In Syria alone, nearly 30 humanitarian workers have been killed since the beginning of the crisis and many others have been kidnapped or abducted.
Last year, 46 aid workers were killed, 54 injured and 87 kidnapped worldwide. In the first six months of 2013, more than 70 similar incidents have already been registered. Georgieva, the commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis response, said that 2013 had been an “extremely difficult year” for humanitarian workers.
The commissioner was speaking to EurActiv ahead of World Humanitarian Day today (19 August), which every year recognises the achievements of aid workers across the world and those who have lost their lives fighting for humanitarian causes.
Georgieva, a Bulgarian national and former vice president of the World Bank, called these developments “shameful”.
“And the shame is on us in the international community for not reacting more strongly in condemnation of the perpetrators,” she said.
But she said the EU had been able to demonstrate “its capacity to be a leader” and act as a “soft power” by helping those in need across the world without engaging politically.
The Syrian crisis has ‘face of a child’
The commissioner said that Syria had been the biggest concern throughout 2013, adding that she had recently briefed EU foreign ministers on the humanitarian situation there.
6,800,000 people in the country need humanitarian help, she said, with more than half of them being children.
“If we are looking for a face of the Syrian crisis, this will not be a soldier or a rebel, it would be the face of a child,” Georgieva said.
“Children are dying, children are injured, and diseases we thought had disappeared, such as polio, are returning, because water supply in almost all big cities and across the entire country is very seriously disrupted. And when there is no clean water those who die most are children and the elderly people,” Georgieva said.
The commissioner warned that more and more children had been observed carrying weapons in the ranks of the rebels. Around 100 arms-bearing children have died in combat, she said.
More than half of the 1,700,000 refugees from Syria are also children. The largest number of Syrian refugees, over 630,000 people, are in Lebanon - a country plagued by deep political problems, which finds it very difficult to cope with this refugee flow, she explained.
Lebanon is the only country which has its borders completely open to Syrian refugees. In Jordan there are 520,000 refugees, in Turkey over 400,000, and in Iraq the number is growing but controls are stricter.
Turkey and Jordan, which have the capacity to monitor the situation, are controlling the refugee flow to a level they can cope with. But this means that tens of thousands of Syrians unable to find asylum face a desperate situation, “between the fighting and the border”, Georgieva said.
‘EU leads in terms of money and strategy’
Europe has so far provided €1.3 billion in aid to Syria, making it the world leader in aid provision to the war-torn country. Of that sum, €840 million were channelled through the European Commission, the rest coming directly from the member countries, Georgieva said.
Georgieva said that the EU also led the global community in terms of aid strategy.
“The first element is to make sure that there will be enough money available inside Syria, no matter how difficult and dangerous this may be. The second element is that the EU has raised awareness that this is no longer a crisis that could be dealt with by the means of humanitarian assistance, because it requires development assistance for the stabilisation of Jordan and Lebanon,” she said.
About half of the EU's €1.3 billion aid has helped provide 10 million Syrian people with access to clean water and three million to food. From the last tranche of assistance of €400 million, €200 million are earmarked for humanitarian assistance within Syria, and €150 million for Lebanon and Jordan, which host more refugees every day while unable to provide them with accommodation, food or medical care, she said.
Some 70-80% of Syrian children outside the country receive no education, leading to fears of a “lost generation” despite being born in a middle income country with expectations to receive a good education, the commissioner said.
“I always use the comparison of the Syrian crisis with former Yugoslavia,” Georgieva said. The conflict in former Yugoslavia led to 700,000 refugees and 2 million displaced persons.
“We already have in Syria 4.5 million displaced persons and 1.7 million refugees. And we don’t see the end of the crisis, which means that it is several times bigger. And it is a crisis which has the potential to produce the next Srebrenica,” the commissioner said, referring to the mass murder of 8,000 Bosniak men and boys in July 1995 by the army of Republika Srpska under the command of general Ratko Mladić and other paramilitary units in the Bosnian UN 'safe area' of Srebrenica.
Georgieva said that “sectarian flames”, similar to those of Srebrenica, burned not only in Syria but spilled over the border into Lebanon and Iraq, posing a serious threat to the stability of the region, Europe and the wider world.
“My message is only a political solution can bring an end to the Syria crisis, but we don’t see it happening soon. That’s why it is absolutely necessary that the Security Council would issue a humanitarian declaration, which would decide very concrete things,” Georgieva said.
She said these should include a “priority” for humanitarian aid convoys, implying that both the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the rebels should guarantee humanitarian aid access to the population.
In addition, such a text should provide for the respect to the laws of war, which in her words means “not to shoot at doctors, not to bombard hospitals, not to kill civilians, and allow cross-border assistance, through the borders of Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon”.
Georgieva did not omit the fact that until now Russia and China did not accept such measures, but expressed optimism that their political thinking would change.
“Let’s hope that the Security Council will adopt such a resolution. It won’t solve all the problems, but would at least be of help for the people caught in this disastrous situation,” the Commissioner said.
Georgieva paid tribute to her Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), which has more than 400 people working in 47 field offices anywhere in the world where humanitarian aid is needed.
“They are our eyes and ears on the ground, making sure that Europe's aid is well-targeted and well spent. So our concern for humanitarian workers is also concern for our own people,” Georgieva said.