Mis­man­age­ment of refugee crisis fund­ing brings chaos

A look at how mil­lions of dol­lars were wasted in Greece and by whom

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY DANIEL HOWDEN *

For a story of waste and suf­fer­ing, it’s no­table that some of the worst de­ci­sions in re­sponse to the refugee crisis in Greece were born of good in­ten­tions. An ar­chi­pel­ago of some 50 small refugee camps was scat­tered over Greece in pref­er­ence to con­cen­trat­ing asy­lum seek­ers in larger ghet­tos. As an idea it had mer­its. In prac­tice it was dis­as­trous.

Au­thor­i­ties still strug­gle to say how many camps there are. The Min­istry of Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy lists 39 but the UN says there may be more than 50. Many of th­ese sites, which are in var­i­ous states of clo­sure, were clearly un­fit for hu­man habi­ta­tion in the first place.

The choice to build so many of them mul­ti­plied in­fra­struc­ture costs for things like sewage sys­tems built on pri­vate prop­erty or re­mote sites that will serve no pub­lic pur­pose in the fu­ture. Meanwhile, the Pub­lic Power Cor­po­ra­tion is build­ing sub­sta­tions at sites that will likely face clo­sure.

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and its hu­man­i­tar­ian op­er­a­tions agency ECHO are ex­pected to cease sup­port for all but 10 of Greece’s main­land camps in the near fu­ture. As the main donor, this will be de­ci­sive.

There is sim­i­lar con­fu­sion over how many asy­lum seek­ers re­main in Greece from the 1.03 mil­lion who en­tered in 2015-16. Again the min­istry and the UN dis­agree, with the for­mer say­ing 62,000 and the lat­ter nearer 50,000. Euro­pean of­fi­cials say pri­vately that both num­bers are over­es­ti­mates.

This shroud of con­fu­sion has contributed to a mess that will be re­mem­bered as the most ex­pen­sive hu­man­i­tar­ian re­sponse in his­tory. Some $803 mil­lion flowed into Greece from the be­gin­ning of 2015, ac­cord­ing to an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Refugees Deeply, an in­de­pen­dent re­port­ing plat­form. The bulk of th­ese funds were meant to be spent on ser­vices for the 57,000 refugees and mi­grants stranded in Greece when the bor­ders shut one year ago. That trans­lates to a rough cost per ben­e­fi­ciary of $14,000.

No­body be­lieves this has been money well spent. One se­nior aid of­fi­cial ad­mit­ted that as many as $70 out of ev­ery $100 spent had been wasted. As any­one who fol­lowed the re­sponse in Haiti or Kosovo would af­firm, the aid in­dus­try is in­her­ently waste­ful but this was ex­ces­sive.

The scale of this be­came ob­vi­ous from Novem­ber on­ward when refugees were pic­tured in tents in the snow and it sparked a blame game. None of the actors emerge with much credit. The UN refugee agency played mute witness to fail­ures in refugee pro­tec­tion for fear of of­fend­ing its sec­ond largest donor, the Euro­pean Union.

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion was con­tent to make grandiose state­ments that ex­ag­ger­ated the fund­ing it had com­mit­ted, while do­ing noth­ing to cor­rect the mis­takes it wit­nessed on the ground. It also made prom­ises on asy­lum ser­vice as­sis­tance that were not kept. The big­ger the mess in Greece, the greater the de­ter­rent and the stronger the mes­sage to fu­ture asy­lum seek­ers not to come this way.

The most shrill voice in deny­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity came from the Min­istry of Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy. Blame was de­flected onto self­ish hote­liers, trou­ble­mak­ing op­po­si­tion politi­cians and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. Most con­vinc­ingly it was placed on for­eign aid agen­cies, who Greeks were told were the ones who re­ceived all the funds. Unac­count­able NGOs con­sum­ing as­tro­nom­i­cal sums res­onated with many Greeks whose mem­o­ries ex­tend to past episodes in the Balkans.

The truth is that the Mi­gra­tion Min­istry in its role as co­or­di­na­tor had fi­nal say over al­most all ma­jor projects. The Com­mis­sion chan­neled money through ECHO to in­ter­na­tional aid agen­cies but they still re­quired gov­ern­ment agree­ment on plans.

In so many in­stances this was the bot­tle­neck. For­eign and Greek NGOs alike have found it im­pos­si­ble to get timely or sen­si­ble an­swers on ur­gent is­sues.

The func­tional Mi­gra­tion Min­istry fore­seen un­der Law 4375/2016, passed in April last year, has re­mained a pa­per pre­tense. The bu­reau­cracy needed to tap larger pro­gram­matic Euro­pean funds is only now be­ing built.

For the cru­cial months build­ing up to win­ter last year there was no gov­ern­ment plan lay­ing out what to do with the ar- chipelago of sites it had in­sisted upon. The fail­ure un­til last month to ap­point com­pe­tent and suf­fi­cient camp di­rec­tors com­pounded the mis­man­age­ment. The con­di­tions at Mo­ria on Lesvos are an il­lus­tra­tion of what the le­gal con­fu­sion and bro­ken chain of com­mand looks like in prac­tice.

Greece must now make the best of its mis­er­able as­sign­ment to be a buf­fer for an in­creas­ingly xeno­pho­bic EU. Any cal­cu­la­tion that the harsh con­di­tions al­lowed to pre­vail would de­fend the coun­try against the re­turn of asy­lum seek­ers from other mem­ber-states was proven wrong. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween the gov­ern­ment and its in­ter­na­tional part­ners has been soured by mis­trust. And some­how a gov­ern­ment that was, on pa­per at least, the most refugee friendly in Europe has presided over this. None of this was in­evitable. * Daniel Howden is a se­nior editor at Refugees Deeply, for­merly with the Econ­o­mist and the Guardian.

The scale of the waste be­came ob­vi­ous from Novem­ber on­ward when refugees were pic­tured in tents in the snow and it sparked a blame game.

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