EU steps up humanitarian aid to Syria refugees
By Lénaïc Vaudin d’Imécourt in Brussels and Nathalie Vandystadt in Nicosia | Monday 23 July 2012
“The EU stands ready to offer additional support, including financial, to help the neighbouring countries, including Lebanon and Jordan, to host the increasing number of Syrian refugees fleeing violence in Syria,” the member states’ foreign ministers agreed during their Council meeting, on 23 July in Brussels. “The EU will increase its humanitarian assistance to the Syrians, including internally displaced persons and refugees, and calls upon all countries to do likewise,” the Council conclusions read.
The plan, announced by the European Commission the same day, is to double funds to Syria’s neighbours – mainly Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq – that are currently facing a steady influx of refugees. According to the UN’s refugee agency (UNHRC), between the beginning of the unrest in March 2011 and mid-July, at least 125,000 Syrian refugees sought protection in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. Reports gathered by the UNHRC state that between 8,500 and 30,000 people crossed the border with Lebanon on 18-20 July alone.
On the basis of a paper drafted by the German Foreign Ministry and backed by the UK and France, the three member states have been urging the EU to boost its humanitarian assistance to those fleeing the ongoing violence in Syria. At the same time, the European Commission announced an additional €20 million in relief aid to Syrians both inside and outside the country.
The ministers discussed the situation in Syria and ways to increase pressure on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, along with the hot issue of how to handle to influx of Syrian refugees in the country’s neighbouring states.
“We must help the neighbouring countries” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the press ahead of the meeting, insisting that the EU should do more. “We have to step up humanitarian assistance for the people fleeing,” UK Foreign Secretary William Hague added.
Ministers also held discussions on ways to assist the Syrian opposition, an EU diplomat said, but they failed to reach a common position. However, they agreed that whatever assistance was to be given to opposition groups, it had to be “non-lethal”.
The additional €20 million pledged by Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva brings the Commission’s total assistance to €63 million, including €40 million in humanitarian aid and €23 million in complementary assistance aimed at supporting livelihoods. Member states, on the other hand, have already contributed €27.5 million in humanitarian aid.
REGIONAL PROTECTION PROGRAMME?
To offer greater assistance to Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, the Commission suggested launching a “regional protection programme”. It raised the idea at an informal meeting of home affairs ministers held the same day in Nicosia (at which no decisions were adopted).
Such a programme would help provide these states with “immediate assistance and aid for the short and medium term,” Commissioner Cecilia Malmström (internal security) told reporters. She made a point of reiterating to the ministers the central role played by Turkey in taking in Syrian refugees. Over and above the humanitarian emergency, this programme, which would be conducted in cooperation with the UNHCR, would strengthen reception infrastructures and medical assistance in these countries. It would also serve to identify persons incapable of returning home, who may be eligible for resettlement in the EU, though this is not an immediate priority for the UNHCR.
The EU has experience with this type of resettlement, used for Iraqi refugees in Syria resettled in Germany. The idea of a regional programme will probably be discussed at the next Home Affairs Council, on 19-20 September in Brussels. “Everyone agrees that there will not be many people requiring resettlement in Europe,” commented a Council source. The member states will have to coordinate on such cases to make sure that there are no war criminals among them. Since the start of the conflict in Syria, in March 2011, 12,000 people have fled to the EU, mainly to countries where there is already a large Syrian community (Germany, Sweden, Belgium and France). Their cases will also have to be addressed.