EU Crisis Response (Part 2 of 4)
A series on the results from the first year of emergency support within the European Union
For several decades the European Union has delivered humanitarian aid to a large number of natural and man-made disasters outside its own territory. In contrast, the emergency response within the Union was limited to the coordination of voluntary in-kind assistance between Member States.
All this changed in spring 2016 when the European Council and Parliament provided the European Commission with hundreds of millions of Euros to temporarily support the national responses to the refugee and migration crisis. At the peak of the crisis in summer 2015, 10 000 men, women and children arrived in Greece in one day.
But what are the results after one year of operation in Greece? This series takes stock of the impact of EU emergency support funding thus far and focuses specifically on its four key operational priorities, namely (i) shelter, (ii) cash assistance, (iii) education, and (iv) support to the most vulnerable groups in Greece.
Catch up on chapter 1, or jump straight to chapter two below.
CHAPTER 2: EQUIPPING REFUGEES WITH THE MEANS FOR BASIC PURCHASES
Rather than handing out food or goods, cash allows people to make their own decisions and choices about what they need. It is a more efficient, flexible and safer way to reach people in need.
Humanitarian aid must be able to effectively and efficiently meet basic needs on time, every time. During a humanitarian disaster, affected populations often lose the means to buy basic items such as food. The cash and voucher approach means that aid can be adapted according to the needs of people and may be distributed in the form of paper vouchers, mobile money transfers or pre-paid credit cards.
This approach ensures those with the greatest needs receive aid in a timely manner so they can quickly rebuild their lives. A shift to cash-based assistance has been supported by the international community and facilitated by the development of telecommunications, which has greatly improved the efficiency and security of cash delivery. The Commission’s humanitarian aid department introduces cash and vouchers schemes only after thorough evaluation of all options.
An important advantage of the cash approach is that it is spent within the local economy, typically with small business and market traders who may also be suffering the effects of the economic crisis in Greece. This has the additional advantage of facilitating the integration of aid recipients into local communities through interaction. Furthermore, cash aid restores dignity and decision-making power by giving people the choice of what they can buy.
For people like Muna, an asylum seeker living in Chios Island, cash aid meets a vital need. Muna fled Syria when her husband was killed and she bears sole responsibility for her three children. She recently received a cash card.
“This cash card is very useful for me and my family because I will be free to buy clothes and other basic things for my children when needed. It will also give us the possibility to select and cook the food we want.”
Muna is one among 1 000 beneficiaries of the cash card assistance programme that UN Refugee Agency introduced in 2017 for asylum seekers on the island. The programme was introduced in partnership with the international humanitarian aid organisation Samaritan’s Purse.
Providing migrants and refugees with cash assistance was a joint decision between the Greek Ministry of Migration Policy and the European Commission. The decision is part of a more holistic cash assistance programme which was first introduced in Greece as a pilot in 2016 and aimed to support individuals and families through promoting self-reliance, re-establishing dignity and providing choice.
When people are forced to flee their homes, they leave with the bare essentials. They also lose their ability to earn…
Cash response in Greece is coordinated via a specially created Cash Working Group which brings together all organisations with expertise in multi-purpose cash-based assistance. It is chaired by UNHCR and the Government of Greece is a participant in the group.
Multi-purpose cash-based assistance is a transfer corresponding to the amount of money that a household needs to fully or partially cover their basic needs.
The Commission funded the cash response in Greece through several partners and cash assistance was provided through both pre-paid cards and vouchers depending on the location and site-specific needs. The total cash assistance for refugees and migrants in Greece from EU emergency support funding in 2016 was €29 million. This amount replaced in-kind distribution of relief items, excluding food aid.
However, the longer term aim of this assistance is to replace food distribution as well. By the end of March 2017, multi-purpose cash-based assistance will be established, covering all eligible beneficiaries in sites on mainland Greece.
For now, cash aid is helping families like Muna and her children, not only by providing a means to buy food and other basic goods, but by restoring a sense of dignity.
Learn more about EU Humanitarian Aid in Greece.