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Great Inside Story: What went wrong with the Refugee Crisis in Greece

What went wrong with the Refugee Crisis in Greece? Two journalists, Daniel Howden (UK) and Apostolis Fotiadis (GR) investigated the issue and published their article under the title “The Refugee Archipelago: The Inside Story of What Went Wrong in Greece” in Refugees Deeply, an independent digital media project dedicated to covering the Refugee crisis.

The authors spoke with several of the 60,000 refugees stuck in Greece about their journey from a war-ridden country to Europe but also about their journeys inside Greece: from their arrival on the islands of the eastern Aegean Sea to the north of the country and the several camps.

Often the refugees’ ordeal stands in stark contrast to the international funding and energy expended to help people like them.

They took under the microscope also the funds and donations that flew for the ‘refugee cause’ as well as international nongovernmental organizations, local NGOs and government politicians and officials.

Howden and Fotiadis outline the deficiencies in of the humanitarian response which they describe as “The Most Expensive Humanitarian Response” in history.

The effect of that awakening was to tip the entire humanitarian complex toward Greece, sending resources tumbling out of the developing world into the European Union.

It prompted an unprecedented number of international volunteers to descend on the country, the U.N. refugee agency to declare an emergency inside the E.U., and the E.U. to deploy its own humanitarian response unit inside Europe for the first time.

In the process, it became the most expensive humanitarian response in history, according to several aid experts, when measured by the cost per beneficiary.

Exactly how much money has been spent in Greece by the European Union is much reported but little understood.

Refugees Deeply has calculated that $803 million has come into Greece since 2015, which includes all the funds actually allocated or spent, all significant bilateral funding and major sources of private donations.

The biggest pots of money are controlled by the European Commission, the E.U.’s executive body, which oversees the Asylum Migration Integration Fund (AMIF) and the Internal Security Fund (ISF) which collectively had $541 million dedicated to Greek funding needs.”

However, the government in Greece was unable to absorb significant amounts of these funds, necessitating emergency assistance from the commission, channeled through other means.

Confusion over the true extent of spending has been exacerbated by inflated statements from the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, who has regularly cited figures in excess of 1 billion euros ($1.06 billion). This amount apparently refers to all available and theoretical funds, not what has actually been allocated or spent.

“The $803 million total represents the most expensive humanitarian response in history.

On the basis that the money was spent on responding to all 1.03 million people who entered Greece since 2015, the cost per beneficiary would be $780 per refugee.

However, the bulk of these funds addressed the needs of those stranded in Greece after the closure of the borders, and on this basis the cost per beneficiary is $14,088.”

Officials from the E.U.’s humanitarian operations directorate, ECHO, believe the cost per beneficiary was unprecedented from their operations. And yet, one senior aid official estimated that as much as “$70 out of every $100 spent” had been wasted.

Refugee Bonanza

“The haunting image of Aylan Kurdi lying drowned on a Turkish beach on September 2, 2015, was shared more than 20 million times on social media. It prompted an immediate spike in Google searches related to Syria and an avalanche of private donations to charities working on refugee issues.

The Swedish Red Cross saw its daily donations leap 55-fold in the week after the image circulated.”

International nongovernmental organizations flocked to Greece, donations mounted, the effect was welcome and yet destabilizing at the same time. Experienced staff at local NGOs got poached by bigger new entrants that could afford far higher salaries.

Head of Greek NGO Metadrasi, Lora Pappa, believes the large influx of money transformed refugees into “commodities” and encouraged short-term actions.

“They [international organizations] were looking at how to show a presence in Greece. This led to some wasting the chance to spend constructively. Sometimes money can do more harm than good.”

A million-dollar facility built by an INGO on Lesvos was mothballed just seven months after it was set up.

Tension between national and international INGO staff complicated the effective.

On the example of UNHCR, the authors write that most Greeks earn less than 800 euros per month while UNHCR national staff are on contracts equivalent to more than double this amount. International UNHCR staff earn three times more than their local counterparts.

Fotini Rantsiou, a U.N. staff member who took a sabbatical from the organization to volunteer in her native Greece, says:

“Tensions between local and international staff complicated relations within the agency. Local staff were sidelined and treated like secretaries by the newly arrived international staff.”

One issue that created difficulties was the left-wing attitude of the government towards the INGOs. SYRIZA approach is that they were colonialists and not humanitarian staff.

The article is lengthy and it is more than just worth reading.

It is a punch in the stomach. The Refugee Archipelago: The Inside Story of What Went Wrong in Greece.


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  1. As always, the biggest problem in Greece is with its political class. Even when they are not corrupt, they are genuinely incompetent and spend more time hiding their incompetence than trying to solve problems.

    • “its political class”? Of course, because Greece has rulers from Mars.

      • If you don’t know the politico-economic history of Greece, you could try asking instead of making smart-ass remarks.

  2. Just like with any major crisis, it becomes an industry. When the crisis get the world’s attention then the internationals start flocking the scene with their high salaries and per diem. Not hindered by any lack of knowledge of the local situation they go about implementing their handbooks. Locals get sidetracked and get paid a lot less. Then when the crisis is over and out of the world’s attention they go somewhere else. Cause there is always another crisis somewhere. The internationals filled their pockets, did some good and feel good about it and go somewhere else. The local can pick up the pieces. Same situation will all these ‘experts’ that started flocking the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. I know some of them. Overpriced and arrogant so called experts. They are not all like that but I have seen quite a few, especially from big organizations and consultancy firms.

    • You are confusing ‘experts’ with ‘professionals’ — a common error of people who don’t know. They are not the same thing, although there is a degree of overlap. It is because of this confusion that many semi-educated people now disparage expertise when it is more needed than ever before. You need to learn the difference, although it is not easy when the mass media portray all and sundry as “experts”.