Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is due to chair an emergency government meeting on Friday to address the refugee crisis facing Greece, which has been compounded by serious funding problems in Athens.
The meeting was called in the wake of European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos informing Tsipras that Greece was missing out on more than 500 million euros in European Union funding because it has failed to set up a service to absorb and allocate this money for immigration and asylum projects.
Kathimerini understands that Avramopoulos has told the prime minister Greece will be given as a down payment 4 percent of the total funding due over a six-year period. This will be followed by another 3 percent to cover actions this year.
Tsipras is due to discuss this issue, as well as the soaring number of refugees and migrants reaching Greece, with Alternate Minister for Immigration Policy Tasia Christodoulopoulou and several other cabinet members today. Christodoulopoulou admitted Thursday that the government has so far fallen short on this matter.
“At the moment, nongovernmental organizations and charities are covering the gaps left by the state,” she told Mega TV. “Without them things would be worse.”
The alternate minister said efforts were continuing to prepare a plot of land in Votanikos, near central Athens, so some 400 refugees currently living in tents in Pedion tou Areos park could be housed there. Authorities are currently carrying out work aimed at making the new site livable. The refugees, including dozens of children, will be housed in prefabricated structures as well as large tents at Votanikos.
Christodoulopoulou said the new site would operate as a reception, not detention, center. This means that up to 600 people who will be able to live there will be allowed to leave and enter the camp freely.
The magnitude of the problem facing Greece was underlined by the United Nations on Thursday. A UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) official told Agence-France Presse that by the end of July, around 224,000 refugees and migrants had arrived in Europe by sea and that of those, some 124,000 landed in Greece. More than 2,100 people have drowned or gone missing.
“What we have at Europe’s doorstep is a refugee crisis,” UN refugee agency spokesman William Spindler. “Most of those crossing the Mediterranean are refugees fleeing war and persecution, not economic migrants.”
Greece’s lack of preparedness to deal with this huge influx is also threatening the EU-subsidized voluntary return program for migrants. The government has recently been unable to provide the funding for the scheme, which is managed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
“We are in an emergency situation,” Daniel Esdras, chief of IOM’s mission in Greece, told Kathimerini. “We are receiving applications from migrants every day. We cannot afford to destroy the structure of the return process.”
Esdras said IOM has been asking embassies of European countries in Athens to provide emergency funding so the scheme does not come to a halt. Esdras said that Norway, the United Kingdom and Switzerland have so far contributed funds. More than 6,300 migrants have been repatriated via the program over the last year.