GREECE: “politically based movements of funding has put an unacceptable and unreasonable strain on teams” working with migrants

Advocates Abroad is a non-profit organization of lawyers, interpreters, and experts providing support to refugees and asylum seekers in Turkey, Greece, and Italy. 

On 28 February, the Executive Director Ariel Ricker posted on Facebook the following comment, highlighting the financial difficulties of civil society working with migrants in Greece: funds are limited and often come with “strings attached”. Her remark is in line with the findings of EESC 2015 mission to Greece (read reports below).

<<Below is my response to a question from that think tank mentioned earlier. The question was for recommendations of improvement & further information on current allocation etc for migration related EU funds.

I’m posting this response because it reflects reality and the experience of too many here in Greece, who suffer from EU funding negligence. Too many volunteer groups are under the thumb, or overly controlled by established agencies, which directly impedes life-saving work. We never talk about this, for a number of reasons.

But the good thing about independent funding is that burning bridges, if necessary, is an irritation, not deal breaker. This is why I simply cannot allow Advocates Abroad to accept compromising funds, regardless of funding agency’s quality of service.

Feel free to argue, share similar truths, or send the usual hate mail.

“Too many established NGOs (Save the Children, etc) funded by the EU provide direct financial or indirect material support to new or volunteer NGOs here in Greece.
There are simply not enough adequate or accessible protections for such small or new solidarity groups to fully honor their own (legal and reasonable) mandates and ensure that continued support.

The legal and reasonable services to refugees and migrants provided by such solidarity groups have saved lives across the EU and particularly on the front lines.
I am deeply concerned at the loss of too many such new or small organizations here in Greece that have simply halted services due to the incompatibility of saving a life and ensuring funding from an established NGO.
Advocates Abroad provides legal services in a number of countries, in and outside the EU. We were the first volunteer attorney team on the ground in Greece in this crisis after the EU-Turkey deal was implemented. Only through my personal funds, independent funding from our donors, and entities such as the Rockefeller Foundation has Advocates Abroad continued operating consistently and throughout Greece – and without the need for funding with strings attached. Other small groups usually agree to outrageous conditions by established NGOs only because there is no other source of funding or support.

Accordingly, my respectful recommendation focuses on drawing attention to the reality of this ongoing crisis and its absolute need for “pop up” NGOs comprised of qualified professionals seeking to assist outside the established NGO framework. Without these groups, the sincere efforts of higher level actors to create and implement effective and humane border control policies would be a cruel joke to those who serve on the ground. These small groups ought to have greater and more accessible opportunities to secure funding directly from the EU agencies. Such accessibility would provide a respectful and transparent allocation of funding. In turn, this would foster better relations with civil society members who are involved in aid work now because of necessity to save a life, not personal interest to work in this field.

My second recommendation focuses on the need for increased transparency of funding sources for established NGOs. Too often my research teams are asked to hunt down the EU funding sources for this team or that NGO because this information cannot be found without great effort.

My third recommendation concerns the need for transparency of national use of EU funds. ECHO funding was vital to far too many volunteer teams and established NGOs in Greece. When ECHO funding was redirected from these teams and redirected to the Greek state, hundreds of aid worker positions were terminated within days.
There are not enough of us on the ground, and far too few of us that are qualified to help. Such politically based movements of funding has put an unacceptable and unreasonable strain on teams such as Advocates Abroad.
We simply cannot leave our field positions we are based at this point because there is no other entity, if we leave, that can fill the services we provide now.

Accordingly, this funding crisis within a humanitarian crisis has led to a complete and total disruption to our and other team member lives, professionally and personally. Many of us have left employment, partners, home countries, and any future ambitions because of an ethical dilemma that has far too much basis in twisted EU funding schemes. This crisis has therefore impacted far more lives than suggested by research or media reports, and unnecessarily so.

I would like to go home, but I cannot. While I accept that decision, I recognize that it not a decision I made because of particular interest in this work or geographic region. Ideally, improvements would be made to ensure future generations of volunteers do not face this situation.

I respectfully submit these recommendations of both professional and personal nature to urge tangible and prompt changes to the allocation, implementation, and control of migration related EU funds. This struggling national asylum system, the mass numbers of refugee and migrant populations suffering and dying around the country, and the unsupported civil society members serving both need more from the EU. They all deserve more than a daily fight endlessly with virtually no resources to honor the half-forgotten EU commitment to human rights.

Thank you.”>>

Advocates Abroad has been present in Greece since the deal with Turkey entered into force. While they have been providing valuable service to refugees and asylum seekers for free, they have witnessed unlawful detention by the police and harassment.

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