Thank you very much and thank you all for coming. It is really an honour to be together with Minister Mouzalas and with the Assistant High Commissioner of UNHCR Mr. Okoth-Obbo. We are bringing our capabilities together in a difficult moment.
I would like to make three points with regard to what we have done today. First, the agreement we signed: this is an act of solidarity with Greece and with the children and women and men that are seeking refuge on Greek territory fleeing the horrors of war. Greece is striving to help; they are doing so facing a really enormous challenge and this is why bringing the financial resources but also the institutional capabilities of those who can support Greece is so very important.
From the European Commission we are providing EUR 80 million from the EU budget to help with the accommodation of 20,000 refugees through a rental support initiative, implemented by UNHCR on the ground, of course working with the Greek authorities. We all know the staggering numbers. Over 750,000 have arrived in Greece this year. The scale is immense and the Commission is working very closely with Greece to assist the country and ease the pressure. We very much welcome the commitment Greece has undertaken to boost its reception capacity for refugees by building 50,000 places. And what we are subscribing to today is a very big boost for Greece to implement this commitment. It is an example that it is a problem for all of us and we have to work, all of us together, to address it. UNCHR will now proceed immediately with the selection of contract partners and I am sure that Mr Okoth-Obbo would say something about it. This rental scheme is very important. Because what it allows for families that are awaiting relocation is to be in appropriate facilities, in apartments and hotels matching the size of the family with the accommodation and doing it in a way that is not concentrating all people in one place, creating potentially difficulties for the local community to accept a large mass of people in their daily lives. UNHCR has a lot of experience with building these kinds of socially appropriate schemes for urban settings and we are very grateful to UNCHR for all they have done, but also for taking it on here; when we have a good relocation capacity that would make also the relocation program a more attractive alternative to people than taking the dangerous route over the Western Balkans.
In parallel with what we are announcing today, we are working very closely on the implementation of the hotspots in Lesvos, Moria - there is now work on the way to expand capabilities. And the development of the hotspots in Leros and Chios is well advanced; as well as work is under way including infrastructure and design work in two more of the areas. We are confident that we will start the New Year with a reception capacity in Greece in excess of 30,000, in line with the commitment Greece made during the Balkan Leaders' Meeting on 25 October.
My second point is that what we are agreeing on today is an element of a comprehensive approach to deal with the refugee crisis with migration and security. Since April, we have built the tools necessary to deal with the refugee crisis, improving border management, working on return of migrants and a scheme to relocate 160,000 people in need of international protection. And I want to brighten our discussion with a small memory that I would take from the day, today. I started it with the mayor of Athens, Mr Giorgos Kaminis, in Elaionas. This is a new camp that has been built, and there I met with families with small children that have their relatives in other places very anxious to learn about family reunification. I met with people who have been trying to get through FYROM and were returned, but I also met with families that are benefitting from the relocation scheme. One of them, an Iraqi family, is leaving this week for Lithuania and they gave me this as a present to take. So, there is progress. This is, I understand, handmade, so I guess they would happily join the hand-crafty people in Lithuania. There were some sweets inside, but I offered the sweets to the kids in the camp, so no sweets for you, sorry! The reason why I am stressing this is because we have to recognise that progress is being made. It is a major challenge for Europe and of course it takes a lot of effort to bring all these components together and make them work, but that is exactly what we do.
From the budget side, since I am the Commissioner responsible for Budget, we have substantially increased our financial capabilities. We have more than doubled funding for the refugee crisis. We had EUR 4,5 billion in the beginning of 2015 for this and next year. Today, we have over EUR 10 billion. And this is additional money to help our Member States cope with the pressure of this crisis but also to help refugees where they are – in Lebanon, in Jordan, in Turkey – so they do not have to take on the dangerous journey to Europe, their children are now in school, they have roofs over their heads, they have food on the table. We also have proposed measures that are related to the security of our citizens, to counter-terrorism; tighten control on weapons and explosives.
And tomorrow, the European Commission will put forward proposals for a new European Border and Coast Guard Agency. This agency will be more than twice the size of Frontex. It would also be able to bring, on a stand-by basis, a significant number of border guards from Member States to be deployed as necessary. It will ensure EU-standards for border management. It will be able to do something that Frontex today cannot do and it is an impediment: to purchase its own equipment and deploy in border operations instantaneously when the needs are there. A reserve pool and technically equipment clearly would help us to be much more effective in protecting Europe’s borders. This agency also will have a stronger role in returns; an issue that is becoming more and more top-of-mind concern, when we are able to separate the legitimate asylum seekers form irregular migrants, people who are coming to Europe seeking better lives for their families but for whom there are no jobs at the moment available. And it will be able to act, even if there is no request for coming on the basis of agreed criteria when that kind of immediate enforcement may be necessary.
Well, let me finish with my third, very simple and very straightforward point. We do have a major crisis and it is top-of-mind concern of our people and it requires of all us to come together. Together we can cope! The European Union is 20 percent of the world economy. We are 507 million strong, we have the financial resources and we have the human resources to cope – we have to do it and we can do it working together. And with this Minister, thank you for being right next to me – together we can do it! Thank you.
For more information, check IP/15/6316