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Italian mafia steal €32m of EU money destined to help refugees in southern Italy

Story by Tim Rich

As the Moria refugee camp prepares for its third winter, it remains the biggest stain on the European Union.

The camp on the island of Lesbos is a victim not of too little money being allocated but of too few checks on how it is handed out. The EU has allocated €561m for the camps on Lesbos, Chios and Samos but for every five euros the commission has set aside, it is alleged that less than 1.50 has reached its target.

The result is what the General Secretary of Amnesty International, Kumi Naidoo, this week called a humanitarian disaster that even by the standards of refugee camps was ‘shocking’.

On a visit to the Moria camp, Naidoo claimed the EU was complicit in the crisis by channelling funds to the Greek government instead of experienced NGOs who had decades of experience in dealing with refugee crises.

Lesbos refugee camp

He said the EU should have realised the Greek government was the one in Europe ‘least likely to be able to cope’. This week in an open letter, he called for the ‘harassment’ of NGOs on the ground in the Greek islands to stop.

There are 8,300 refugees, mostly fleeing the Syrian civil war, on the Greek island of Lesbos. There is one shower for every 84 people, one toilet for 74 and open sewage.

Unaccompanied children sleep on the floor. There have been reports of children attempting suicide. The International Rescue Committee, which has been working to alleviate conditions at Moria, is warning of a mental health crisis at the camp.

Yet the EU have allocated vast sums of money for the camp. Much of it has never reached the refugees. In the words of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek opposition leader: ‘Greece has received €1.6bn in funding and created the worst refugee camp in the world.”

The editor of the Athens-based Fileleftheros newspaper, Panayiotis Lampsias, remarked: “The money existed to transform the camp into a centre that would have resembled The Hilton. Instead, Moria is the chief source of national shame.”

The Greek Supreme Court has already begun an investigation into the alleged misuse of €90m of EU funding for Moria. Fileleftheros has accused the authorities of exaggerating the cost of food, plumbing and building shelters and pocketing EU funds.

Had Moria been located in north Africa, outside the EU, it might have been better served. The EU’S humanitarian aid budget, which is about €1bn a year, is mostly delivered by international NGOs on the grounds that the emergencies are outside Europe in places where a government is not in control and where there is little infrastructure.

The Greek refugee crisis is unique in that it is the first humanitarian disaster to have happened inside the EU’s borders. The European Union felt the Greek government should have been able to cope with delivering funding supplied by the EU.

Imogen Sudbery, head of the International Rescue Committee in Brussels, told Euronews that while the organisation understood the reasons why the Greek government was given overall control of the funds, those suffering in Moria have seen the aid come through far too slowly.

Of €561m of EU funding allocated for the Greek refugee crisis only €153m has been disbursed.

“We have had teams on the ground for three years, doing all we can for the refugees but the situation remains dismal,” she said. “It is shameful that this is still happening inside Europe.

“The EU has made more than €500m worth of funds available. It has been very slow to arrive and the infrastructure simply isn’t there. For example, we have three times as many unaccompanied children as there are shelter places for them. We still have children sleeping rough.

“Local NGOs have applied for funding from the Greek authorities but some funding has arrived late and some has not arrived at all. The NGOs on the ground have been working with what is available until it runs out.

“Local NGOs do a fabulous job in difficult circumstances but what they are finding is that the money is not reaching them due to bureaucracy and for other reasons. That has led to a real gap in service provision.

“IRC understands the reasoning behind shifting the responsibility for the response to the Greek government but we urgently need to find ways to ensure funding reaches the people in desperate need of it.

“For services where there is no local capacity or expertise, such as mental health, it may be better for funding to be provided directly to international NGOs.

“For as long as Greece does not have services in place and systems to disburse funds in a timely fashion, there will be gaps. It would certainly be helpful for the EU to increase the pots of funding available direct to the NGOs that have the capacity to fill those gaps.”

Last month, Andreas Iliopoulos, the head of the Greek reception and identification service, which manage refugees at the first point of contact, described the situation as ‘chaos’.

He claimed the problem was the EU’s system of fast-track funding, introduced when refugees from Syria first began arriving on the Greek islands in 2015. He said: ‘It meant camps could ask for funds without having to give too much information as to how the money would be spent.

“It only made sense when people were arriving on the beaches and we were having to feed them.” The EU allocates roughly €5 a day per person for food plus 1.5 litres of water.

In 2017 alone, the EU allocated enough money for everyone in Moria to be given €7,000 each for food and accommodation. Moria has run out of shelter and sleeping bags.

The misuse of funds is not as blatant as that in Cara Santa Anna Camp in Capo Rizzuto where €32m of EU funds designed to aid African refugees arriving in southern Italy was allegedly embezzled by the Mafia.

A local priest Edoardo Scordio, was paid €132,000 for ‘spiritual services.’ Last year there were 68 arrests over what the local prosecutor, Nicola Grattari, called: ‘a cash machine for the Mafia.’ Nobody thus far has been called into court to account for how Moria has been funded.












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