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05/12/2016

Syria fund to help refugees in Macedonia and Serbia

Justice & Home Affairs

Syria fund to help refugees in Macedonia and Serbia

Migrants at the Greece-Macedonia border. [Dnevnik, the EurActiv partner in Bulgaria]

The Syria trust fund, used to help Syrian refugees and overstretched host communities in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, will also be used to help the migrants who made it to Macedonia and Serbia, an EU official said on Monday (1 February).

EU officials briefed the Brussels press ahead of the Supporting Syria and the Region conference to be held in London on 4 February.

“The European Union will be playing a major role in this conference, because we can, and because we need to”, an EU official told the press. He pointed out that the Syrian war had affected the EU both with the refugee crisis and with terrorist attacks.

An official said that the so-called EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis, also known as Madad fund, which the EU established in December 2014, would also help keep refugees in Macedonia and Serbia. The Arabic name of the Trust Fund ‘Madad’ broadly means providing aid and help jointly with others.

‘Wherever the refugees are’

“The fund has now a total firepower of €650 million and there will be more to come in 2016. And it is used to finance the resilience of the refugees, beyond immediate humanitarian aid, wherever the refugees are, mainly in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, but also in Iraq, and we will start operating also in the Western Balkans, for those refugees who made it to FYROM and Serbia for example”, he said, using the politically-correct acronym to designate Macedonia.

Last October Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called a Western Balkan mini-summit with the aim of slowing down the flux of refugees along the “Balkan route” through Macedonia and Serbia.

>> Read: Leaders clash at migration mini-summit

The final communiqué of this summit mentioned a Greek commitment to increase to 30,000 by the end of 2016 the number of places it hosts. A further 20,000 people should be sheltered in private accommodation in Greece, the statement said, while another 50,000 places should be available in countries further north. The names of the countries are not mentioned.

Macedonia and Serbia don’t want to become a buffer zone, and moreover, most of the migrants have no intention of settling there, instead usually trying to cross these countries as fast as they can, on their way to wealthier countries such as Austria and Germany.

European governments and EU institutions in Brussels are seeking to respond to a call by Britain, Germany and Norway, which are hosting the conference in London along with the United Nations and Kuwait, to double humanitarian aid to the region.

The London conference roughly coincides with the fifth anniversary since the Syrian crisis started. The event will build on three previous conferences hosted in Kuwait.

The European Union is set to promise some €2.2 billion at the conference, journalists were told. The 2016 UN inter-agency appeals for the Syria crisis are an estimated US$7.73 billion.

The conference will also set itself goals on education and economic opportunities to transform the lives of refugees caught up in the Syrian crisis – and to support the countries hosting them, with an emphasis on Lebanon and Jordan.

Most of Syria’s pre-war population have been forced out of their homes by the war – five million as refugees who have fled abroad and 6.5 million displaced within the country.

EU officials said that in Lebanon there were already more than one million Syrian refugees, representing nearly 25% of the population.

“In Jordan, there are 600,000, 700,000 or 800,000 refugees, which again is around 25% of the country’s population, and Turkey has two million Syrian refugees”, an official said. The objective, he added, was to stabilise these countries and “avoid contagion from the Syrian situation”.

Since 2011 the EU has committed more than €5 billion to deal with the Syrian crisis. Slightly more than the half, namely €2.6 billion, has been provided by EU institutions, and the rest from the member countries. And 95% of this €2.6 billion has been provided in the form of grants, he said.

The longer the crisis drags on, the more the EU needs to mobilise other instruments than the humanitarian response, an official explained.

“One of the important features of the conference in London will be to look into the livelihoods of refugees, to look into the possibilities for them to work legally, to have a more dignified life,” he said.

Out of the €2.6 billion, one billon was humanitarian aid, and €1.6 billion was development assistance. From the various budget lines that were used, he also mentioned the pre-accession funds for Turkey.

“The ambition of the five hosts of London conference is first to pledge much more money, the UK and Germany have already announced they want to double their own financial commitment, and this is for us in the EU institutions some sort of benchmark,” he said.

Thinking long-term

But more importantly, the goal was to agree for multi-annual financing between now and 2020, the official said. According to experience, refugees stay in the host countries from 13 to 18 years, he went on. Even with a political solution to the crisis, this does not mean that all refugees will be immediately resettled to Syria, a destroyed country, the official explained.

Roughly 50% of the regional trust fund money goes for education, partly as a measure against radicalisation, an official said. Next comes water and sanitation, especially in areas in Jordan and Lebanon where the concentration of refugees is of one per inhabitant.

The focus is on Jordan and Lebanon, because these countries do not have the same kind of economic power, organisational skills and resilience in economic terms Turkey has, journalists were told. The focus is to stabilise these countries, even politically, an official said.

He also explained that this money was given on top of what Jordan and Lebanon receive as development assistance.

“We don’t want Jordan or Lebanon to fear, that because they are massively welcoming refugees, they have to pay with what we give them for their normal development”, he said.

“We need to ensure that all Syria’s neighbours are supported,” an EU official said, referring to Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. “Inside Syria, London needs to demonstrate that the EU and others are ready to provide humanitarian access to all areas as soon as a ceasefire is agreed,” the official added, although some aid would also be delivered inside the country.

The effort follows a decision of EU leaders of last November to provide €3 billion to Turkey, the country from which shores the biggest number of migrants have been arriving to the Greek islands in recent months.

>> Read: EU and Turkey agree on €3 billion refugee deal

Member states, however, have not been able so far to reach an agreement to disburse their national contributions to this €3-billion fund. At the time the decision to provide the €3 billion was taken, critical voices said EU leaders had overlooked Jordan and Lebanon, who proportionally bear a much bigger burden than Turkey.