Thousands of refugees in Greece are at risk of losing vital support as charities prepare to withdraw services from camps on the country’s “hotspot” islands, as changes to EU funding are set to leave them out of contract by the end of July.
The Greek government will take over funding and managing support services to the camps on 31 July, but aid organisations fear the prospect of a “humanitarian gap” resulting from a poorly planned transition.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on the islands have received millions of euros from ECHO, the European Commission’s humanitarian division, to provide services from laundry and clothing distribution to maritime rescue and child protection.
But officials confirmed this week that the way in which ECHO supports the response to the crisis is changing. As a result, the allocation of funding, as well as the selection of projects to be funded, will soon become the sole responsibility of the Greek authorities.
“Reception facilities in the islands will be supported via the national programme,” said a European Commission spokesperson. “Funding channelled through the national programme is not managed directly by the Commission, but via the national authority responsible in Greece.”
A spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the situation is part of the process of “moving from emergency response to a sustainable system”.
“The Greek government will assume greater responsibilities and take over services which are presently provided by UNHCR and the broader humanitarian community,” he said. “UNHCR supports the government throughout this transition.”
But the manner in which the proposed handover has been communicated has raised alarm, with some NGOs and local authorities relying on hearsay and rumours while others have received official instruction.
“People just don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Nicholas Millet of Be Aware and Share (BAAS), a Swiss NGO which oversees a school project on the island of Chios. “There are no clear plans for handovers or transitions, the Government hasn’t said what they’re going to take over or not.”
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