The European Committee of the Regions has called on the European Union to help improve the living conditions of refugees in the Middle East and other conflict zones, through long-term financial support and by combining emergency aid with longer-term measures. In a report, adopted on 8 April, the EU’s assembly of local and regional politicians emphasised that more solutions need to be devised at the local level, with local and regional authorities more deeply involved.

The report notes that while many camps are built as emergency refuges with improvised services, they often become the long-term homes of many thousands of people. If acted on, the proposals in the report, which was authored by Hans Janssen (EPP / NL), would mean that the EU would advocate that services for refugees should be planned for “at least the long-term presence of refugees”, in camps and within the local community.

“The EU gives relatively large sums of money to help refugees in their regions of origin, but we need to pay more attention to the quality of care,” said Mr Janssen. “Refugee camps are often like islands, cut off from local communities. Providing food, water, waste collection and education is often logistically challenging and costly. The international community, including the EU, needs an integrated approach. We should view the challenge of service provision partly as an urban-planning problem, and we need to help local administrators in host communities.”

On the role EU local and regional authorities can play, he said: “European local and regional authorities can help our colleagues in host countries, with knowledge, experience and programmes. Any support needs to be better coordinated with other support from the EU and the United Nations – but, at the moment, they are not working as closely as much as they could or should with politicians and administrators at the local level.”

Mr Janssen framed the opinion with the Syrian crisis particularly in mind. The crisis has forced millions to move to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, where refugees now account for one-quarter of the population. However, Mr Janssen said that the principles apply elsewhere. He pointed out that in recent decades crises in Afghanistan, Rwanda, and Somalia have left refugees in camps in neighbouring countries for many years. The UN estimates that there are currently around 60 million internally displaced people, the highest number since the Second World War.

The opinion was drafted at the initiative of the CoR itself and calls for heightened emphasis on integration, through better education, easier access to work, and measures targeted on women, children and young people.

It comes two months after donors pledged over $10 billion for Syrian refugees at the Supporting Syria Conference, and one month before the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.

“EU member states know that care needs to be improved,” Mr Janssen said. “This report suggests ways to do so – and one of the most important means is to help local administrations, by involving them more in the planning process, channelling more money to them, and offering them more training.”

Among other proposals adopted, the opinion calls for the EU to support efforts “to boost refugees’ self-reliance”, including through the promotion of “options for them to carry out paid work”. At the suggestion of the Italian delegation, the CoR suggests that the EU should establish an equivalent of its EU’s Syria Madad trust fund for use in the countries of North Africa.

Source: European Union

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The European Committee of the Regions has called on the European Union to help improve the living conditions of refugees in the Middle East and other conflict zones, through long-term financial support and by combining emergency aid with longer-term measures. In a report, adopted on 8 April, the EU's...