EU Commissioner for International Cooperation,
Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response
“Key features and outcomes of recent EU humanitarian
aid directed at refugee crises in Libya and the Horn of Africa”
Ü Eurasylum: In August this year, the European Commission deployed a multi-sectoral team of humanitarian experts to Tripoli, and opened a humanitarian office in the Libyan capital. The experts are ensuring that the assistance provided by the European Union in health, medicine, food and drinking water is delivered expeditiously, and that new needs are identified and addressed immediately. Most of the people who have fled Libya over the past few months were foreign workers who needed assistance in returning home. Can you guide us through the main measures, and their outcomes to date, relating to the Commission’s emergency humanitarian aid and transport assistance in Libya?
Ü Kristalina Georgieva: The civil unrest which began in early Spring caused a substantial humanitarian emergency involving principally foreign workers – third country nationals – who were an important part of the Libyan workforce. When the conflict began, the majority of these foreigners wanted to leave and return to their home countries.
When I visited Tunisia back in March, just a few days after fighting commenced, and saw the thousands of people stranded at the border, it was obvious that Europe’s first task had to be to provide shelter, water, food, and medical aid in order to prevent a humanitarian crisis. We reacted swiftly by funding the provision of the most essential support and by supporting the repatriation of migrants.
To do this, the European Commission used both its humanitarian and civil protection instruments. Funding was provided to our humanitarian partners, in particular the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) from the outset of the crisis. The civil protection mechanism of the European Union (EU) coordinated the evacuation of EU nationals and migrants. Many EU Member States contributed assistance to stranded third-country evacuees and the European Commission urgently provided more than €10.5 million to cover the costs of repatriation. This was part of the overall amount of € 80.5 million provided by the European Commission in humanitarian support during the Libyan crisis. As a result, a total of 56,000 migrant workers from countries other than Tunisia and Egypt were repatriated thanks to funding from the Commission and transport provided through EU Member States.
In parallel to these efforts, the Commission focused on delivering vital aid to people inside Libya, regardless of their affiliations. Through partners like the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNICEF, World Food Programme and international NGOs, the Commission has supported relief operations throughout Libya. Great importance was given to the protection of the civilian population and to the provision of medical support to the Libyan health sector, in particular to the war-wounded.
At this stage, the humanitarian situation has significantly improved, but our work continues as long as there are people in need. In some cities, access to water and medical care remains problematic. Another big problem is displacement – a lot of people fled the violence and cannot return, either out of fear, or because they have no homes to return to. In Sirte, for instance, large areas are destroyed, turning displacement into a potential long-term problem. A third challenge is the large amount of unexploded munitions that are scattered in and around Libya’s main cities.
In view of these challenges, our humanitarian support inside Libya currently focuses on assistance to hospitals, supply of drinking water and identification of risk areas and support for risk education on mines.
Naturally, we also maintain our field presence – humanitarian experts from the Commission continue to work on the ground, monitoring the situation and coordinating with our partners.
Ü Eurasylum: At the International Pledging Conference on Drought and Famine in the Horn of Africa, convened by the African Union in Addis Ababa on 25 August 2011, you indicated that “acting fast, giving generously and working together are the essential components for containing the famine, refugee and drought crises in the Horn of Africa. But African countries must also take long-term measures, with the support of the international community, to ensure that drought does not lead to famine again”. Can you elaborate on the type of measures, and their implementation mechanisms, in which African countries must deploy increased efforts?
Ü Kristalina Georgieva: With climate change, droughts become more and more frequent as well as other climate-related disasters such as floods. But drought or floods do not need to turn into humanitarian catastrophes. To break this cycle, we need to invest more in the resilience capacity of the populations at risk – be it the drought-prone communities in the Horn of Africa, or the floods-prone communities of Southeast Asia. This is why around ten per cent of the billion euros we spend every year on humanitarian actions goes on disaster risk reduction.
Between 2006 and 2011, the European Commission has supported community-based activities aimed at disaster risk reduction with €70 million in the arid region of the Horn of Africa.These activities also aim to build up awareness and support the policy-making of development stakeholders, in particular the African countries, for better and increased disaster risk reduction programmes.
And the projects we finance clearly work – for example in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia, where the Commission invests in different disaster risk reduction initiatives, the impact of the drought would have been far worse without them. This is proved by a heartening statistic: malnutrition rates in the area where we work are half those for other parts in the country.
We will continue to help and advocate for the creation of better resilience but the responsibility for reducing disaster vulnerability lies with the governments of the region: they need to invest in basic but vital services such as health, education and sustainable water supply.
We all know that building resilience is a sound investment. Studies estimate that one euro spent for preparedness will save €4-7 for relief efforts at a later stage. If aid is to be effective this ratio needs to be taken seriously, notably in an economic context where there is no guarantee that aid budgets will keep up with the rising frequencies and costs of disasters.
Ü Eurasylum: To mark the UN Refugee Convention’s 60th anniversary this year, you delivered a joint statement with Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Home Affairs, where you indicated that “the events in North Africa have confirmed the importance of a comprehensive and coherent European asylum system, based on solidarity and shared responsibility”. You also called for “further concrete engagements and expressions of solidarity towards the third countries who are receiving large numbers of people fleeing the war in Libya”. Can you describe the current situation regarding the efforts deployed by third countries to receive people fleeing the Libyan crisis?
Ü Kristalina Georgieva: The Libyan crisis triggered a massive exodus of people – primarily third country nationals – who were fleeing the violence that erupted in the country. This human wave caused a humanitarian emergency along the borders with Tunisia, Egypt, Chad and Niger. Let me give you an example: in early March, I visited the Tunisia-Libya border. The day before, 25 thousand people crossed that border from Libya. Many of them were stuck there, unable to continue their journey home.
The host communities in Libya’s neighbouring countries showed impressive hospitality with their desperate guests, many of whom were hungry, cold, penniless and frightened. The European Union also helped these countries to take care of the refugees and third country nationals fleeing from Libya. In Tunisia, for instance, the Commission financed programmes to support the efforts of the Tunisian host families who looked after close to 60,000 Libyan refugees. The Commission also allocated €10 million for the reintegration of Chadians in Chad. Some of them had spent decades as migrant workers in Libya and were returning to Chad’s poorest regions where they had to establish themselves once more in a hostile environment.
Some EU Member States, in particular Italy and Malta, have also looked after around 30,000 migrants who fled Libya across the Mediterranean. A number of European countries have also expressed their commitment to resettle some of the people in need of international protection who are still on the opposite shore of the Mediterranean. The overall EU commitment to date has been to offer some 400 resettlement places.
Furthermore the EU is committed to providing support to the National Transitional Council to develop a Libyan migration and asylum management system which conforms to international standards. The aim is also to ensure the respect of the fundamental rights of the migrants and refugees. Voluntary return and reintegration for stranded migrants fleeing Libya is also supported.