EU to Greece: emergency support for migration management

As a contribution to the Justice and Home Affairs Council, the Commission announced last 24 July 2020 a new emergency support for migration management in Greece. This provides further €17 million available to support the implementation of the ongoing “Voluntary Relocation from Greece” project, which consists essentially of a voluntary relocation scheme of migrants from Greece to the other European countries to manage the critical situation at the external borders of the country, which constantly handles with overcrowded reception migration centers. The project was presented by the Commission and taken by the Union and the Member States together on 1 April 2020 and it is expected to last till the 31 October 2020. EU member states, associated countries and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in collaboration with the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHR) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), want to support thanks to this project the Greek Government, the Ministry of Migration and Asylum and the Special Secretary for the Protection of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in relocating asylum seekers from Greece to other EU member states. Their two main objectives are certainly to support vulnerable groups and enhance the solidarity within Europe. The project offers voluntary mechanisms that aim at preparing and relocating primarily several unaccompanied migrant children (UMC), next to other single adults and families, including children with severe medical conditions. For this reason, also, the European Union has continuously supported Greece, working on a structural and sustainable policy for migration management, adaptable to all conditions and dimensions of the issue. This project is highly necessary to address the immediate challenges faced by Greece at both its land and sea borders with Turkey, and to monitor at the same time developments in Bulgaria and Cyprus.

As established in the plan, Member States are called to provide the assets needed for the launch of two rapid border intervention operations by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) at the land and sea border between Greece and Turkey. Indeed, FRONTEX is required to coordinate a new return program for quick returns of persons who have not the right to stay in countries of origin from Greece. More, Member States should respond to the Civil Protection Mechanism when this is triggered by Greece to provide medical equipment, shelters, tents, blankets, and other necessary supplies. Member States were also demanded to help the European Asylum Support Office to provide 160 experts to be deployed in Greece. In addition, the EU intervenes to strengthen the regional and operational cooperation with its partners. It wants to develop further a coordination mechanism with the Western Balkans to make conclude and fully implement status agreements between them and Frontex. Resolute actions to step up the fight against smuggling are also needed. Specifically, the IOM committed itself in the project, in collaboration with its partners and other sub-contracted organizations (ARSIS, Merimna, METAdrasi, PRAKSIS, Syn-eirmos, Terre des hommes), to ensure the asylum seekers to travel safely and in a dignified manner. More, importantly, it prepared them for the departure, that means for example that it equipped them with enhanced skills and information to ease at best then their integration in their Member State of Relocation (MSR). Overall, this project on the movement management is made up by several components, which are for instance formalities concerning unaccompanied migrant children, such as their best interest and age assessments, their relative receptions and identification procedures and the guarantee of authorized representatives for them. Further, beneficiaries of the travels are accommodated in transit hubs and have access to information sessions. More, selection missions get facilitated. In specific, as regards the transfer of the migrants, they are offered pre-migration health activities, pre-departure orientations, pre-embarkation information and are receipt by a qualified assistance at their arrival. Finally, the project provides for transfer and integration reports upon relocation and a technical assistance to the office of the Special Secretary for UMC. The transit hubs are fundamental, because here the beneficiaries receive a safe accommodation and a direct assistance, what consequently ensures them the inclusion under a protective environment and facilitates in general the relocation process. During their stay, the beneficiaries get a solid psychological support, as well as a legal and medical assistance. They normally leave the transit hubs when all their necessary preparatory actions and pre-departure activities are completed.

