Belgium – Brussels : We can all agree that 2015 was a really challenging year for the international humanitarian community. From the refugee crisis, the Syria conflict and the tragedies in Africa to the continuous dire situation in Ukraine and to the Nepal earthquake, humanitarians around the world had to respond to multiple serious crises. Almost at the same time and under difficult conditions. Obviously the pressure on the humanitarian actors has increased dramatically while resources are limited.
The new year began with these and more crises in full swing. The refugee crisis and the Syria conflict will certainly continue to dominate the international agenda. It is only wise, then, to examine what the lessons learned in 2015 are and what we can do better in 2016 as well as what the priorities are for the new year.
The massive refugee crisis is priority number one. It has been a stress-test for all of us: European institutions, Member States and international organizations. This is not a crisis a state can face alone.
It requires collective action. It is global in scale and as such it needs a global response.
Europe has been at the forefront of the efforts to tackle this unprecedented crisis. Because we have a moral obligation to do so. We have a historical duty. We are leading by example and doing our fair share. This is precisely how Europe is strengthening its credibility so that it can become the principle advocate for the global response we need.
Even though we did not foresee the gravity of this crisis, we are learning from it.
First, it is important to formulate a common European narrative among partners. This is necessary to bridge the differences in public opinion between Member States. We need a narrative that unites rather than divides.
Second, a critical component of an effective response to a crisis of such a scale is cooperation and coordination among all actors involved: Member States, EU institutions, international organizations, INGOS.
Third, efficient management of Europe’s external borders in a way that Member States do not feel that their sovereignty is compromised. The latest conclusions by the European Council is a major step in that direction.
One of the main root causes of the refugee crisis is the continuing conflict in Syria where the situation continues to deteriorate. As we speak, the number of displaced people has almost reached 14 million. The needs multiply every day.
Helping people inside Syria is, therefore, key. Today, 7 million are in need of assistance. We cannot allow these people to become the refugees of tomorrow.
Last year the European Commission mobilized 160 million Euros for humanitarian aid for needs inside Syria. This amount is for humanitarian aid alone. At the same time, we are assisting the host communities in neighboring countries: Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey. These communities have reached their limits. To help them face the increasing needs and to address further needs inside Syria, we have allocated in 2015 and 2016 additional humanitarian aid of 500 million euros. This will bring our total humanitarian aid to the region over these two years to more than 800 million Euros.
Equally important, we have engaged closely with the biggest host country Turkey who is a key player in the efforts to tackle the massive refugee crisis.
Finally, we have coordinated assistance to Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Greece through the Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism.
Even though the refugee crisis and the Syria conflict have overwhelmed the international humanitarian community, we cannot forget many other protracted crises some of which are linked to the Syria one. Iraq and Yemen are two obvious cases we must keep high on the agenda. Similarly, we are following developments in Afghanistan.
The picture in some parts of Africa is also bleak: extreme poverty, fast-growing populations, climate change, recurrent food crisis, armed conflicts and increased fragility. All these are factors that multiply the humanitarian needs and fuel displacement and migration. In South Sudan, for example, we are witnessing suffering beyond imagination. So far, the EU collectively has provided more than 40% of all humanitarian funding.
All of the above has shaped the international environment within which political and humanitarian actors have to operate in 2016. They determine our priorities and actions.
As European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management two of the main priorities I have in 2016 are:
First, to promote Education in Emergencies initiatives. Education for children in emergency and crisis situations is a sine qua non for better prospects for them. Nobody can deny the simple fact that education is the foundation for everything else. It is the most effective tool to shield children against radicalization and forced recruitment by terrorist and criminal groups. Most importantly, it is the only way to secure safe and optimistic prospects for them. It is the only path to prevent lost generations.
Early in 2015 I committed to go from the current 1% of the EU’s humanitarian aid budget to education in emergencies, to the UN target of 4% during my mandate. With the support of the European Parliament we will achieve this goal already in 2016.
Second, working with our partners to make the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May 2016 a turning point for the international humanitarian system. By engaging political leaders at the highest level possible. We have a unique opportunity to think out of the box and to be really bold and innovative. This is crucial in order to find practical ways to make the humanitarian system more effective, to prevent and resolve conflicts, and to lift up International Humanitarian Law. To build new partnerships and to engage with the private sector. To that end, we need clear and strong political commitments at the highest level.
The European Union has been a leading humanitarian actor. We will continue working with our global partners to face old and new challenges. The year ahead requires determination, coordination and collective action.