The European Commission (EC) said on March 2 that it was proposing a new “emergency assistance instrument” to provide a faster, more targeted response to major crises, including helping EU countries cope with large numbers of refugees.
“Today’s proposal will make 700 million euro available to provide help where it is most needed,” Christos Stylianides, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, said.
The EC said that it would urgently propose, to the European Parliament and to the European Council as the budgetary authorities, an amending budget for 2016 to create the budget line for the emergency assistance instrument. The estimated needs for 2016 are 300 million euro with a further 200 million euro each for use in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
EU member state Greece, currently facing a rapidly deepening crisis as many thousands of refugees are stranded at its border with the Republic of Macedonia, has asked for 480 million euro to help it cope with its refugee crisis nationally. From the EC statement, it was not clear how much money was envisaged for assistance to Greece.
Introducing the emergency assistance instrument, the EC said that EU countries “whose own response capacities are overwhelmed by urgent and exceptional circumstances”, such as the sudden influx of refugees or other major disruptions could benefit from this new instrument.
The EC said that from the outset, it had been committed to supporting EU countries “through all means possible” and its March 2 proposal was a direct follow up to the European Council of February 18 and 19, when governments called on the Commission to develop the capacity to provide emergency assistance internally.
Stylianides said: “With this proposal, we will be able to deliver emergency assistance for crises much faster than before, inside the European Union.
“Right now, there’s no doubt that this will be particularly needed to support refugees. No time can be lost in deploying all means possible to prevent humanitarian suffering within our own borders, he said, calling on the European Parliament and European Council to back the proposal.
Emergency assistance would be provided in close coordination with EU member states and organisations such as UN agencies, non-governmental organisations and international organisations, and include the provision of basic necessities such as food, shelter and medicine to the large numbers of children, women and men currently arriving in EU countries, the EC said.
In a separate statement on March 2, the EC said that it was able to confirm that Greece is in the process of returning 308 irregular migrants to Turkey, as the EU steps up its efforts to ensure those who do not qualify for international protection in Europe will be quickly and effectively returned to their countries of origin or transit.
The return of irregular migrants who have no right to stay in the EU to their home countries or to countries they transited through, in full respect of fundamental rights and the principle of non-refoulement, is an essential part of the EU’s comprehensive efforts to address migration and in particular to reduce irregular migration, the EC said.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, said: “Under the EU-Turkey joint action plan we agreed to accelerate return and readmission procedures with Turkey.
“The European Commission has reinforced its support for co-operation on return between EU member states and Turkey and today’s transfers of returnees from Greece to Turkey show that our efforts are starting to bear fruit.
“If we want to address the challenges of the refugee crisis successfully we need to get back to an orderly management of the migration flows: We have to make sure that those who are in need of protection will receive it, but it has to be clear as well that those who have no right to stay in the EU will be quickly and effectively returned,” Avramopoulos said.
On March 1, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern over the border restrictions that are being imposed along land routes.
“These restrictions are not in line with international law or with common human decency. Every asylum seeker has the right to have his or her application considered individually,” Ban said.
Deutsche Welle reported that on March 1, German chancellor Angela Merkel said that the EU should reinstate the Schengen free travel zone as soon as possible, and find a joint solution for the migrant build-up in Greece.
At the same time, Merkel urged EU countries to end the practice of “waving (migrants) through.” Thousands of migrants stranded at the Greek-Macedonian border need to use the systems the EU had set up to process migrants in Greece, she said.
“There is actually no right that a refugee can say ‘I want to receive asylum in this specific EU state’,” according to Merkel.
(Photo: Francesco Malavolta/IOM)