The Highland News, August 2014
On 19 August 2003, 22 aid workers were killed in a bombing at the UN headquarters in Baghdad. This date has now become World Humanitarian Day and it is a day to commemorate all those people who have lost their lives in humanitarian service, as well as a day to celebrate those who continue selflessly to commit themselves to invaluable humanitarian endeavour.
This year, more than any year, we seem to be witnessing an unprecedented catalogue of humanitarian disasters around the world. Little attention is paid to volunteers, but their tireless and sometimes dangerous work helps to make a difference to the millions of victims of natural and man-made disasters.
The European Union is the world´s largest humanitarian aid donor. In February this year the Parliament voted to support the EU aid volunteers’ programme, which allows up to 10,000 Europeans to help out in countries hit by humanitarian crises. This could involve helping on the spot, organising logistics, reconstructing damaged infrastructure and training local staff.
Last year alone member states offered protection to 135,700 asylum seekers, nearly half of which were given refugee status. In 2013 the European Parliament approved new common asylum rules to ensure decent reception and living conditions of asylum seekers and ensure that asylum seekers are not transferred to member states unable to ensure decent living conditions for them.
MEPs have always campaigned for sufficient funding to help those in need. In April the EP’s budgets committee greenlighted an extra €150 million for urgent humanitarian aid and food assistance. MEPs also regularly hold debates to call attention to the plight of refugees, such as those fleeing the conflict in Syria and now more recently Gaza and Iraq. Early action has enabled the Commission to provide assistance to the more than one million displaced civilians in 2014.
Last month (August), the United Nations officially ranked Iraq as a 'Level 3' crisis, the highest ranking for humanitarian crises. Kristalina Georgieva, the European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response recently discussed the worsening situation in the country with EU Foreign Ministers at an extraordinary meeting of the EU Council organised by High Representative Catherine Ashton. As a result the European Commission is giving €5 million in further relief aid to respond to the growing humanitarian needs in Iraq. The additional funding will bring vital assistance to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians trapped by the fighting and in severe humanitarian need.
Like so many others I have been watching the situation in Iraq in horror and extreme sadness. I am appalled by the dire humanitarian situation which is worsening every day, with more than 200 000 people forced from their homes by fighting in northern Iraq and now in desperate need of assistance. The European Commission has strongly condemned attacks on Iraqi civilians who are being deliberately targeted and I intend, of course, to give my support and commitment to European Parliament endeavours designed to alleviate the plight of those innocents being so ruthlessly persecuted.