EU: Will aid stop migration?

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The EU has announced a €350 million aid package described as "the single biggest EU measure in response to the Syrian refugee crisis to date," which will fund programmes aimed at helping "up to 1.5 million Syrian refugees and overstretched host communities in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq."

According to a Commission document (pdf), the fund has "two main strategic objectives" - to "stabilise the overstretched host countries (Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq)" and "reduce the pull factors and root causes of the migration crisis (in the entire region)".

The Commission's press release (pdf) says the new €350 million aid package will be divided into four programmes, dealing with education (€140 million), "resilience and local development" (€130 million), health (€55 million) and water, sanitation and hygiene (€25 million), although whether these programmes will achieve the stated aim of reducing the "pull factors" of travelling to Europe remains to be seen.

However, more overt methods are also available, following the signing of the EU-Turkey deal (pdf) on Sunday:

"both sides will, as agreed and with immediate effect, step up their active cooperation on migrants who are not in need of international protection, preventing travel to Turkey and the EU, ensuring the application of the established bilateral readmission provisions and swiftly returning migrants who are not in need of international protection to their countries of origin."

Agreement was reached on a Joint Action Plan (pdf) that outlines in more detail the steps to be taken by each side to "strengthen cooperation to prevent irregular migration".

The possibility of a more 'robust' response to migration towards Europe was made plain after the €3 billion EU-Turkey agreement, as reported by The Guardian (link):

"Turkey has stepped up a crackdown on people smuggling, arresting 1,300 asylum seekers in a single operation just hours after the country promised to curb the flow of refugees to Greece in exchange for financial aid from the EU."

This possibility was pointed out by Human Rights Watch (link):

"Asylum seekers fleeing most countries today cannot obtain effective refugee protection in Turkey. Syrians are given only temporary protection, and Afghans and Iraqis don’t receive even that. Preventing people from travelling to the EU will deny protection to many people who need it. Given the Turkish police force’s reputation for using excessive force, there is a risk that Turkey will use abusive tactics to prevent people from reaching its EU neighbors Greece and Bulgaria."

The Commission's recent enlargement report on Turkey (pdf) noted approvingly:

"More than 58 000 people were intercepted in 2014 while crossing the border illegally, an increase of 47% from 2013... In the past year, an increased number of cargo vessels with third country nationals sailed from Turkey’s coasts (mainly from the port of Mersin) to the EU and in particular to Italy. Turkey’s law enforcement response has already yielded results in reducing this new form of organised smuggling of people and pushed smugglers to change their route from Italy to Greece. Turkey should consider substantially stepping up law enforcement and judicial action against such networks, ensuring deterrent sanctions and confiscating the assets of those found guilty. It should also strengthen its capacity to prevent irregular departures from Turkey’s Aegean coasts including through increased cooperation with the Greek coast guard and police."

According to the same report, Turkey is also "increasing the capacity of ‘removal centres’ to host irregular migrants by 3 000 people by the end of 2017 from 1 740 today."

The majority of the €3 billion foreseen for Turkey is supposed to come from the Member States (€2.5 billion compared to the EU's €500 million), but so far Europe's governments have not been generous with funding for the refugee crisis.

Member States: giving little or nothing

The EU's Commissioner for Enlargement, Johannes Hahn, is quoted in the EU's press release on the new aid package:

"Our response must be a joint one if we want to succeed. With fifteen Member States already contributing, the EU Trust Fund embodies this common effort and already bears fruit: within a very short timeframe, we have managed to launch the single biggest aid package ever in response to this crisis."

But how much are those 15 Member States contributing? According to the Commission's press release, the 'EU Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis' (also known as the 'Madad Fund') has:

"within a very short time, reached a total volume of €610 million (€570 million from the EU budget and just over €40 million from 15 Member States), out of which today’s €350 million and €40 million adopted at the 1st Board meeting in May are now already mobilised." [emphasis added]

Figures released by the Commission on 27 November showed that the Member States had pledged €48.9 million (out of a total of €500 million) to the Syria fund, with the EU supposed to contribute €500 million. It appears that the former amount has now decreased, while the latter has increased.

Those Member States that had pledged nothing by 27 November included some of the EU's richest: Belgium, France, the Netherlands and the UK, alongside Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain.

MEPs have urged Member States to meet their commitments (link) but, overall, as of 27 November, the total amount pledged to various funds for dealing with the refugee and migration crisis was short by over €2 billon. Member States had pledged some €572 million out of an agreed total of €2.8 billion.

Spending the money

The press release notes that following the €350 million aid package:

"The remaining funds will be mobilised in early 2016, taking into account as well the possible needs to support the implementation of the agreement reached on 14 November in Vienna by the International Syria Support Group [ISSG], in which HRVP Mogherini participated."

It is unclear to what exactly this statement refers. The 14 November agreement (link) mostly concerned a "ceasefire and parallel political process" in Syria, although the ISSG did discuss:

"the need to take steps to ensure expeditious humanitarian access throughout the territory of Syria pursuant to UNSCR 2165 and called for the granting of the UN’s pending requests for humanitarian deliveries. The ISSG expressed concern for the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons and the imperative of building conditions for their safe return in accordance with the norms of international humanitarian law and taking into account the interests of host countries. The resolution of the refugee issue is important to the final settlement of the Syrian conflict."

A "strategic orientation document" produced by the Commission (pdf) provides more details on the aims of the Madad Fund.

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