Wedish Ambassador to Lebanon, Peter Semneby, expressed on Thursday his country’s deep concern for Middle Eastern affairs, especially those involving Syrian refugees. “Despite the evacuation of the Swedish Embassy in Syria, we remain in contact with the Syrian state. We are also assisting Syrian refugees on Lebanese territories”, the Swedish diplomat said, confirming his country’s relentless efforts to provide support to Syria and other neighboring countries. He made clear that during the second half of 2017, funding will take place through UNICEF. “This will take place following a thorough study on the needs of Syrian refugees and their hosting societies”, he added.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea met on Monday in Meerab with the Representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon Mireille Girard, accompanied by her Lebanese affairs’ Advisor, Dominique Tohme, with talks reportedly touching on the current situation of Syrian displaced people in Lebanon and the need to assist them pending their safe return to their homeland. Talks also touched on UNHCR’s assistance in support of the infrastructure of Lebanon as a country hosting at home about a million and a half Syrian refugees.
Turkey has so far offered free education to 483,000 Syrian schoolchildren, the country’s education minister said yesterday. İsmet Yılmaz said over half of the 850,000 Syrian refugee schoolchildren in the country were being educated in Turkey’s public schools alongside local children. “We want to provide national education not only to our own children but also to those who have taken refuge in our country and those who are not able to live in their own country. If a person is uneducated, he or she will be open to additional risks wherever they are” Yılmaz said. He said the authorities carried out intensive studies into the education of Syrian refugee students after Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s order last June to immediately complete an offer for free schooling. Yılmaz said the curriculum had been scheduled with Arabic and Turkish teachers together because Turkey believes Syrian refugees will be able to back to their homeland after the war is over. Refugee students have missed years of education due to the closure of schools in their home countries and prolonged traveling. The European Union has contributed to Turkey for their education and pledged to send 300 million euros.
The generosity of Turkey regarding taking care of Syrian refugees should be matched by other countries, UN Chief Antonio Guterres said in a joint press conference with Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım on Friday. Guterres had high praise for Turkey’s efforts to deal with the millions of refugees pouring into its country. He stressed that Turkey is effectively handling the situation single-handedly at a time when other countries are closing their borders and walking away from responsibility. “This generosity should be matched,” he said of Turkey. “This is also a moment to launch an appeal – when we see so many borders being closed and when we see so many escaping their responsibilities-this is a moment to appeal for effective burden-sharing and to make sure that the integrity of the international refugee protection regime is maintained.” On Cyprus, he said the UN is in service to the two communities and the guarantor states stand ready to support a solution accepted by everyone. Prime Minister Yıldırım once gain urged the world to do its fair share to help solve problems in the region. Yıldırım said Turkey is hosting three million refugees without much support from other countries and the entire world is aware. “We want everybody to accept their responsibilities and not to be stingy on sharing burdens to end the problems in this region,” he said. Referring to Cyprus talks, Yıldırım said any new administration there should be just and the two communities, Turkish and Greek, must be equally represented.
This is the fifth part of the series “Athens: the crisis within the crisis” (click here).
In a corner of the Eleonas refugee camp, among the new barracks inhabited by newly arrived refugees, I met a young man from Syria. He shared his personal experience with the human consequences of geopolitics.
A refugee family
Ibrahim came towards me with his little cousin in a trolley. They were curious about me. Ibrahim was a former student who had to flee from his village in northern Syria. Ibrahim had stayed in Pireus Port for a long time before going to the Macedonian border, then staying for a long time by the border fence. I got the impression that he fled from Jihadists. Ibrahim and the family wish to reach Germany. The little girl misses her father, who left Syria three months earlier, and who is waiting for them in Germany.
The little girl wants her Mom, so we walk towards their barrack. Ibrahim delivers her, and we sit down to talk at the stairs. His friends show up, one of them with his little daughter. They tell me about their life in the camp, and I promise to write about it.
Before the war
Ibrahim misses the Syria that existed before the civil war. Then no-one asked if you were a Christian or a Moslem, a Sunni or an Alawite. “Al-arab wahid ashab” his friend says – he does not speak English, but tells in simple Arabic that all Arab-speakers are one people. We should not fight against each other. Another friend of Ibrahim has worked in Nabatieh in South Lebanon. I tell them that, in fact, I am on my way to Lebanon, to celebrate Resurrection and the Orthodox Easter. The young men wish me a good pilgrimage, and ask me to say hi to the Syrians in Beirut. One and half million refugees from Syria are sheltered in Lebanon, alongside four million Lebanese citizens, as well as several million stateless Palestinians.
The conflict back home
As with the Lebanese thirty years earlier, the Syrians have experienced sudden change from cultural pluralism to sectarian war. The diversity used to be exposed by the presence of various churches, mosques and historical monuments. The civil war, by contrast, pits brother against brother, worker against worker. Tactical alliances change swiftly for militias on the ground, while the strategic map shows four coalitions: the government with allies, the rebels spearheaded by Jihadists, the so-called Islamic State in the east, and the Kurdish democratic forces in the north. Here is scarce room for idealism. In sectarian war, you must shoot your neighbour before he shoots you – or get away. The UN has registered 6,6 million internally displaced persons, while 4,8 have fled the country.
The right to seek asylum
After reading the second article in this series, some of the refugees I had met send me an email. They attach photos of their barracks, most of them lacking air condition. In each barrack, several families live under the same tin roof, under the Greek summer sun. Also an employee sends an email, reporting that the electric supply has become more reliable, but that there is a lack of workforce. But most important of all, the refugees fear the deal between Turkey and the EU, about forced return of Syrian refugees.
