Cost could rise further if many migrants are blocked by Balkan border closures
At the same time, the Greek government is bracing itself for the Balkan border closures, which would potentially block asylum seekers’ exit from Greece and push up the country’s costs even further.
According to a senior Greek official, the country’s central bank has conducted a survey, which hasn’t been made public, to calculate the amount of public money needed to deal with the influx of migrants and refugees.
Some 35.7% of the total funds will be used to operate reception facilities, while the search and rescue cost amounts to 26.3% of the whole budget. The report said that the portion of costs covered by European Union funds is still to be determined.
Greece is the main gateway to Europe for hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and other war-torn countries, as well as large numbers of other migrants from Asia and Africa, who set off from Turkey.
About 857,000 refugees and other migrants entered the EU through Greece in 2015, risking a dangerous sea crossing that has led to almost daily drownings. Another 68,000 people have landed in Greece so far in 2016.
Europe is increasing pressure on Greece to better manage the influx of migrants, as the continent struggles to avoid a repeat of last year’s massive wave of migration. But as plans to stem the human influx flounder, the possibility of Balkan border closures increases.
Greece’s government is preparing itself and public opinion for that possibility. On Wednesday, Greece’s Vice President Yannis Dragasakis and Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas said that the country should be prepared for migrants to be trapped in the country because of border closures by its neighbors.
“We have to be prepared for every scenario, even for borders closing,” Mr. Dragasakis told local TV.
Mr. Mouzalas said that this would be a “unilateral action,” but it would be a manageable problem, as flows would immediately be reduced and he estimated that no more than 50,000 refugees and migrants will be trapped in Greece.
“Those building up fences are wrong; by closing the borders at Idomeni, we lose the only way to control refugees flows in Europe,” the minister added.
The commission also warned Greece Wednesday that borders may be sealed off completely if the flow isn’t reduced and demanded “better control of the border between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.”
On Thursday Mr. Mouzalas told parliament that the amount of money required to deal with the refugee crisis might rise to €1 billion in 2016. The minister said the EU funds allocated for Greece have yet to be received due to bureaucracy at national and EU level, and claimed that the delay in disbursement is being used to pressure Greece to accept a far greater number of migrants and refugees.
He added that these funds, when received, will be enough to build and operate the required registration centers for six or seven months.
But apart from that, according to the Bank of Greece report, the country will have to deal with additional costs that are hard to quantify in advance, such as the effects it would have on the country’s economic activity and especially on the tourism sector.
The large migrant flows led to cancellations of flights to the Aegean islands, where asylum seekers first set foot in Europe, by tour operators last year.
According to the report, this is expected to continue in 2016 and have spillover effects on tourism in other regions of the country.
Restrictions in the cross-border traffic of products are expected to weigh on trade, leading to further economic uncertainty and adding another risk factor to Greece’s outlook. It could also further avert possible foreign investments in the region.
Further costs may arise from the need to further expand the capacity of the reception facilities to accommodate refugees and migrants, as many will have to remain in Greece.
The Bank of Greece report also notes that steps need to be taken to integrate migrants and refugees into the labor market. In order for that to happen, a proper evaluation system of the asylum seekers’ skills should be adopted. Those remaining in Greece should also be distributed across the region after taking into consideration the labor market needs and their qualifications.
Write to Nektaria Stamouli at firstname.lastname@example.org