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EU launches emergency humanitarian aid plan for refugee crisis

Over one million migrants have entered the EU since the start of 2015 [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 March, 2016

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Greece and other countries struggling to cope with a massive influx of refugees will receive €700 million in extra European Union funding for emergency aid.

The European Union has announced unprecedented plans to provide Greece and other member states with 700 million euros in emergency humanitarian aid to cope with the refugee crisis.

The funds will be allocated over three years, with 300 million euros in 2016 and 200 million euros in each of the following years, EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides said on Wednesday.

"No time can be lost in deploying all means possible to prevent humanitarian suffering within our own borders," Stylianides said in a statement. 

"Today's proposal will make 700 million euros ($760 million) available to provide help where it is most needed."

If approved by member states and the European Parliament, the plan by the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, would amount to the bloc's first distribution of humanitarian cash within Europe rather than outside the bloc.

The aid plan will also be coordinated for the first time with UN and other aid agencies, the Commission said. 

He did not say how much will be earmarked for Greece, which has asked for around 480 million euros ($520 million) to help shelter 100,000 refugees, though he acknowledged Greece earlier as a main concern.

The funds will not be diverted from the EU's existing external humanitarian aid programmes, he said.

The EU currently has 1.2 billion available every year for humanitarian aid outside the bloc.

The new aid mechanism will be triggered when EU states show their "response capacities are overwhelmed by urgent and exceptional circumstances" such as a refugee crisis but also nuclear or chemical accidents, terrorist attacks or epidemics.

It will aim to meet basic needs such as food, shelter and medicine to the flood of children, women, and men arriving in EU countries, officials added.

'Weaponising' migrants

NATO's top General Philip Breedlove meanwhile accused Russia and Syria of "weaponising" the massive influx of people fleeing the Syrian conflict in a bid to destabilise the West.

While Greece remains the main entry point for migrants - 1.13 million of whom have entered the EU since the start of 2015 - the effects have been felt across the European Union.

In the French port of Calais, demolition workers set about razing makeshift shelters in the "Jungle" migrant camp for a third day under close watch of dozens of police officers equipped with water cannon.

While Greece remains the main entry point for migrants - 1.13 million of whom have entered the EU since the start of 2015 - the effects have been felt across the European Union

The camp has become a magnet for people hoping to reach Britain.

Officials have tried to convince inhabitants to leave voluntarily and move to better accommodation provided for them, but many refused.

There has been no repeat of the violent clashes that erupted on Monday, but some remained defiant in the face of the bulldozers.

Officials say the demolition will affect between 800 and 1,000 people, although charities working there say there are more than 3,450 people in the southern half of the camp being demolished, including 300 unaccompanied children.

Greek misery

The late winter freeze brought similar misery to Greece's border with Macedonia, where refugees including children were teargassed on Monday in shocking scenes.

More than 7,000 people have been stuck on the frontier after Balkan states imposed a tight daily limit on the number of migrants allowed to enter.

Bleak scenes saw the refugees stranded in mud-soaked fields and fighting over food distributed from the back of a van.

"We have been waiting for six days," said Farah, a 32-year-old Syrian, as a van distributing canned food and long-life milk was quickly mobbed and emptied in minutes.

"The food is not enough, everyone is lying to us and we are desperate," she said.

A Greek source told AFP that about half the aid Athens is seeking from the EU would go on accommodating 50,000 refugees in camps while the rest would go on hotels and lodgings.

Greece says looking after the migrants will require around 8,200 officials - police, firemen, medical staff, field workers and translators.

The crowded conditions are leading to shortages of food, shelter, water and sanitation. Tensions have been building, fuelling violence and playing into the hands of people smugglers
- Adrian Edwards

The situation in Greece has sparked growing criticism of countries that have capped the number of migrants they are willing to let in, with a domino effect of border closures in the Balkans.

The United Nations said more than 131,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe so far this year, more than the total number for the first five months of 2015.

On Tuesday, the UN warned of "an imminent humanitarian crisis" facing Europe.

"With governments not working together despite having already reached agreements in a number of areas, and country after country imposing new border restrictions, inconsistent practices are causing unnecessary suffering and risk being at variance with EU and international law standards," Adrian Edwards, Spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR), told a press briefing in Geneva.

Edwards added that as of last night, the number of refugees and migrants in Greece in need of accommodation has soared to 24,000. Around 8,500 people are at Eidomeni, near the border with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

"The crowded conditions are leading to shortages of food, shelter, water and sanitation. Tensions have been building, fuelling violence and playing into the hands of people smugglers," he said.

In a bid to ease the deep divisions over the crisis, EU president Donald Tusk set off Tuesday on a tour taking him to Vienna and the Balkan states, as well as Turkey, the main departure point for refugees.

Ahead of a crucial EU-Turkey summit on 7 March, Tusk said he will press for "a more intensive engagement" from Ankara on a deal signed with the EU in November to limit the flow of refugees.

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