by Ashish Pokharel
The refugee crisis is taking a toll on the EU nations. Thousands of people are fleeing Syria and Iraq to escape war, hunger, and poverty. In search for a better future, people (including women, children, and seniors) are risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea, and many people drown before they reach shore. But even after arriving at the shores of Greece or Italy, they continue to travel inland in miserable conditions, future uncertain. From an administrative point of view, the EU is struggling to deal with the arrivals and travels of thousands of refugees in a short period of time. Many individual nations seem to be struggling; some unwilling to take responsibility for refugee’s arrival and relocation.
This crisis is multifaceted, with immigration policies, economic issues, loss of lives, and conflict/resolution in Syria and Iraq all complicating the matter. It is fair to say that the politics of migration have been thoroughly covered by the media, but other issues like provision for food, safe drinking water, healthcare, and sanitation have been vastly overlooked. Classical humanitarian crisis intervention suggests that the provision of food, safe drinking water, basic health facilities, and sanitary living conditions are a necessary part of any immediate response, yet there are no official data on how these services are provided to the travelling refugees.
Food Support Mechanisms
In refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, the World Food Programme (WFP) distributes family food rations consisting of staple items, including rice, wheat, pasta, lentils, canned food, sugar, salt, cooking oil, and wheat flour. However, there is minimal information on how much food is provided to refugees travelling across Europe. WFP’s website states that it is struggling to meet the urgent food needs of about 6 million displaced people in Syria and neighboring countries. It states that due to underfunded food operations, WFP has been forced to reduce the level of assistance it provides to the refugees in that setting.
WFP’s statements apply to the displaced refugees in Jordan and Lebanon – they are not representative for the refugees migrating to Europe. However, it is safe to assume that if one of the most prominent bodies of the UN is struggling to feed refugees in camps, the situation cannot be better for refugees who are leaving those camps and travelling to Europe. To exacerbate this situation, funding for food to the refugee camps has dried up. Nikolaj Nielsen from Euobserver. com writes that every member state of the EU, except the Netherlands, has slashed the contributions to the WFP in 2015. He adds, “The lack of food and deplorable conditions at the camps is, in part, compelling many to take the journey to the EU.”
The UN system does not seem to have a major presence in Europe, and it looks like the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism has been the most active EU mechanism in this crisis. The mechanism was set up to enable coordinated assistance from the participating states to victims of natural and man-made disasters in Europe and elsewhere. At present, the CPM provides materials – food, beds, hygiene items, and mattresses – at the request of an EU country. Recently, Serbia and Hungary have activated this mechanism.
Other INGOs, such as the Red Cross and International Rescue Committee, have been helping to provide housing, food, and basic healthcare services. Despite these efforts, it is evident that governments are overwhelmed with the huge number of refugees coming across their borders. Croatia had over 44,000 people enter in a single week. Officials from the Croatian Red Cross stated that food distribution was becoming more challenging with the mounting refugee pressure, and that efforts had to be supported by the police in fear of a riot.
Clearly, the funding for food programs and food distribution need to be improved. On September 23, EU leaders pledged 1 billion Euros to UN agencies, including WFP and UNHCR, to support Syrian refugees in the Middle East. This strategy aims to reduce hunger and deprivation in refugee camps and consequently discourage Syrian refugees from taking a risky journey to Europe. However, it is still unclear what kind of immediate food assistance will be provided to those who are already living in European countries. One hopes that governments or charitable agencies will provide food and other essential services to them.
Many argue that relocating and assisting refugees is a moral imperative that should be done out of compassion. On the other hand, some believe that the influx of refugees puts stress on the recovering economy and tax payers’ money. The ramifications are felt in the United States as well. This year, the U.S. raised its annual refugee cap from 70,000 to 85,000 to accommodate Syrian refugees, and this number will rise again to 100,000 in 2017. With immigration shaping up to be a key issue in the upcoming U.S. presidential election, the current refugee crisis might get more attention in the presidential debates. No matter how the situation evolves, it can be said with certainty that this crisis will influence the EU’s policies and approach to humanitarian crisis in future, hopefully for the better.
Ashish Pokharel is a second year FPAN student at The Friedman School.