EU launches new aid scheme for Greece to help refugees with rent, cash

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ATHENS (Reuters) – The European Commission offered 209 million euros ($245 million)in new emergency aid for Greece on Thursday to help refugees stranded in the country rent homes and pay for basics with a cash card.

About 62,000 refugees and migrants, mainly Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis headed to northern Europe, have been stranded in Greece since European countries closed their borders in March last year.

Most live in overcrowded camps on Greece’s islands and across the mainland that are marred by dire conditions and violence.

The scheme, announced with UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, will provide 22,000 rented homes in cities and towns on mainland Greece and some 2,000 places on the islands.

It will increase the number of refugees living in rented apartments in Greece up to 30,000 by the end of 2017, the Commission said.

“Our new funding is a game changer on how we deliver aid to improve people’s lives,” Christos Stylianides, the EU’s commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, said in a statement.

“The aim of these new projects is to get refugees out of the camps and into everyday accommodation and help them have more secure and normal lives,” he said.

Part of the aid will go to providing refugees with a card with a set monthly cash allocation to help them pay for basic needs such as food, medicine and public transportation.

Thursday’s funding more than doubles the EU’s emergency support to Greece to a total of 401 million euros.

“Europe means solidarity and this is what today’s decision is about,” the EU’s migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos said.

Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Alison Williams