European Movement Denmark
and Børnefonden (Children’s Fund )
12 February 2016
It is a real pleasure to be here with you today. To participate in this discussion and to exchange views on one of the major global issues of our times. And I say global because the refugee crisis is not just a European crisis. It is a global one.
I want to especially thank the European Movement Denmark and the Children’s Fund for this invitation. Thank you Christine for this opportunity.
Your organisations are doing an excellent job in mobilising citizens and advocating passionately for European values and for European integration.
Your work to support vulnerable children is exemplary. You play a crucial role in responding to the current crises and challenges we face.
I must admit that I feel particularly honoured to address these issues here in Denmark. A country with a rich history of openness and tolerance. A country that in the 1950s was a pioneer for the rights of refugees.
It was, as legend has it, Denmark’s King Christian who responded to the Nazi decree that all Jews must wear a yellow star by wearing a yellow star himself. Star or no star, it is a historical fact that the ordinary Danes helped Jews escape to Sweden. This is a story of courage and resistance to racism.
We all also know about the active and central role that Denmark had in formulating and adopting the UN Convention relating to the status of refugees. That was approved in 1951. Denmark was among a handful of states advocating the adoption of this Convention. It was the first country to ratify the treaty in 1952.
These are not easy times for Europe. The challenges are truly unprecedented. Especially in relation to the refugee crisis.
But as I said in the beginning this is not just a European crisis. It is a global crisis. And therefore it requires a global response. And the response must be multi-dimensional. It should address both the immediate needs. And the long-term perspective.
This crisis has been a major stress test for all of us: European institutions and Member States. And, unfortunately, the end is not in sight.
We must admit: initially we underestimated its impact. Its extent. We did not foresee the gravity of the crisis.
But we are learning from this experience. One conclusion is absolutely clear: we cannot continue business as usual. We need to be bold.
And we need to formulate a common European narrative among partners. One that unites instead of divides. One that bridges the differences in public opinion between Member States. We must preserve a united front in order to be really effective.
To that end, enhancing cooperation and coordination between all actors is key. Between Member States and EU institutions.
Make no mistake: Europe is doing a lot to face the crisis. We are leading by example and doing our fair share. This is how we strengthen our credibility. This is how we can become the main advocate for the global response we need so much.
At the end of the day history will be the ultimate judge of our decisions. Of our actions. This is a crisis that is testing our unity. Our principles of diversity, tolerance and openness. It even tests our determination to safeguard the vision of the founding fathers for a united Europe.
Our historical responsibility is to preserve our unity. To preserve the diverse and tolerant character of our Union. To preserve the freedom of movement.
Nobody denies the fact that the crisis is putting a huge pressure on our societies. Whether you are in Denmark, Greece, Slovenia, Germany or anywhere else, our people can feel the ripple effects of the crisis.
Raising new barriers will not solve the problems. It will not alleviate the pressure our citizens feel. On the contrary. It will create a fortress Europe based on fear and isolation. This will be the beginning of the end of a united Europe. We cannot let it happen. We cannot return back to the politics of disintegration.
At the same time we know that it is our moral obligation, it is our moral duty to help the refugees coming to our shores. Each one of us has a story to tell of a relative or a friend who came to Europe because of conflict. Because of war. Because of fear. We must not forget this. We cannot ignore our history.
Allow me now to turn more specifically to the humanitarian dimension of the refugee crisis. Specifically to its external aspects. Which is of critical importance in addressing the influx of refugees in Europe. In parallel with actions to address the root causes of the crisis.
We have paid special attention to meet the growing needs of displaced people inside Syria and in neighbouring countries. But also, for vulnerable people in Africa.
First, Syria. The EU has been the leading donor in response to the Syria crisis from day one. In both Syria and its neighbouring host countries. The burden on host countries and their communities is simply not sustainable.
I have been on the ground and I saw the generosity of these communities. Only a couple of weeks ago I was in Gaziantep, Turkey. And before that in Lebanon and in Jordan.
Almost five (5) billion Euros in assistance has been mobilised. More than one billion of this has been life-saving humanitarian assistance. And more than a third of this was used last year alone.
At the London conference on the Syrian crisis last week, the Commission doubled its pledge compared to last year. We remain the biggest donor.
But we need more. We must enhance the global effort. Inside Syria almost fourteen (14) million people are in need of assistance. Six (6) million of them are children. This is massive. This is catastrophic.
There is no question: if we fail to help them, they could become the refugees of tomorrow.
A key element of our effort is our engagement and cooperation with Turkey. A host country to more than two (2) million Syrian refugees. The biggest refugee population in the world. Without Turkey, there will be no solution. We are now in the implementation phase of the Turkey facility.
