Posted on March 3, 2016

European Union Plans Emergency Aid to Help Trapped Refugees

James Kanter, New York Times, March 2, 2016

For the first time in its history, the European Union on Wednesday announced plans for an emergency aid package to alleviate large-scale suffering inside its borders, where tens of thousands of migrants are trapped in Greece as they seek asylum in northern Europe. {snip} About 9,000 asylum seekers are stuck along the Greek-Macedonian border, according to monitoring groups. Migrants who have made it to Athens are crowded into camps and refugee centers that are either full or nearly so. The spending proposal–700 million euros, or about $760 million, which the bloc’s member governments have yet to approve–is intended to help those migrants trapped in Greece and, if needed, in other countries on the front lines of the migration crisis, such as Bulgaria and Italy. {snip}

With the weather turning warmer and the sea crossing from Turkey to Greece becoming more navigable, the number of migrants making the trip is expected to rise in coming weeks. This may put even more pressure on Greece, which could become a giant holding center for migrants who cannot go forward, but who will not, or cannot, go back. Greece risks becoming a “new Lebanon for Europe, a warehouse of souls,” Ioannis Mouzalas, a Greek minister for immigration policy, warned last week at a meeting in Brussels of the European Union’s interior ministers. {snip}

Normally, the bloc reserves humanitarian aid from its budget to spend on things like tents and food in poorer parts of the world that are struck by natural disasters or conflicts. It has paid for humanitarian aid missions in Iraq, South Sudan and Syria in the past decade. Yet the number of migrants reaching Greece has forced Europe to adapt its aid policies to try to avert a catastrophe on the Continent. {snip} The so-called Emergency Assistance Instrument would allow for a faster, more targeted response to major crises, including helping member states cope with large numbers of refugees, according to the commission. The money, to be disbursed over the next three years, would go to organizations such as United Nations agencies and aid groups, the commission said. {snip}