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Refugee aid

Greece to receive increased refugee aid from European Commission

The European Commission has announced new emergency funds for refugees in Greece. The money is meant to help tens of thousands of refugees pay for housing, food and medical care.

The European Commission announced Thursday that it would provide Greece with some 209 million euros ($245 million) in additional emergency aid designed to help the beleaguered country gain control over its refugee problems. The additional funding will help refugees pay for housing and other basic needs.

Currently, some 62,000 mostly Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi refugees and immigrants are stranded in Greece, unable to travel to northern Europe. They have been stuck there since European countries closed their borders in March of last year. Most live in camps spread across the Greek islands and mainland. The camps are notoriously overcrowded, living conditions are extremely poor and they are rife with crime. 

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'A game changer'

The package provides twofold financing. The first part includes a rental plan worth 151 million euros. Developed in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), the funding is designed to provide some 20, 000 rental spaces throughout Greece, and aims to bring the total number of refugees living in rental housing to 30,000 by the end of 2017. "The aim of these new projects is to get refugees out of the camps and into everyday accommodation and help them have more secure and normal lives," said Christos Stylianides, the EU's commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, adding: "Our new funding is a game changer on how we deliver aid to improve people's lives,"

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The second part of the package will provide refugees with monthly stipends in the form of cash cards. The 57.6 million-euro package will help refugees and asylum seekers purchase necessities such as food and medicine as well pay for public transportation. "The projects launched today are one part of our wider support to the country but also to those in need of protection," said EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. The commissioner noted: "Around 1.3 billion euros of EU funds are at the disposal off Greece for the management of the migration crisis."

Such statements have led to confusion about the overall amount of European aid money spent in Greece. The commissioner has repeatedly referenced figures in excess of 1 billion euros, an amount presumably related to all theoretically available funds until 2020, rather than those actually spent. 

The New York-based independent online media project Refugees Deeply calculates that some 689 million euros in public and private funds have been allocated to or spent in Greece since 2015. Most of that money has come from the European Commission, which also controls funds from the Asylum Migration Integration fund (AMIF) and the Internal Security Fund (ISF).  

js/msh (AP, Reuters)

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