Emergency funds sprout up to temper storm of refugee crises

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos [European Commission]

The EU is stepping up its emergency funds for crises stemming from the growing number of refugees arriving to Europe. Greece is requesting aid through various EU channels after taking in more refugees last month than in all of 2014.

“The world finds itself facing the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. And Europe finds itself struggling to deal with the high influxes of people seeking refuge within our borders,” EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said at a press conference today (14 August).

Countries can apply for emergency funds to manage crises, which so far have primarily targeted improving conditions in reception centres. Nine member states—Greece, Hungary, Italy, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Austria, France, the Netherlands and Germany—have received emergency funds to date.

>>Read: Commission on collision course with member states on migration

The Greek crisis

Greece recently requested €2.74 million in emergency aid to set up a reception centre on the Aegean islands run by UNHCR. Avramopoulos said this afternoon that the Commission is fast tracking the request under the Internal Security Funding programme.

On top of that, the Commissioner said he encouraged Greece to submit another request for emergency financial support under the Commission’s Asylum Fund.

Close to 50,000 migrants arrived in Greece during the month of July, topping the number of arrivals from all of last year. 43,500 migrants arrived in Greece throughout 2014.

Yesterday, Avramopoulos met with Greek officials in Athens after at least 1,000 refugees were trapped in an outdoor stadium in Kos for around 20 hours without water on Wednesday.

“We know the great pressure on the country and the difficulties faced in addressing it. We know that it is not unlinked to the economic situation,” he said.

The Commission announced this spring that it would double its emergency funds for frontline member states dealing with growing numbers of refugees to €50 million for this year. There’s over €40 million remaining in the Commission’s 2014-2015 emergency Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund.

As another emergency measure to decrease the number of migrant deaths crossing the Mediterranean by boat, member states agreed to add more funding to the maritime search and rescue programmes Triton and Poseidon.

The deadline for the added funding lapsed on 30 July, but many EU countries still haven’t followed through with funds for Poseidon, which started running in the Greek Aegean islands in February.

“I would like to reiterate my call on member states to pledge the assets needed for Frontex Joint-Operation Poseidon operating in the Aegean Sea without delay,” Avramopoulos said.

On top of Greece’s pending request for emergency aid, Avramopoulos said today that Athens is about to ask for additional money through the civil protection mechanism, the EU programme for humanitarian emergency relief.

The aid programme is often used in natural disasters, and was requested this week by Macedonia after major floods there. Countries can ask other participating states through the mechanism to send expertise or equipment and material aid to a crisis area.

Recently, Slovakia and the Czech Republic sent tents to house refugees in Hungary through the civil protection mechanism. In 2013, Bulgaria also used the programme when high numbers of Syrian refugees arrived there.

>>Read: Council lessens Hungary and Bulgaria’s migrant obligations

NGOS say emergency funds are not the only answer

Kris Pollet, senior policy advisor at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, called the rise in emergency funds “a sign that the current system isn’t ready to accommodate those numbers and that the level of funding available at the EU level is insufficient.”

Pollet pointed to Belgium as an example of poor planning on the national level, where the number of spaces for refugees in reception centres was decreased last year. Belgium now faces a shortage of housing for asylum seekers.

“In terms of the authorities’ contingency planning there’s a lot that can be done. There’s a need for a more flexible system that can respond to the variations and the influx more adequately,” Pollet said.

Separately from those emergency help packages, the European Commission said it would give Greece €474 million and Italy €560 million dispersed over the next six years from funds set up to help countries bearing the brunt of the crisis.

Avramopoulos confirmed today that a first allotment of €30 million would be dispensed to Greece once the country creates an authority to oversee the funds.

Amnesty International criticised authorities’ management of the crisis on the Greek islands.

“Today’s measures announced by the Commission, if correctly channeled towards those in need, may help support the country and vulnerable people. But overall a broader rethink of EU asylum policies and practices is needed,” said Iverna McGowan, acting director for Amnesty’s EU institutions office.

Talks with countries of origin

Avramopoulos also argued in favour of strenghtened cooperation with countries where asylum seekers come from or travel through on their way to Europe. In an effort to stem the number of migrants making the journey, the Commission has said it will step up development aid in some countries.

The Commissioner said he plans to visit Niger and Turkey to discuss agreements to return unsuccessful asylum applications. Many migrants who arrive in Greece travel through Turkey on their way from Syria and other war-torn countries.

In November, EU and African Union countries will meet in Valletta for a summit on the factors driving migration from Africa to Europe.

Meeting on short notice for an extraordinary summit on 23 April 2015, EU leaders dealt Jean-Claude Juncker a double-blow on immigration. First, his proposal for legal migration was not supported. Second, he tried to secure resettlement across Europe for 10,000 refugees. Instead, he had to settle for a first voluntary pilot project on resettlement for those qualifying for protection.

EU leaders decided to triple annual funding to €120 million to the Operation Triton, an EU frontier operation off of the coast of Italy, putting it at the same level of funding as the defunct Italian Mare Nostrum mission.

Among 17 proposals in a summit communiqué, leaders agreed to "undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers". It is unclear how that may be achieved, and several EU leaders said they would need a UN mandate in the absence of a viable Libyan government.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country, along with Sweden, takes in a large proportion of asylum-seekers, called for a change in the EU's system of managing asylum claims to better distribute the pressures across the bloc.

It also became known that the EU is seeking United Nations Security Council approval to seize vessels used to traffic migrants across the Mediterranean from Libya, though Russia has signaled it would not allow destruction of the vessels.

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