EU unveils €700m migrant aid plan for Greece

2016-03-02 21:06
Stranded refugees look at the wire fence that separates the Greek side from the Macedonian one at the northern Greek border station of Idomeni. (AP)

Stranded refugees look at the wire fence that separates the Greek side from the Macedonian one at the northern Greek border station of Idomeni. (AP)

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Brussels - The EU proposed on Wednesday €700m in emergency aid for Greece and other states as it began to tackle the migrant crisis within its borders like humanitarian disasters in developing countries.

The United Nations has warned of a looming humanitarian crisis as thousands of refugees are stuck in wintry misery at the Greece-Macedonia border after Balkans states and Austria capped the numbers arriving.

Greece has been the main point of entry for the 1.13 million migrants who have arrived since the start of 2015 in the European Union, which has been divided and weakened by its biggest migration crisis since World War II.

"No time can be lost in deploying all means possible to prevent humanitarian suffering within our own borders," EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides said in announcing the plan.

The funds would be allocated over three years, with €300m in 2016, and €200m in each of the following years under the plan, which must be approved by a majority of member states and the European Parliament.

"To a great extent, this assistance will go to Greece. This is where we have the most serious humanitarian crisis," Stylianides told a press conference in Brussels.

Athens has asked for around €480m to help shelter 100 000 refugees.

Macedonia border misery

The crisis is particularly acute at the Greek border crossing of Idomeni where more than 10 000 are stuck after Balkan states including neighbouring Macedonia imposed tighter controls.

Non-EU Macedonia on Wednesday allowed about 200 Syrian and Iraqi refugees to cross, the first group since dawn on Monday, when another 300 were let through before the frontier was closed.

Those kept out had then tried to break through the border fence, but were blocked by Macedonian police who fired tear gas at them.

Bleak scenes were playing out on Wednesday with refugees in mud-soaked fields fighting over food distributed from the back of a van, as aid agencies reported a lack of food and tents, and warned that the wintry weather was taking a toll on people's health.

"We have been waiting for six days," said Farah, a 32-year-old Syrian woman. "The food is not enough, everyone is lying to us and we are desperate."

Meanwhile in the northern French port of Calais, demolition workers were razing makeshift shelters in the so-called Jungle migrant camp for the third day running under close watch of dozens of police officers equipped with water cannon.

The camp is a magnet for people hoping to reach Britain and many have refused to leave, although there has been no repeat of the violent clashes that erupted on Monday.

Migrants returned to Turkey

So far, more than 131 000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe this year, UN figures show - more than the total number for the first five months of 2015. Last year, a million landed on Europe's shores.

"Europe is on the cusp of a largely self-induced humanitarian crisis," UN Refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesperson Adrian Edwards said on Tuesday.

The European plan for an internal aid mechanism marks a departure for the 28-nation bloc, which normally only gives aid to countries outside the EU, notably in the Middle East and Africa.

The EU, which has an annual aid budget of €1.2bn for external countries, would work directly with the UN and other aid agencies in Europe, in another first.

But the apparent show of European solidarity masks growing criticism of countries that have capped the number of migrants they are willing to let in.

European leaders are divided ahead of two summits this month on the migration crisis, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying that debt-hit Greece must not be allowed to plunge into "chaos".

The crisis has also raised fears for the EU's Schengen passport-free zone as more states bring back border controls.

"It is the crisis that is testing our union to the limit," EU President Donald Tusk said in Zaghreb as he tours the Balkan states and Turkey in a bid to ease tensions.

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

Around 380 migrants who cannot be classified as refugees were being returned from Greece to Turkey, in what may be a sign of improved cooperation, the European Commission said.

Read more on:    eu  |  greece  |  macedonia  |  migrants

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