Auditors highlight failings of EU response to migration crisis

26 Apr 17

Thousands of refugees and migrants, including unaccompanied children, are being left stranded on Greek islands as a result of European Union policy, the bloc’s auditors have said.

 

 

More than 40,000 people have made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean from Africa and the Middle East, largely landing in either Greece or Italy, already this year, while 1,089 have died trying. Auditors concluded that the EU must do more to quickly process and care for those that do survive the journey.

Since May 2015, the EU has implemented a so-called “hotspot” approach to help countries on the frontline of the refugee and migrant crisis cope with the extraordinary numbers of people arriving on their shores.

This saw centres set up to quickly register and move on migrants from the main points of arrival and over €1.5bn in EU funding pledged to Greece and Italy, although less than half of this has been delivered so far.

But auditors found that, despite considerable EU support, it took too long for the centres to be set up, and they remain unable to either handle or properly care for the number of people arriving at them. 

They identified issues of overcrowding, a failure to provide basic necessities like water and an inability to care for high numbers of children arriving alone

Hans Gustaf Wessberg, one of the two members of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report, said the issue needed to be addressed “as a matter of urgency”.

At the time of the audit in July 2016, auditors found the hotspots in Italy could accommodate 1,600 people, which auditors said was “clearly not enough” to cover arrivals of 2,000 or more per day.

Italian authorities have conceded that, for the first seven months of 2016, some 70% of migrants arrived in Italy outside of the hotspot facilities. Two more centres, and a separate strategy in line with the hotspot approach but not requiring physical facilities, have been planned but are yet to be put in place.

Meanwhile in Greece, since March last year, an agreement between the EU and Turkey has meant migrants can no longer leave the Greek islands to lodge their asylum applications. This must instead be done at the hotspot centres, where previously migrants would spend only a few days.

Now migrants typically stay at the hotspot centres for months. Auditors said centres are “seriously overcrowded” as a result: all five hotspots can accommodate a total of 7,450 people, but the migrant population on the country’s islands had hit 16,250 by early November last year.

Auditors also noted that NGOs and others had criticised the quality of food and lack of blankets, medical care and water. Privacy, they continued, was also in short supply, with no separate areas for men, women, families or minors.

As of September 2016, around 2,500 children were living alone on Greece’s islands, with none being cared for in accordance with international standards, auditors added.

“Many unaccompanied minors have been held for long periods at the hotspots in inappropriate conditions, despite the law requiring they be prioritised,” the report noted.

European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said the EU’s executive pointed out that the report also highlighted that the hotspot approach had helped improve the management of migration flows in “very challenging and constantly changing circumstances”.

But, she continued, the commission also welcomes its conclusion that there is still more to be done – “something the commission itself has been stressing for some time”.

She said the commission stands ready to provide additional support to Greece and Italy, which are ultimately responsible for their own border control and asylum processing, in line with the report’s recommendations.

 

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