Refugee aid dries up in Greece as media interest wanes

The EU claims refugee flows from Turkey to Greece have slowed, so it is cutting funding to aid agencies and paying the Greek government to take over services there instead.

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the media switches off. Only last year, journalists were winning awards for watching refugees drown. Last week, seven people died just off the Turkish coast and it hardly got a mention.

There are many reasons why, and it isn’t news that journalism is fickle. Most outlets don’t stay on the story.

For the European Union, that’s good news. It means a lack of attention on the implications of ending the funding for aid agencies working to ease the suffering of refugees in Greece.

In essence, the EU has decided that the crisis in the Aegean is over and there is no need for emergency funding any longer. It has shifted its financial responsibility to the Greek government instead of paying specialist aid groups. It is expected that Greece will cope.

They are trying to be polite, but every person from every non-governmental organisation (NGO) we have spoken to this week on the island of Chios is somewhere between bewildered and apoplectic.

Nobody believes Greece has the capability to deal with the enormous issues involved in caring for refugees and their children.

A joint statement of seven of them, including Doctors Without Borders (known by its French initials, MSF), Save the Children, Doctors of the World and others said:
“To date, no national response plan has been released, and information about how the transition will be implemented is severely lacking.”

That was on July 11. Nothing has changed since.

One example: education. The Greek government has no plan for schooling children in refugee camps on the islands on the grounds that the people are transitory.

But they aren’t, and many have been on Chios for nearly a year. That’s a long time not to go to school.

On Chios, a little NGO was trying to educate children from the camps, but after the EU cut its funding it has had to crowdfund its services from the public. On the mainland, Save the Children was doing a lot. Not any more. Almost every children’s project is leaving.

But this is the thing: The Greek government has been given hundreds of millions of euros to spend to replace these services. There is no reason any longer why the public should have to stump up.

Thousands of children out of school

It isn’t even a new problem. On the mainland, 2,000 out of 20,000 refugee children go to Greek public schools. That’s 10 percent, if my maths is correct, so 18,000 don’t go to school properly.

Among other things, the trauma specialists from the medical groups on islands like Chios are leaving. These are the first people that refugees running away from Syria or Iraq might be introduced to. On Chios, they have advertised equivalent jobs in the local hospital. It isn’t clear if they will be filled. As of this writing, they don’t exist.

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There were, and remain, different needs in different places. In the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Sicily, aid groups have ships and rescue people who would otherwise drown. They are accused – falsely and outrageously – of conspiring with people traffickers.

On the Aegean route, the EU has now decided NGOs are redundant and unnecessary. Everywhere, there is suspicion of organisations, which, in other parts of the world, are lauded by Western governments as being indispensable. Yet close to home they are increasingly seen as part of the problem.

Back to Chios. Neither the European Commission nor the Greek government appears to be under any pressure to explain how exactly almost 1bn euros allocated to Greece is being spent, and how it will improve a temporary system, run by caring people, that has just been dismantled in the interest of suggesting there is no longer a crisis.

Source: Al Jazeera