The situation concerning unaccompanied migrant children that arrive in Greece is very critical. Therefore, the Commission set their protection as an important priority, for which sustainable solutions must be found and an effective relocation to other EU Member States must be guaranteed. By following the established procedures for the selection of UMC, who are located especially on the Greek islands, the competent authorities of the IOM conduct the already mentioned reports, which are very important for the determination as to whether the relocation is in the best interests of the UMC. The report will be then submitted to the child’s legal guardian, who shall decide whether to give the consent to the child’s transfer to the specific MSR and authorize the escort for the transfer. The pre-migration health activities, instead, are based on a common Health Protocol to address public health and safety concerns with the aim to ensure primarily the continuity of care throughout the pre-departure, travel, transit, and post-arrival phases. Also, because of the recent COVID-19 outbreak, specific mandatory provisions were added in accordance with the guidelines of Greek and MSR authorities, for example the conduction of COVID-19 tests, next to obviously some new requirements imposed by airlines companies. The pre-departure sessions are intended to provide the beneficiaries with updated practical information on their MSR. The information is collected in coordination with IOM Offices and the relevant authorities in the MSR. The content of the information concerns the rights and obligations of migrants at their arrival, the types of available accommodations, education and training opportunities, opportunities for social and athletic activities, places of worships and indications on asylum procedures in the MSR. At the same time, the short pre-embarkation information sessions strictly refer to airport and travel procedures. In this regard, the IOM, in coordination with the Greek and MSR authorities, carries out the necessary travel arrangements, provides for transportation services to the airport of Athens and gives assistance within the airport. At their arrival, the beneficiaries will find the same transit services. In this way the project supports the voluntary relocation of unaccompanied children, adults, and families from Greece to mainly France, Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Ireland, Portugal, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Slovenia, and Norway. In particular, the relocation targets people that applied for international protection, giving the priority to the most sensitive individuals. According to the data, starting from mid-June, in Greece there were over 4’800 unaccompanied children. As agreed in the Action Plan, the Commission proposed to relocate up to 1’600 children. Member States have consequently pledged up to 2’000 places. First, on 15 April, a group of 12 unaccompanied children was relocated from Greece to Luxembourg. Soon later, on 17 June, other 8 unaccompanied children were relocated to Ireland. Unfortunately, it may happen that the relocation must be postponed, for example when the children are not enough fit for the travel. This happened indeed to 6 unaccompanied children that had to be relocated to Germany, who could leave only two months later, finally in June. Again, on 7 and 8 July, further 49 unaccompanied children were relocated from Greece to Portugal and Finland. The next transfer took place later in the month, with 18 children, who could find a new home in Belgium, 50 in France, 106 in Germany, 4 in Slovenia and 2 in Lithuania. However, durable solutions for unaccompanied minors that stay in Greece must also be found. Besides, considering also the last few years, Greece has benefited in total from 2’64 billion of EU support since 2015. In general, of that amount, the Union’s support to Greece comes mainly from three EU funds, including €1.57 billion from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), €426.1 million from the Internal Security Fund (ISF) and €643.6 million from the Emergency Support Instrument (ESI). In particular, the funding under AMIF supports Member States in managing migration flows, including in the fields of asylum, integration, legal migration, and return. The ISF funds, instead, Member States to better protect the security of citizens and to better manage the EU’s external borders. Lastly, the ESI, the most particular one because acting only in exceptional circumstances, addresses, in the spirit of solidarity, large humanitarian needs within the Union when a Member State can no longer cope. Funding gets distinguished between short and long-term funding. On the one side, the former includes emergency support instruments and emergency assistance. On the other side, long term funding cares of whole national programs. For what concerns the EU long-term funding, the majority of EU funding under the AMIF (€328’3 million), as well as the ISF (€296’2 million), is granted to a Member State’s national authority at the beginning of each long-term EU budget period. So, the EU funding for the current period (2014-2020) is managed and implemented by Member State’s authorities through national programs agreed with the Commission. Since 2015, €624’4 million has been allocated, of which €222.8 million paid. In the opposite, under the EU short term funding, emergency assistance, provided always by the AMIF and ISF, are awarded to national authorities or international organizations and agencies upon request of a Member State. In specific, the AMIF has issued €970’4 million to international organizations, while €267’5 million to the Greek national authorities. Differently, the ISF has awarded €17.5 million to international organizations and €112.5 million to the Greek national authorities. In this case, also, €1’37 billion has been awarded, of which €961’7 million paid.