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European Union

EU billion-euro refugee aid not enough, agencies

Asylum-seekers wait outside a train station in Budapest.
Asylum-seekers wait outside a train station in Budapest. Reuters/Laszlo Balogh

Refugee agencies welcomed European Union leaders's decision to increase aid for Syria's neighbours, including one billion euros managed through UN agencies, but said the sume is not enough. No end of the conflict in Syria is in sight, they warned.

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The bulk of the money will go to help Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey where some four million Syrian refugees currently reside.

But one billion euros is far from enough to cover the costs, agencies say.

“UNHCR and our partners asked for 4.5 billion dollars in funding just in 2015 for the Syria situation,” says Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the UN refugee agency, pointing out that in 2016, more funding will be needed.

“It is no longer a short term situation,” he says. “The Syria conflict is four and a half years in, there are no signs of ending, it will require continuous efforts to alleviate the suffering in many years to come until a political solution is found.”

But he recognised the positive effects the new financial injection may have.

“It is a very important step forward to being able to manage this crisis. So the funding really is welcome. But they are hopefully the beginning of a solution and they are ultimately not the complete solution which of course is a political one,” he says, explaining that the ultimate solution lies in “preventing the conflict in Syria which is causing so much suffering, and so much discplacement.”

It was vital that this week's EU emergency summit address the crisis, Edwards says, but more needs to be done.

“If you look at the countries neighbouring Syria, hosting four million people, funded at only 40-odd per cent for all the humanitarian operations this year, it is clear that the pressures have been building,” he argues.

“Poverty has been increasing amongst refugees, there are fewer children in schools, food allowances have been cut. And all in all it has been creating an increasingly difficult and untenable situation for many people and the host communities that they are in. So this is really absolutely important that this was addressed. But is it a complete solution to the crisis? No, it is not.”

Meanwhile, in Croatia, one of the countries affected in the last weeks after Hungary closed its borders with Serbia, the reaction is cool.

“We believe that the decisions that were adopted yesterday are rather short-sighted.” says Vanya Bakalovic, a legal advisor to the Centre for Peace Studies, which works with refugees.

“They adopted a restrictive strategy on defending and protecting each others borders, especially the one between Turkey and Greece, which is an inefficient model for deterring refugees coming into Europe rather than finding a solution to the root causes causing their flight.”

In the frontline states Greece and Italy, there is not much enthusiasm either.

“I’m a little bit sceptical and worried when I see that there would be tight border controls,” says Spyros Rizakos, a spokesperson for the NGO Altima. “As far as refugees are concerned, we need to have a safe and legal access for these people to Europe, so that they would be eligible for protection."

But there is an upside too, he admits, citing the relocation of 160,000 people, which he calls “a very positive step”.

EU council president Donald Tusk also talked about creating special registration centres in the frontline states, so-called "hot-spots", to facilitate the influx of the refugees. There are no details on them yet but they are supposed to be operational in November.

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