Photo Commissioner Johansson videoconference european parliament LIBE Committee 2 April 2020

We are in the middle of a crisis, and most likely it will get worse before it gets better.

So what is needed in this time of crisis? We need immediate operational action.

Second, we need solidarity, between people, between Member States and globally.

Now it’s time to protect the most vulnerable, and to protect our capacity to help.

And third, in times of crisis it is very important that we stick to our values and respect fundamental rights.

We must make sure that any crisis, not the corona crisis nor any other crisis are being used to harm the rule of law or the fundamental values of our union.

Refugee camps, in countries of first asylum, are severely ill-equipped to support a large number of persons who already live in precarious conditions. The spreading of the virus in such contexts may result in a massive humanitarian crisis.

This is a danger, both for refugees hosted in third countries outside the EU and for those living in unbearable conditions on the Greek islands. We now know that in Greece we’ve had the first cases in a migrant camp outside Athens. There are twenty confirmed cases in this camp. I think that they can manage. This is a well-managed camp, and they have access to health care, but still it’s a strong warning signal.

There have also been six confirmed cases on Lesvos, outside the migratory camps. What we need to do now is to take immediate action to protect people.

The Greek government and the Greek authorities of course are responsible. But the EU Commission is providing massive support, and we must do that. And we also need the massive support of other Member States.

We are in more or less constant contact with the Greek government and the Greek authorities and we have agreed upon an emergency response action plan. I will not go through the whole plan, but it contains for example that now we need to start relocating people, vulnerable people, out of the camps into the hotel rooms that are prepared and are now empty, and to find these vulnerable people, so that they will not get infected if or when the virus reaches the camps.

They have to be separated. We need to send now medical supplies to each island, both for migrants and for the local people of course on the islands.

We have already supported with a lot of medical equipment, and we will continue to do so. The new arrivals have to be separated from those that are already in the camps. We need to do much more testing to help people that are positive into quarantine. We need of course travel restrictions and we need have a lot of information for people how they should act.

But we also need to ease the pressure on these camps on the islands. We are now working on the relocation of the unaccompanied minors. We have eight Member States that have committed themselves to take 1600 unaccompanied minors.

And I think that the first ones will be relocated this week, or at the latest next week, before Easter at least. And we are working in a very positive atmosphere with these Member States, who are actually showing concrete solidarity, now, when it’s needed the most. I know that the Greek authorities have identified around 2,000 unaccompanied minors who have been age assessed and are ready to be relocated.

We are also working on the voluntary returns to ease the pressure on the islands and this programme is already running. And we are providing a lot of financial support.

I will go through this for you.

Immediately we have available 350 million euros.

This is the continuing support to reception capacity in the mainland. Rental accommodation for 25,000 beds. Cash assistance to 90,000 migrants provided by the UNHCR. This is total 190 million. 

Support increase of the reception capacity in the mainland: 31 camps, management and service provided by IOM – Approximately 100 million.

Continuation of targeted support to key protection activities for families and children, the provision of services to the Kara Tepe site in Lesvos run by UNHCR – approximately 25 million.

The support of the temporary accommodation scheme in hotels to get the vulnerable people relocated out of the camps – approximately 35 million. This money is already working and available.

Then, we would like to have the additional 350 million. This should be used:

280 million will be made available for the construction of five new multi-purpose reception and  identification centres on the Greek islands during this year, to provide far more adequate up to standard accommodation. That’s 220 million.

The voluntary return and reintegration assistance will be 10 million euros.

And then: service to the new camps and emergency items, food, transportation, additional staff for medical teams as well as increased support to the Greek asylum service – 50 million euros.

And then 50 million is proposed to be made available for ISF Border & VISA to cover the cost related to the deployment and operational cost of border guards and police officers at the external borders of Greece and Bulgaria – 50 million.

Additionally, and in an effort to step up capacities, the European border and coast guard Frontex will be reinforced by 10 million euros, and finally, 10 million to the European Asylum Support Office EASO for the deployment of experts in Greece.

So, what I would like to end with, what is equally important in these times it’s also that people must have the right to apply for asylum. I very much welcome the announcement of the Greek government who told me that now, the new arrivals that come during March will have the right to apply for asylum. This is very, very important. In these times, it is important to stand up for our values and fundamental rights, as I also said in my beginning.

Honourable Members,

May I just add one other aspect, not only applicable to Greece, but for the whole European Union. In these times of crisis, there is always a risk of xenophobia rising. I think it is important for us to recognise the important contributions a lot of people with migrant backgrounds now are providing. As health care workers, doctors, providing services or doing voluntary work. Across Europe, migrants are mobilising to support respective host societies. I think this is very important to recognise.

I also welcome the measures that several Member States and regions are taking to facilitate the access to welfare and healthcare of migrants and refugees. It’s of crucial importance in this phase to implement the recommendations coming from the WHO organisation in this regard, ensuring that no segment of our societies is left behind and is fully supported.

I would like to stress the importance of forming a more welcoming society. Many migrants are in a vulnerable situation in their countries. Vulnerable situation in the labour market, a huge risk of being unemployed, vulnerable situation when it comes to economic resources.

To fight xenophobia, discrimination and racism, and to help vulnerable migrants, I will also make the consultation  with civil society, employers, trade unions and other relevant organisations to develop options to protect and support migrants and refugees and maximise the economic contribution they can bring in the recovery phase, not only in Greece, but all over the European Union.

Thank you.

video link: (timecode 10h24.51)