Guardian: For every $100 sent to Greece for refugee crisis $70 lost

9 March 2017
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In a long article titled “Where did the money go? How Greece fumbled the refugee crisis”, British news-site theguardian.com raises examines the issue of large sums of cash directed to Greece to alleviate the plight of the refugees entering the country was squandered. According to the piece, nearly $70 out of $100 disbursed to the Greek authorities to look after refugees were lost along the way.

Widad Madrati remembers the first snowfall at Oreokastro in the way most children would, as a thing of wonder. It threw a brilliant white cover over the squalor of a refugee camp pitched in the grounds of a disused warehouse in the hills above Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki. The 17-year-old Syrian did not mind that the water pipe to the outdoor sinks had frozen. She took photographs of the icicles.

The pictures on her phone show nothing of the broken chemical toilets or the discarded, inedible food; nor of the flimsy tents pitched on freezing ground by refugees, such as her family, who arrived too late to find a spot inside the concrete shell of the old warehouse. Instead, the images show children playing in the snow.

Stranded outside the Oreokastro buildings, in a tent dusted with white flakes, the other members of the Madrati family were more realistic about survival and begged the authorities and volunteers for a way out of the camp. A family of four when they left Aleppo, they became five along the way – Widad’s sister Maria was born in Turkey – and had endured worse indignities in Greece than pleading.

The family was among the last to leave their previous temporary home at Idomeni, close to the border with Macedonia, on the overland western Balkan route to northern Europe. They held on in the chaotic encampment for 10 weeks after Greece’s northern border closed in March 2016, in the hope that it would reopen. It did not. The settlement was evacuated and its residents moved to former industrial sites such as Oreokastro and disused army barracks. “I was crying when we left Idomeni,” says Widad. “I felt I was losing hope after so many people had crossed the border and we could not.”

She tells her story in the English she learned from volunteers at Idomeni and then taught to other refugee children at Oreokastro. Her family, who qualify by almost any criteria as refugees, have witnessed much of what has gone wrong in Greece since the country became the gateway to Europe for record numbers of refugees and migrants.

Exactly how much money has been spent in Greece by the European Union is much reported but little understood. The online media project Refugees Deeply has calculated that $803m has come into Greece since 2015, which includes all the funds actually allocated or spent, all significant bilateral funding and major private donations.

The biggest pots of money are controlled by the European Commission (EC), the EU’s executive body, which oversees the Asylum Migration Integration Fund (AMIF) and the Internal Security Fund (ISF) which collectively dedicated $541m to fund Greece’s costs related to border control, asylum and refugee protection. However, since it did not complete the extensive strategic planning required, the Greek government did not receive significant amounts of these funds, necessitating emergency assistance from the commission, channelled through other means.

Confusion over the true extent of European spending has been exacerbated by inflated statements from the European commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, who has regularly cited figures in excess of €1bn, although this amount apparently refers to all available and theoretical funds, not what has actually been allocated or spent.

Officials from the EU’s humanitarian operations directorate, Echo, believe the payout per beneficiary was higher than any of their previous operations. One senior aid official estimated that as much as $70 out of every $100 spent had been wasted.

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