EU proposes 700 million euros in aid as migrants crowd into Greece

The European Union should provide 700 million euros (760 million dollars) in emergency aid through 2018 for member states worst affected by Europe's migration crisis, the bloc's executive proposed Wednesday.

The suggestion comes amid chaos at Greece's border with Macedonia, where migrants have piled up after Austria and Balkan countries started restricting passage through their countries.

"As we speak, refugees continue to escape conflict and arrive in the EU in search of safety and dignity," the bloc's humanitarian aid commissioner, Christos Stylianides, said in Brussels.

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

Stylianides spoke of 12,000 to 15,000 people needing "immediate, urgent humanitarian assistance" in the area around Idomeni - a Greek border town where crowds of people are waiting for a green light from Macedonia to continue their journey to richer countries further north.

The Macedonian authorities on Wednesday morning let only 170 refugees from Syria and Iraq enter the country, Greek police said.

Other migrants on the southern side of the border refused to move into refugee camps in the hope that Macedonia would let them cross. Many were blocking train tracks.

Greece is among the EU member states that have borne the brunt of the migration crisis, which saw more than 1 million migrants and asylum seekers reach European shores last year. There have been warnings that Greece is now headed for a humanitarian crisis.

Food and water is available for those who are permitted into refugee camps in Macedonia, but migrants without valid papers often find themselves in limbo and without humanitarian assistance.

"It is good here," one father of four told dpa after reaching Gevegelija camp in Macedonia. "In Greece it was terrible. My daughter is sick, but no medication. No food. We waited one week to come here."

On the other side of the border in Idomeni, desperate migrants were knocking on the doors of the town's 100 villagers on Tuesday night, begging for food and milk for their children, Greek media reported.

Over 55,000 migrants arrived there in February, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The European Commission's emergency aid proposal is not tailor-made for Greece, however.

The funds - 300 million euros this year and 200 million euros in each 2017 and 2018 - will provide help "wherever needs are greatest" and would benefit any member state whose "administrative and financial response capabilities are overwhelmed," Stylianides said.

But the commissioner also acknowledged that "to a great extent, this assistance will go to Greece."

But EU member states and the European Parliament will have to approve the spending plans before they can come into effect.

Under the commission's proposal, the emergency assistance would be funnelled through humanitarian aid organizations to help provide aid like food, shelter, clean water and healthcare.

The commissioner said he could envision a cash and voucher programme being started in Greece, which would allow refugees to decide what they want to buy with the aid and could bolster the local economy.

EU aid has been dispensed through such programmes in Turkey and Lebanon, but the commission is now proposing a new instrument to provide humanitarian assistance within the bloc's own territory.

"Whether it is on the other side of the world or inside our borders, we must be prepared to alleviate the suffering and ... preserve the dignity of those in need, wherever they are," Stylianides said.

Also on Wednesday, the commission announced that Greece was returning 308 irregular migrants to Turkey, as part of efforts to push back economic migrants who have joined the flows of asylum seekers but do not qualify for protection within the 28-country EU.

"It has to be clear ... that those who have no right to stay in the EU will be quickly and effectively returned," EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said in a statement.

Turkey and the EU will discuss their cooperation in tackling the migration crisis during a summit in Brussels on Monday.

Ahead of the meeting, EU President Donald Tusk is visiting countries along the migration route from Turkey to northern Europe, in a trip that will culminate in talks with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Tusk said Wednesday during a stop in the Croatian capital Zagreb that there is "no good alternative" to cooperating with Ankara.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49
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