prompted the executive to find creative ways of helping EU countries that are being severely hit by the refugee crisis.

“For the first time we mobilise resources, legislation and money that will enable Europe to act and within the EU, not only in crises in the Third World,” Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas told a European Parliament gathering yesterday (1 March).

The document obtained by EURACTIV says it is necessary to develop an instrument with “a dedicated budget that allows the EU to provide financial support to humanitarian partners capable of rapidly implementing emergency actions in support of overwhelmed member states”.

“The measures contained in the proposed regulation will aim to address the exceptional humanitarian challenges that have emerged from the ongoing migratory situation,” it reads.

Focus on Western Balkans

Budget-wise, the European Commission estimates that €700 million is required over the next three years in order to address humanitarian needs in Europe “particularly in EU countries along the Western Balkans route”.

For 2016, €300 million will be allocated to support and complement member states’ actions to address the outstanding humanitarian needs of refugees and migrants.

A further €200 million should be earmarked in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

The executive explains in the document that the Union’s existing Civil Protection Mechanism is “not suitably equipped to address the wide-ranging structural humanitarian needs resulting from the refugee and migration crisis”.

Third World comes to Europe

The document continues, saying that the regulation’s goal is to lay down measures, which will allow the EU to provide emergency financial support for “urgently needed life-saving and humanitarian relief operations within the EU”.

The costs of emergency response operations directly related to the ongoing migration and refugee crisis will be covered.

Regarding the ongoing refugee crisis, the European Commission stresses that the new regulation will focus on basic relief items, health, education and protection services shelter material and related services, water and sanitation, or other types of urgently needed relief.

It also provides an enhanced role for partner organisations like UN agencies, the Red Cross, NGOs, as well as specialised services of member states.

“The proposed regulation builds upon the solid experience that the Commission’s Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection has acquired in its fields of competence, allowing it to mirror inside the EU the actions it normally performs in third countries.”

It additionally provides grants and public procurement contracts, which would be awarded directly, and cover up to 100% of eligible costs.

Schinas: Europe will be strengthened

Speaking at an event in the European Parliament yesterday (1 March), Schinas said he was optimistic about the future of the EU and Greece.

“We will have positive developments. Historically in Europe, the system is built in a way that it’s getting enhanced in crises,” said the spokesperson, a Greek national who was appointed to the Commission by President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Schinas was speaking to a group of Greek MEPs and other participants who were gathered for a discussion about petroleum in Greece.

“Crises historically strengthened Europe. Apathy on the contrary made it shrink,” the EU official said in remarks that were initially not intended for publication.

Schinas also warned against national solutions to the refugee crisis.

“If some [member states] believe that they can find a solution to the refugee crisis by themselves, the history and the facts will prove they are wrong […]. If one loses this is not going to be Europe but them,” he stressed.

He hailed Greece for taking a “historical” responsibility “in the name of European values”.

Gianni Pittella, leader of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the European Parliament: “The inhuman situation in which refugees, human beings, are living in Greece is no longer acceptable. European leaders and public opinion should realise that also within Europe, humanitarian assistance is now needed. As our S&D group already urged, we now call on the EU Commission and especially on the EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides, to activate an emergency assistance instrument from Europe to Europe.”

“As National governments were not able so far to tackle properly the refugees crisis, European Union as such must demonstrate to be capable of reducing humanitarian suffering of refugees providing basic necessities: shelter, healthcare, food, education. This is a priority as human beings!” he added.

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