US gives $20M more in Europe migrant aid

The United States is providing an additional $20 million to Europe to aid international efforts to respond to the migrant crisis.

The State Department issued a statement Monday, saying the money will support the U.N. and the International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies in providing protection, shelter and other types of assistance throughout Europe.

The new funding announcement will bring the United States’ total humanitarian aid contributions for the migrant crisis to almost $44 million since it started last year. Around $17.5 million will be used to help implement the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan for Europe.

Specifically, the money will be used to create arrangements and manage newly arrived migrants, enhance counseling, and increase communication between governments and migrants on how to migrate legally.

The rest, about $2.5 million, will be used for Greece’s recent emergency appeal and for migrant women and girls in southeastern Europe. It will be used to provide authorities in Greece with rape kits and help to prevent and respond to gender-based violence throughout the region.

The announcement comes just a week after the European Union and Turkey reached what leaders on both sides called a “landmark agreement” to deal with migrants who have illegally entered Greece through Syria and elsewhere.

The deal, which took effect March 28, will see all migrants who entered Greece illegally sent to Turkey after they are registered and their claims for asylum in Europe are considered. For its part, the EU will resettle thousands of migrants who fled Turkey and legally sought refuge across its 28 member states.

Turkey, which already shelters around 3 million Syrian refugees, will receive close to $6.7 billion to help deal with the crisis if it can meet a number of preconditions outlined in the deal.

‘Flawed, illegal and immoral’

While most Turkish and EU leaders lauded the deal as a way to help stem the tide of the worst refugee crisis since World War II, critics say it uses the migrants as political pawns.

Amnesty International called Turkey an unsafe country for migrants and said the plan to return asylum-seekers would turn out to be “flawed, illegal and immoral.” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel accused Turkey of blackmail.

The UNHCR, which was not a part of the EU-Turkey deal, also expressed concerns over the agreement, saying that it does not safeguard the rights of those seeking asylum. The UNHCR had been assisting Greek authorities by receiving, assisting and registering new migrants, but said last week it would discontinue those operations.

“Whether or not it violates anything is still to be judged upon implementation. … All we can say today is that those safeguards are not in place,” Melissa Fleming, a UNHCR spokeswoman, told VOA.

So far, more than 1.2 million migrants have traveled to Europe — most through Greece and Italy — seeking asylum since the crisis began in January 2015. Thousands of others have drowned attempting to cross the dangerous Mediterranean Sea.

The United States has resettled around 2,200 Syrian refugees since the conflict in Syria began in 2011.  The Obama administration has announced its commitment to resettling at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S.


(Photo: Jamie Dettmer/VOA)