Europe and the world must 'stand by the Syrian people'

As the world's attention focuses on the crisis in Ukraine, Kristalina Georgieva tells Rajnish Singh that it's important not to forget the continuing civil war in Syria.

By Rajnish Singh

Rajnish Singh is Political Engagement Manager at Dods

16 Apr 2014

Tragically the civil war in Syria and the humanitarian crisis it has caused is now in its third year. With the world's attention focusing on the international tensions in Ukraine, EU international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, tells the Parliament Magazine in an exclusive interview that it is crucial that the world doesn't forget the ongoing crisis in Syria. "There are nine million people who have been pushed out of their homes, [the] equivalent to the populations of Ireland and Croatia. This is a crisis happening on Europe's doorstep with over 2.7 million refugees fleeing from Syria into neighbouring countries," said the Bulgarian commissioner.

"The EU with its member states has contributed €2.7bn in aid… which is not only lifesaving but also a stabilising factor in the region"​ - Kristalina Georgieva​​

It's also vitally important that the EU continues to focus attention on the Syrian civil war, especially considering the threat the conflict could have on destabilising the region. "If we don't help the people inside Syria, more people will flee, and if we don't help the neighbouring countries they may collapse, with a risk of a refugees coming to Europe. Therefore it is not only morally right but also in our self-interest to act and stand by the Syrian people, and do all we can, to help."

The EU is the biggest humanitarian aid donor in the conflict, delivering help both inside Syria and also to neighbouring countries. "The EU with its member states has contributed €2.7bn in aid… which is not only lifesaving but also a stabilising factor in the region." Georgieva adds, "We have been in the lead in giving a comprehensive humanitarian response." This has included not only aid to Syrians, but also macroeconomic support to Lebanon and Jordon so that their economies don't "collapse" under the strain of supporting refugees. Highlighting the EU's international political role, she said, "We have been the most powerful voice in the UN security council insisting on getting a resolution on humanitarian aid and access so that people still inside Syria can receive help, and have some hope that they can survive the madness of the civil war."

For the Bulgarian official the biggest challenge to delivering aid is the increasing intensity in the fighting and the growing number of different opposition groups. She is particularly scathing about the Assad regime, saying, "Due to the very fierce attacks from Syrian government forces, this means that for millions of civilians the availability of help is very limited. There are 220,000 people stuck in besieged areas where aid cannot get in, and they cannot leave and another three and half million people in areas of intense fighting, where they get help occasionally."

Reflecting on the increasingly violent environment in which aid workers operate, Georgieva said, "For humanitarian workers this war is very dangerous, we have lost nearly 40 people… with many more wounded and kidnapped. I want to say thanks to the humanitarian aid workers inside Syria, people who risk their lives to save the lives of others."

Despite the dangerous challenges of delivering aid, the commissioner wants to see the EU do more to help Syria, "By being the most convincing and strongest voice calling for a political solution and peace negotiations. We have to get to a point in the conflict where the different parties find a way to reach peace." She compared the Syrian civil war to the conflicts Europe went through in the 20th century, saying, "We know from our own history that even the worst wars end… but what we don't know about Syria is how many more people will die before that happens."

With the recent deployment of French troops in a bid to stop a possible civil war breaking out in the Central African Republic (CAR), when asked what lessons the EU learnt from Syria that can be applied to future crises, she said, "We have to think of the unthinkable and prepare for very bad developments. Pray for the best but prepare for the worst." For the CAR, this means "anticipating a crisis, acting swiftly and targeting the most vulnerable people". But she also adds that there is a "moral" to the crisis the CAR faces. "The country has been forgotten by the world, and the big lesson for the world community is that we cannot forget a country so that it turns into a failed state."

Despite introducing a series of new policy and operational measures to achieve better aid effectiveness and financial efficiencies, Georgieva admits that the EU humanitarian aid agency had a budget shortfall, "with last year being extraordinarily difficult, we need to get budgetary reinforcement… which the European parliament has been very supportive for". However, she warned that the EU has to remember the financial "sacrifice of the European people, as they face hardship…the best way we can express our gratitude is to make absolutely the best possible use of this money, by saving more lives and reducing more suffering".

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