NGO criticises German government’s ad hoc crisis response

A response to the growing number of crises worldwide: the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC), created in 2013. [EC DG ECHO/Flickr]

Aid organisations are pleased with a growing willingness amongst Germans to donate. But NGO medico international sees the trend as proof of a dramatic increase in crises like Ebola and in Syria, putting partial blame on the Merkel government. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Crisis reactions from the German government and other Western industrialised countries are too short-winded, says medico international.

The Chancellor’s approach of sticking to what is in clear view and jumping from one crisis to the next is wrong, stated representatives from the NGO on Wednesday (27 May) in Berlin.

Instead, the Global South and fragile states in other parts of the world need a sustainable policy aimed at crisis prevention. “We need big solutions, not small steps,” said medico director Thomas Gebauer.

While the number and scale of disease outbreaks, hunger catastrophes and civil wars is growing, the population’s readiness to donate is also on the rise.

Along with publications from other NGOs, this was shown by the latest annual report from medico international. With a 14% increase in donations, medico international reached record sums last year.

“But that is no reason to get excited,” warned Gebauer. The result is much more indicative of how dramatically crises have increased worldwide, he said, explaining that humanitarian aid is reaching its limits.

Land-grabbing as a trigger for the Ebola crisis?

The Ebola epidemic serves as just one example of the short-winded foreign policy adopted by Western governments, medico international believes. Years before the outbreak, Sierra Leone suffered from a lack of regulation on land-grabbing.

This legislative gap led to large-scale displacement of smallholders into urban slums where hygiene standards are extremely low.

Others fled to jungle terrain where they ingested animal-based foods that did not exist in the conventional food chain, explained aid workers from medico.

At the same time the healthcare system in West African countries was catastrophic, the NGO indicated, due to financing pressure from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Then when the Ebola epidemic emerged, the World Health Organization (WHO) was not able to react accordingly, they said.

“The WHO was starved of funds from national governments,” argued Gebauer.

At the same time, medico international praised the German government’s intentions to increase funding for the WHO by 5%, calling it a “step in the right direction”. The WHO should act as a central actor against health crises in the long-term, the aid organisation said. “Unilateral” initiatives from the German government, such as a white helmet force, are the wrong kind of approach.

>>Read: German government readies EU white helmet force to combat epidemics

Tackling the root causes of migration

The EU’s latest reaction to the growing number of refugees is yet another example of desperation in politics, Gebauer said. For countless people, migration is the only possibility for survival. The fact that EU foreign ministers have now decided to take military action against smuggling boats in the Mediterranean is “a scandal”, he emphasised.

Whoever wants to take proactive action and fight the root causes of migration, must first look at the Sahel region, where millions of people face the threat of starvation, the medico director said.

“Here, it is important to build local agriculture capacities and stop land-grabbing by international corporations,” Gebauer pointed out. Large-scale purchases of agricultural land by the Arab Gulf countries have also led to displacement of local populations in many areas.

On Wednesday, the European Commission announced concrete plans for the distribution of refugees in Europe.

The formula reveals that over the next two years Germany would be expected to take in 8,763 people (21.91%), the most in the bloc. France is second with 6,752 people (16.88%), ahead of Spain with 4,288 people (10.72%). The formula would apply to a total of 40,000 refugees.

Criteria for distribution include economic performance of the receiving country, its population, unemployment rate and the number of asylum seekers and relocated refugees already accepted.

>>Read: Juncker suffers double blow on immigration at summit

At the same time, the EU is planning its own military mission in the Mediterranean, in a more aggressive approach to tackling smuggling gangs.

The first step plans to have navy ships and surveillance planes collect information on human trafficking rings. But the EU is hoping for a UN mandate allowing a military mission against smuggling boats that could ultimately lead to their destruction.

But the plans have been met with reservations from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.

In a meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, he expressed his “concern” over the approach, Ban indicated on Wednesday in Brussels.

Destroying boats could wreck the livelihoods of people who are not involved in the business of transporting refugees, he contended. For this reason, Ban is calling for “other ways” of tackling the smuggling gangs.

Since 1999, the EU has worked to create a Common European Asylum System and improve the current legislative framework.

New EU rules have now been agreed, setting out common high standards and stronger cooperation, to ensure that asylum seekers are treated equally in an open and fair system – wherever they apply.

But member states rejected the Commission's proposal that asylum seekers from the countries mostly affected from the arrival of migrants should be relocated in other EU countries.

The number of migrants entering the European Union illegally in 2014 almost tripled to 276,000, according to EU border control agency Frontex, nearly 220,000 of them arriving via the often dangerous Mediterranean crossing.

The chaotic situation in Libya has sparked a rise in migrant boats setting out for Europe from its unpoliced ports carrying refugees fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

In 2013, Italy’s previous government initiated the search-and-rescue operation "Mare Nostrum" or "Our Sea" after hundreds drowned in an incident off the coast of Lampedusa.

But Italy scaled back the mission after failing to persuade its European partners to help meet its operating costs of €9 million a month amid divisions over whether the mission was unintentionally encouraging migrants to attempt the crossing.

That made way for the European Union's border control mission, Triton. However Triton, which has a much smaller budget and narrower remit, has been criticised by humanitarian groups and Italy as inadequate to tackle the scale of the problem.

medico international: Official website

German Development Ministry (BMZ): BMZ-Special Initiative to tackle causes of migration - re-integrating refugees (German language)

EURACTIV: NGOs blame Berlin for feeding big business land grabs (16 June 2014)

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