At the same time, we are strengthening our support to Jordan and Lebanon. Two host countries that have shared a huge burden. Lebanon alone is hosting more than a million refugees. Which corresponds to 30% of its population!
One very important tool we developed to help Syrians inside Syria and in host countries is the Syria Trust Fund. It provides support in various fields. By giving short and medium term assistance.
While we focus on the Middle East, we must not forget Africa. A few days ago I visited Africa again. This time, Somalia and Kenya. During all my field visits I witnessed first-hand the human suffering. The desperation. The determination to survive and the hope for a better future.
These people are not fleeing their homes by choice. They are fleeing because they were forced to. Because of war. Because of terror. Because of fear.
Most recently I was in Mogadishu and Dadaab. At the world’s biggest refugee camp, in Kenya. The Horn continues to be affected by major forced displacements. Serious food insecurity, currently worsened by the El Niño phenomenon is particularly affecting Ethiopia. And other countries of the region.
In Nigeria, last June, I saw how Boko Haram attacks have resulted in an increase of displacement. Both within Nigeria as well as towards neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon. An area I will be visiting soon. We saw again the horror of Boko Haram three days ago. When terrorists attack a camp of IDPs in North-Eastern Nigeria.
Just think of this fact: 2.3 million people have been internally displaced in North-East Nigeria alone.
It was a positive development that the Valletta Summit marked the beginning of a new level of engagement with African partners. There, we managed to look beyond the current crisis. To establish an enhanced partnership. Migration was recognised as a shared responsibility of countries of origin, transit and destination.
As you know, we have established the EU Trust Fund for Africa. To address the root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in the continent.
This new tool is made up of almost two billion Euros. Combined with contributions from EU Member States and other donors.
Displacement is a major humanitarian challenge. Perhaps the biggest we face. But humanitarian aid is not a long-term solution.
We need to work for global durable solutions. We need to address the root causes. People need to be able to go back when conditions allow. Or be integrated. Or resettled. They need their dignity back.
In reality, they are often stuck. Sometimes for generations. Like the Afghanis and Somalis. And most of them not in rich developed countries. But in already fragile and poor communities.
We must cultivate the potential of the displaced and their hosts. By investing in job opportunities, education, infrastructure and social protection. To make people more self-reliant. To end their aid dependency.
We need to provide these people with a genuine perspective. We need to help them implement the Sustainable Development Goals.
We need also to enhance the resilience of both the host and the refugee communities. This requires political, economic, development and humanitarian actors to work hand in hand.
This is why with my colleagues Commissioners Mimica and Hahn, we are working on a new strategy on Forced Displacement and Development. Which we will publish in spring.
Denmark has been among the world champions in pushing for durable solutions. And for an end to aid dependency of refugees and internally displaced. Denmark’s overall development assistance is recognised as being among the best and most efficient. I commend that.
Among the refugees and IDPs the most vulnerable are always the children. I say that before a crowd that has a special sensitivity for this issue. You Christine and the Children’s Fund alliance has done a lot to raise awareness and address children’s needs.
Children make-up one in four refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean. This is alarming. Our responsibility is huge. Our task is enormous.
I have repeatedly witnessed how children are the most affected by humanitarian crises. That is why I made the needs of children in emergencies one of my major priorities.
Last year, the EU dedicated millions of Euros to child protection activities. This means providing boys and girls with psycho-social support in safe environments.
But above all we need to provide the opportunity for children to access safe, quality education during emergencies. Because education is the foundation of everything else.
It is life-saving. It is a strong shield for vulnerable children. From forced recruitment. From forced marriages. From radicalisation. We have a responsibility to give every child the prospects she or he deserves. We cannot afford any lost generation.
Education in emergencies is a top priority for me. Every day it becomes even clearer how crucial this is. From Syria to Nigeria to South Sudan and to other conflict affected regions.
Last year I committed to increase until 2019 the EU’s humanitarian aid to education in emergencies from one (1) percent, to the UN target of four (4) percent. I am very pleased that we will reach this target already this year!
All of this reminds us that we need to work together. Collective action is not a luxury. It is a prerequisite for effective policies. It is a precondition for successful outcomes.
No single state or actor can respond to the scale and complexity of current humanitarian challenges on their own. Partnerships will determine the future of humanitarian action.
This is the message I will take to the Word Humanitarian Summit next May in Istanbul. Building global partnerships. Between East and West, North and South, traditional and new actors. Thinking out-of-the-box. Operating in more innovative ways. Making bold commitments.
The burden is huge. The responsibility enormous. But so must be our determination to meet the expectations. To respond to the challenges. To preserve life but also to preserve the unity, the vision and the principles of our European Union.