By Alexia Vlachou
ATHENS, July 27 (Xinhua) -- The European Union (EU) officials announced here on Thursday a new aid package of 209 million euros (245 million U.S. dollars) to Greece to help deal with the ongoing refugee crisis and improve people's lives.
"We launch the new humanitarian program called ESTIA which in Greek means home and stands for the words 'Emergency Support to Integration & Accommodation'," said Christos Stylianides, Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, at a joint press conference in Athens.
The new aid package comes on top of the 192 million euros contracted through the EU's Emergency Support Instrument in 2016 and therefore more than doubles emergency support to Greece to a total of 401 million euros.
Overall, the EU has mobilized over 1.3 billion euros of support by 2020 to Greece to help manage migration and the external borders through various kinds of funding.
Since 2015, Greece has been one of the main gateways into Europe for more than 1 million refugees and migrants fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa.
And more than 60,000 refugees and migrants have been stranded in Greece since mid-February of 2016 after the closure of the borders along the Western Balkan route.
Majority of the stranded refugees and migrants now live in camps across Greece. The new humanitarian project aims to help refugees get out of the camps and start secure and normal lives.
In collaboration with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the European Commission announced the ESTIA program, which has a budget of 151 million euros and is composed of two parts: a 57 million-euro project of cash assistance to empower refugees to meet basic needs and a further 93 million-euro project of rented apartments for up to 30,000 people.
Regarding the priorities of the program, Stylianides said the gradual relocation of the refugees from the camps to apartments is the first step.
"Second, to extend the program of financial support through prepaid cards to all refugees and asylum-seekers in Greece," the Commissioner said.
For his part, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos praised Greece's efforts to handle refugee crisis by sending his message to EU member countries that do not meet their obligations and disregard their commitments to Greece and Italy.
"Europe is being tested today. It is not the economic crisis that undermines the foundations of Europe today. But the management of the refugee crisis," Avramopoulos said.
"In the name of some nationalistic perceptions, basic principles on which this building is based have been questioned, such as the principle of solidarity and responsibility," he added.
Greek Migration Policy Minister Yannis Mouzalas referred to the new humanitarian project as a major quality leap.
"Refugees move from camps to apartments and from food lines they get cash assistance. This changes the quality in the perspective of the refugee crisis," he said.
As Mouzalas stressed, within the last five months, from a total of 43 camps the authorities have managed to close six of them, moving people into rented apartments.
"The plan is by 2018 to have a complete management program under which the operation of refugee and migrant projects to be handed over to local government, to municipalities while the Greek government will have the supervision," Mouzalas said.
In line with Mouzalas, Stylianides referred to the new challenge that Greece will have to address in order to integrate thousands of refugees and migrants that will stay in the country and will not be relocated or resettled.
"Through these programs that we announced today under the aid scheme ESTIA, we prepare the ground for the Greek government to undertake gradually the management of the refugee crisis," Stylianides highlighted.