EU announces €700 million aid plan for migrant crisis

Refugees walk to the registration and transit camp after they cross the border between Greece and Macedonia on March 2, 2016.
Refugees walk to the registration and transit camp after they cross the border between Greece and Macedonia on March 2, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

BRUSSELS (AFP) - The European Union announced on Wednesday (March 2) unprecedented plans to provide Greece and other member states with €700 million (S$1.1 billion) in emergency humanitarian aid to cope with the migrant crisis.

The funds will be allocated over three years, with €300 million in 2016, and 200 million in each of the following years, EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides said.

"No time can be lost in deploying all means possible to prevent humanitarian suffering within our own borders. Today's proposal will make 700 million available to provide help where it is most needed," Stylianides said in a statement.

"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."

If approved by member states and the European Parliament, the plan by the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, would amount to the bloc's first distribution of humanitarian cash within Europe rather than outside the bloc.

The aid plan will also be coordinated for the first time with UN and other aid agencies, the Commission said.

He did not say how much will be earmarked for Greece, which has asked for around 480 million to help shelter 100,000 refugees, though he acknowledged Greece earlier as a main concern.

The funds will not be diverted from the EU's existing external humanitarian aid programmes, he said. The EU currently has 1.2 billion available every year for humanitarian aid outside the bloc.

While Greece remains the main entry point for migrants - 1.13 million of whom have entered the EU since the start of 2015 - the effects have been felt across the European Union.

The new aid mechanism will be triggered when EU states show their "response capacities are overwhelmed by urgent and exceptional circumstances" such as a refugee crisis but also nuclear or chemical accidents, terrorist attacks or epidemics.

It will aim to meet basic needs such as food, shelter and medicine to the flood of children, women, and men arriving in EU countries, officials added.