As Syria bleeds, how should an upcoming aid conference relieve the suffering? How to get the world to provide billions in needed funding? And could aid help to find a political solution?
- Ahead of a Syrian aid conference in February, a nearly five-year-old civil war remains as deadly as ever, sending millions of refugees fleeing for their lives.
- How can international aid help to solve the crisis? The governments says the rebels are seizing food aid. The rebels accuse the government of starving besieged towns.
- Could the aid expedite a political solution, or is there any hope with the international community divided and ISIL extremists holding much of the country?
- And how much should we be thinking about long-term humanitarian aid – like jobs and education – in a conflict showing little chance of ending soon?
Wired into this edition, here in the European Parliament in Brussels:
*Alyn Smith, a British member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, a member of the Scottish National Party and Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance.
*Alexandre Polack, EC Spokesperson for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management & International Cooperation and Development.
*And, Sara Tesorieri, EU Conflict & Humanitarian Policy Advisor at Oxfam
More than four million refugees, there’s an aid conference coming up in London and what is needed now? Why is it happening now? This civil war’s been happening for five years…
Alyn Smith: “It’s five years of heartbreak and so many millions of people have been displaced, hurt, killed, wounded, lost family members; it’s a dreadful, dreadful situation and the aid conference is useful. The aid conference is important, but what we must see immediately to stop people being refugees, leaving their homes, is a humanitarian ceasefire, locally if need be. Mr (Steffan) de Mistura [UN special envoy – Ed.] has put forward a number of very constructive suggestions on that and we need to see concertive international efforts towards a durable, political solution.”
euronews: Ok, because there’s not a ceasefire there’s no aid, is that what you see Alexandre?
Alexandre Polack: “It’s an unprecedented crisis, perhaps one of the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Already the European Union institutions and member states have put five billion, mostly in humanitarian support, on the table but it’s never enough because we need access to people in need, it’s very true, we can’t access everyone and we need longer term support as well to make sure we can build a future, once we find a political solution. But we’re not there yet, of course.”
euronews: No political solution, we’re still fighting. Why isn’t this aid happening now, Sarah?
Sara Tesoriere: “A big issue, like my colleagues mentioned, is access. We need the money. The current needs are only less than 60 percent funded, so we need more money on the table; but we also need the ability to deliver that on the ground. There is a big stack of UN security council resolutions that have not been implemented. Those need to be implemented so that the people who are in need of aid on the ground can get access to it.”
euronews: So, there’s no access, or limited access, the fighting goes on , there’s no ceasefire. How do you persuade an aid-fatigued international community to come up with more money? Alain?
AS: “Well, bluntly the difficulty isn’t there’s a lack of foreign money going into Syria, the trouble is much of it’s funding guns and tanks and bombs. It’s not actually going towards humanitarian purposes. So, we are seeing a proxy war that’s being played out by a number of Gulf actors, Iran in part as well. We are seeing an internationalisation of the conflict, not actually an effort towards solution of the conflict, and we do need to see the European Union doing some real heavy lifting politically with this to reach towards a durable political solution which Assad can have no part of, if there’s to be a durable peace.”
euronews: Alyn, is prodding the European Union, saying it should be doing more. How come the Commission isn’t doing more on this?
AP: “The Commission itself has put an extra half a billion euros worth of humanitarian aid – clearly it’s not enough because in a global crisis everyone needs to be there. But the money we put on the ground goes to people in need. We have a lot of humanitarian missions, the European humanitarian aid Commissioner (Christo) Stylianides is often on the ground, he was just at the border between Turkey and Syria. We see the difference we make to save lives on the ground.”
euronews: Sara, is the aid really getting to the right people?
ST: “Aid is getting to a lot of people in need. It is possible to deliver aid in Syria, we do so. We do not have access to everyone in need. They do not have access to us. That does need to change and there are a lot of opportunities to do so. That absolutely needs to be top of the political agenda for all the actors involved. We have members of the security council who are party to the conflict. And they need to be doing their part, vis-a-vis, their allies on the ground.”
euronews: Let’s talk more about this access issue. There are, as we showed in the piece at the beginning, a problem of access; one side depriving the other of food aid. Food aid becoming a weapon in a sense. How do you try to avoid that? How do you prevent that? Could peace talks help to solve this, Alyn?
AS: “You have to have the focus on a durable political solution Mr de Mistura has brought forward the idea of localised ceasefires for humanitarian purposes, internationalising those types of efforts; and just to be clear, I’m hugely supportive of the European Commission’s efforts on this. When I say the European Union needs to do more I mean the member states of the European Union, in exactly the same way as when the UN Security Council is deadlocked. If we don’t see the commonality of purpose across members states, the EU can only achieve so much in this. That’s what we need to get our act together on.”
euronews: Ok, again on this starvation as a weapon of war. How can you say that humanitarian aid is going to help when it’s being used as a weapon of war? Sara?
ST: “I have to come back to the issue of access. The way we ensure that aid gets to the right people is that we are on the ground. That’s our job, aid workers work very hard to make sure help gets to the right people, we have means of monitoring that but we need to be there. So that is where these conversations are so important. That’s where diplomacy needs to serve humanitarian ends rather than the other way around.”
euronews: But what about, to ensure this aid gets to the right people what about safe corridors? What about no-fly zones? What do you think Alexandre?
AP: “Well, it’s very clear we need unconditional access to all people in need, and that’s we calling for. If we don’t have that you can see the results; Madaya, the public and the humanitarian workers know that there’s starvation there so we need unconditional access and the EU’s at the forefront of that. We’re financing, for instance, the aid convoys that are going to Madaya. Something we haven’t talked about is education; because any political solution we find, if the children, the lost generation inside Syria, in the neighbouring countries, if the children don’t have access to education then we can do whatever we won’t have the possibility to build a future.”
euronews: I want to get back to that. What about safe corridors, no-fly zones to try and guarantee access, what do you think Alyn?
AS: “Absolutely, all of the above. The question then becomes about enforcements and how we get people to agree to that.”
euronews: Who’s going to do that?
AS: “Well, there is political leverage that can be deployed in this. We do have arms at our disposal, quite literally, though I’m reticent to a military solution. We do have heavy political leverage which we can bring in to this, to negotiate a durable political peace which Assad can have no part of whatsoever.”
euronews: Ok, we were talking about education, about more long-term, about even jobs for some of the refugees. Sara, how can we do that? How can we direct that aid to provide more long-term, for some of these refugee camps surrounding Syria?
ST: “Let’s keep in mind that a lot of refugees are not in camps, and in fact are often better off not in camps precisely so they can have better access to jobs, education and other opportunities, and also be productive while they are displaced. This will be very important at this upcoming aid conference. There are encouraging signs that the regional government are going to come with plans in this regard, they certainly need to do so. And the international community needs to be ready to do its part, including Europe.”
euronews: Lastly, how can you connect this migrant crisis with this aid, donor’s conference? Isn’t that a strong selling point to get more countries to come up with more money? Alexandre…
AP: “I mean, clearly humanitarian aid, development aid helped to tackle the root causes and the root causes of the refugee crisis are poverty, war, it’s obvious for the public. For instance, we created a trust fund for the Syria crisis where we just put as the European Commission half a billion euros. It’s a start we want member states to chip in, we want other countries to contribute and there are very specific projects by which we support Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, the neighbouring countries. If you take Lebanon, 20 percent of the population are refugees today; so it’s about accessing jobs for them, and they are not in camps so we have a lot of development support to create more jobs but it’s difficult and we need everyone on board. And not only EU taxpayers’ money but the private sector as well. It’s really a global crisis and we need global solutions.”