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June 01, 2020

Refugees' mass eviction in Greece

Today some 11,000 refugees will have to leave camps and UNHCR accommodation in Greece. Under current migration legislation, everyone with recognised refugee status must leave camps and subsidised facilities and find their own accommodation and a job. This legislation was put in place to be compliant with EU rules. Authorities have not strictly enforced this law before. Now they want to make room for the new wave of refugees who have arrived on the islands. According to KT Greece, despite having secured asylum, some 6500 refugees are currently living in subsidised apartments or hotels, another 2500 are in reception facilities on the mainland, and 1500 are still living in island-based camps.

Where will they go? The pandemic and the ensuing recession will not make it any easier for them to find jobs and shelter. Some may leave Greece, but many others could end up on the streets. Social integration has not been a strong point in Greece's migration policy. Instead, the country had been focusing on reception of incoming refugees and processing asylum applications. 

The Greek government says it is not creating a new policy, just enforcing an existing one. Under this policy, people lose access to camps, and to UNHCR accommodation and cash, 6 months after they get refugee status or subsidiary protection. This policy was reportedly put into place to meet the requirements of the European Union, which funds both the cash programme and the UNHCR accommodation scheme. Under the European Union's rules, cash and accommodation are meant for asylum-seekers, people who don't yet have a decision on their asylum application.

Up to now the government hadn't enforced the 6-month policy strictly. This recognised that, for many refugees in Greece, it is very difficult to find a place to stay and a way to support themselves financially.

The government claims that some of the refugees could be eligible for the Helios integration support programme, however, its capacity is set at just 5000 people, with 1500 places already taken up. Today's mass eviction is creating tensions also within the governing party. Last week the mayor of Athens voiced strong concerns over the potential impact on urban homelessness, writes Macropolis.

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June 01, 2020

This is Brexit week again

We liked Robert Skidelsky's characterisation of the media frenzy about Dominic Cummings: a virus that spreads, reaches a critical point, and eventually self-destructs as its runs out of hosts to infect. An important issue to reflect on is why Boris Johnson paid so much political capital to hang on to his adviser?

One potential clue could be Brexit. This is the big week for the first stage of the negotiations. The negotiators will meet in a critical round. Johnson himself may travel to Brussels at some point for meetings with the presidents of the Commission and the Council, to ascertain whether or not he should extend the transition period. That decision has to be taken by the end of this month. This week, the talks between the two negotiating teams enter a critical phase. With Cummings still in Downing Street, the chances of an extension are not great.

That in itself is not the main problem. Time has never frustrated EU-level agreements. Long deadlines often lead to gridlock, as was the case with the endless two-year Brexit negotiations. They destabilised the previous government. A tight deadline has advantages. We know that there can be no trade deal on the basis of existing negotiating mandates. Both sides will have to change them first, and compromise.

In a Sunday Times interview, Michel Barnier makes the point that the negotiating priority for the EU is to protect the single market. We completely agree with that phrasing. We think it is a shame that the EU set out its mandate in a way that appeared unreasonable.

Barnier pointed out that the UK is asking for much deeper integration than the Efta group: a short-term stay for service providers, maintaining recognition of professional qualifications, and participating in a system of decision-making for equivalence regimes in financial services. There clearly has to be a quid-pro-quo

On a purely technical level, we could see a path towards a trade agreement. But both sides will need to signal political shifts. We are not seeing anything concrete from the UK side yet. Our expectation, for now, is that the deadline will not be extended, and that the UK will set a concrete September deadline for the negotiations to conclude. 

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