Amnesty International claims that the EU-Turkey deal violates international human rights law. Syria certainly is unsafe, and Turkey is moving in the same direction with an Islamist president using Jihadists as proxy against secular leftist forces in the Kurdish areas of Turkey and Syria. The Turkish military always was hostile to Amnesty. But when Turkey and the EU made their deal, Amnesty protested against both.
Ibrahim expects to be deported within few days. The girl and her mother are in contact with the girl’s father, Ibrahim’s brother in law. He has obtained permit to stay in Germany, and contacted the German embassy in Athens, asking to reunite with his family. The German embassy told him to wait five months for a reply, but the Greek temporary residence permits for his family last only one month more. The asylum bureaucracy is overloaded – and hasty deportations prevent serious processing of the asylum applications.
Amnesty International has a petition against the EU-Turkey deal (click here).
Syrian refugee crisis: EU Trust Fund launches first response programmes for €40 million, helping up to 400,000 people in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq
Brussels, 29 May 2015- Today, the new EU regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian crisis, held its first board meeting and adopted European response programmes for € 40 million. It will provide aid to 400,000 Syrian refugees and host communities in need in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, focusing on education, livelihoods and food security targeting especially children and young people.
This Trust Fund provides a regional response to the regional dimensions of this crisis, thus enabling the EU and its Member States to intervene jointly, flexibly and quickly, in response to changing needs.
Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission said: “While the EU continues to support all efforts to achieve a Syrian-led inclusive political transition, the EU and its Member States remain the largest contributors to the international response to the crisis. This Trust Fund is another illustration of the EU’s commitment to help the victims of this crisis of unprecedented magnitude in Syria and the neighbouring countries. Our objective is to contribute to a strategic de-escalation of violence in Syria and to help build resilience in the region more generally, in order to alleviate the suffering of the people and create a basis for a sustainable and inclusive political process”.
Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn stated: “Helping Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey and through them the almost 4 million refugees they host on the ground, is the most effective means to turn despair and illegal trafficking into hope and resilience. As we had to witness in recent months, the conflict has direct consequences for EU security, notably through foreign fighters, terrorism, illegal migration and the polarisation between religious communities. The majority of refugees are children and young people, whose future holds little prospect and risks becoming a fertile breeding ground for radicalization if we don’t boost our response. The EU Trust Fund is a new and innovative way of pooling our resources into one single and flexible mechanism with high European visibility responding together to this unprecedented crisis in our southern neighbourhood. ”
German Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development Dr. Gerd Müller said: “I hope that the German contribution will move other member states or third countries to also make contributions to the EU Trust Fund. I am confident that, with this new instrument, we will be able to respond flexibly and without delay to the needs of the people in the crisis region of Syria and lraq, offering European assistance that is well coordinated and flexible.”
This funding comes from the EU budget and Italy while Germany pledged an additional contribution of €5 million which is subject to parliamentary approval. Further substantial contributions to the EU Trust Fund from the EU budget and Member States are expected before the end of the year, when a second round of response programmes can be adopted. The three response programmes launched today provide targeted support to the most affected Syrian refugees and their host communities in the region:
- Firstly, with €17.5 million the EU Trust Fund will provide more than 200,000 Syrian refugee children in Turkey with additional second-shift Arabic teaching, life skills education, educational materials & school supplies and psychosocial support. There will be a special focus on access to safe spaces in host communities for Syrian children and adolescents, especially girls, to counter the risk of sexual and gender based violence. In addition, 3,700 Syrian volunteer teachers will receive training and incentives to enhance quality of education in Arabic; and more than 31,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees will receive monthly vouchers to get food.
- Secondly, a new regional higher and further education facility for young Syrians will address the forced dropout of almost half of Syrian students from university since the beginning of the refugee crisis. In Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Syria, this programme of €12 million will reach and assist up to 20,000 young Syrians through a combination of full-time scholarships, full time enrolment in short-cycle higher education courses, face to face, blended and online. This EU Trust Fund programme will thus boost by four times the number of Syrian students presently receiving international assistance to continue their studies (currently 7,000), and thus help to reverse the radicalisation and brain drain resulting from the war in Syria.
- The third programme of €10 million will sustain livelihoods by increasing short-, medium- and long-term economic opportunities for Syrian refugees and host communities in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, reaching up to 190,000 people in 90 poor communities most affected by the refugee influx. The programme will help in particular youth and women, by strengthening their prospects and those of host populations to be economically and socially productive. At least 15,000 unemployed and disillusioned youth will directly benefit through short-term work, training and community engagement.
Since the start of the conflict in Syria, more than 11.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes, including almost 4 million who fled to neighbouring countries. Inside Syria alone more than 12 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, an increase of 30 percent compared to one year ago. The EU and its Member States have thus far mobilised €3.5 billion in aid to respond to the crisis.
In response to the Syria crisis the EU significantly increased its funding at the 15 March Third International Pledging Conference for Syria in Kuwait. Together, the European Commission and Member States pledged close to €1.1 billion – doubling the overall EU pledge at the 2014 Conference. Of this, €500 million in humanitarian aid, early recovery and longer-term stabilisation assistance come from the EU budget, which nearly triples the contribution from last year. EU Member States also increased their pledges compared to 2014.
The EU Trust Fund is open to all EU Member States, as well as to other donors, public or private. It will enhance Europe’s response to the crisis both as a donor and doer by addressing the massive and increasing resilience and stabilisation needs in Syria’s neighbouring countries, in particular Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq, as well as over time also inside Syria. This fund may also be adapted to reconstruction needs in Syria in a future post-conflict scenario, thus becoming a funding vehicle for a future reconstruction effort. The Arabic name of the Trust Fund is “Madad”, broadly meaning providing help jointly with others.
This initiative should be seen as an integral part of the EU efforts to work with third countries on the comprehensive approach to managing migration better in all its aspects as also reflected in the European Agenda on Migration published on 13 May 2015.