15 / 06 / 2023

Just 0,07% of 819m border budget to Greece earmarked for Search and Rescue

As the European Commission chastises Greece for violent pushbacks and European officials express their grief over the deadly Pylos shipwreck, Greek authorities have been granted more than twice the amount of EU funding for border management from 2021 to 2027, compared to the previous grant.






The scarce reactions of European Commission officials over the latest lethal migrant shipwreck, in which up to 650 asylum seekers are feared dead, seem consistent with the European Commission’s decision to grant over €800 million to  Greek authorities for border surveillance and migration deterrence in 2021-2027 — an amount that has been doubled, when compared to the previous EU budget period (2014-2020). 

In the aftermath of what is believed to be the deadliest shipwreck in Greece’s Search and Rescue (SAR) zone, Solomon’s analysis of the programmes to be implemented, as spelled out in a national programming document, reveals that just a programme of €600,000  has been designated for enhancing the national Search and Rescue capacity. 

This amounts to just 0,07% of the total budget allocated for border management, while the bulk of the money concerns the procurement of deterrence equipment such as drones, vehicles of all kinds, thermal cameras, helicopters, and automated surveillance systems.

The scope of the program to deter and tighten controls is clear in the wording throughout the text. 

According to Solomon’s analysis of the proposed programmes foreseen by the European “Border Management Fund”, the amount of resources to Greece from the current EU budget, for the years 2021-2027, exceeds €819 million. The money will finance programmes whose implementation will have a direct impact on the operational capacity of the national authorities as well as that of Frontex, the EU’s border agency.

“It is tragic but unsurprising that the priority is keeping people out rather than saving lives”, Catherine Woollard, director of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) told Solomon.

Responding to the findings of Solomon’s investigation, she added that, “they tally with previous research on EU funding which shows that a priority is supporting ‘externalisation’ – the multi-pronged strategy of keeping refugees out of Europe. Due to the absence of safe routes, the vast majority of refugees have no choice but to embark on dangerous journeys as they flee persecution and violence. That may include having to cross the sea.”

“It is tragic but unsurprising that the priority is keeping people out rather than saving lives.”

Catherine Woollard Director of ECRE (European Council on Refugees and Exiles)

In the previous corresponding period (2014-2020), the foreseen programmes in the planning of the Greek authorities amounted to €270 million.

Money runs from a budget line named BMVI (the Border Management and Visa Instrument), which is part of a new DG Home fund, financing largely the supply of new high-tech equipment for border controls. 

The commitment to significantly increased resources has been adopted despite increasing evidence of severe violations of fundamental rights at Greek/external EU borders throughout the past years.

Paying money, dictating policy 

In addition to providing support to Member States, the European Funds are also the European Commission’s main tool for influencing national policies.

From this perspective, the 203% increase in the budget allocated to Greece raises a major issue for the political priorities of the Commission and the EU.

The new national programme, negotiated by the Commission with the Greek government, implicitly rewards its deterrence policy after a number of years of accumulating documented violations of the rights of asylum seekers and migrants at the external European borders.

In addition to reports by humanitarian organisations and journalistic investigations, this evidence comes from field visits by international organisations and specialised investigative bodies. 

Such as the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman Treatment (CPT), which on 30 March 2023 published its annual report for 2022 calling on European governments to stop illegal returns.

The Greek government denies all evidence that sees the light of day, consistently responding that it guards Europe’s external borders by implementing a “tough but fair” migration policy that respects international and European law.

Over the past few years, Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson and the Greek government have come into conflict several times over the issue of pushbacks, even resulting in the freezing of certain funding to the Greek Coast Guard for operational action at the borders.

However, during late 2022 this tug-of-war gradually subsided, giving way to a “pragmatic” approach that coincided with the priorities of the “hardliners” of the European bloc.

The Commission’s response to Solomon

Solomon asked the European Commission’s Home Affairs Directorate for its interpretation of how this funding boom will not further contribute to fundamental rights violations at the borders.

The Commission responded by explaining that it is “working with the Greek authorities to ensure a robust system that allows for the investigation of complaints, as well as the necessary follow-up through the involvement of internal disciplinary bodies, independent authorities and the judiciary.”

In this context, it made specific reference to the creation of an office of a Fundamental Rights Officer within the Ministry of Migration and Asylum in Greece, as well as the setting up of a special Monitoring Committee to monitor the financing of projects and programmes.

This Committee will monitor, throughout the programming period, the continued fulfilment of the conditions. In case a member state fails to meet certain criteria which also include enforcement of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, “then the Commission will not be able to reimburse the expenditure submitted by the Member States”.

Contrary to these commitments, internal documents seen by Solomon, in which the Commission is evaluating Greece’s border control capacities (Schengen Evaluation), prove that many of the programmes funded by the border Fund lead to toughening up the current controversial border regime. These priorities arise from requirements for immediate improvements to the automated systems and deterrence capabilities that the Commission is asking the Greek authorities to implement.

Such as the implementation of an integrated automated surveillance system at the borders with North Macedonia and Albania, accompanied by continuous patrols, to prevent irregular migrants from leaving the country. A project for which €47 million has been earmarked in the new fund.

Linking policy and the security industry

Actions and programmes of the new fund highlight the key role of the link between European border policy and the security industrial complex (mainly as an extension of the military-industrial complex).

It is a process of interlocking interests that has been dictating the agenda in policies on population movements and the militarisation of border controls for more than 15 years.

“Under the BMVI, an increasing risk is anti-migration profiteering, whereby security companies see EU funding as a new income source for their provision of over-priced and dubious dual-use tech.”

Catherine Woollard Director of ECRE

This narrative, theoretically ensuring watertight borders and sterile police actions supported by the latest technology, has proven to be a bogus promise, since the operational effectiveness of cutting-edge technology has always relied on the presence of human resources prepared to do the ‘dirty work’.

The mix of actions and programmes for the period 2021-2027 highlights this dichotomy in a characteristic way, since alongside the hundreds of millions of euros committed for the procurement of new vessels and vehicles, airborne assets and drones, electronic assets and operational surveillance systems, equally significant amounts are allocated for the coverage and training of human resources operating at the borders.

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