Hundreds of thousands of lifejackets in a makeshift dump outside Eftalou, northern Lesbos in early December; and former chair of Goldman Sachs International and UN Special Representative for Migration, Peter Sutherland
Just before Christmas, Ireland’s former Attorney General and the current United Nations Special Representative for International Migration Peter Sutherland criticised the European Union for its response to the refugees and migrant crisis
During a speech, entitled ‘Migration – The Global Challenge Of Our Times’, at the Michael Littleton Memorial Lecture at the RTÉ Radio Centre on December 17, Mr Sutherland, said: “Ruinously selfish behaviour by some member states has brought the EU to its knees.”
In addition, the Irish Times reported:
‘On the way forward, Mr Sutherland said EU member states would be wise to take a “bold step” towards a single European border agency and, eventually, a single European asylum agency. Europe had to properly fund organisations such as the [UN’s] World Food Programme, which was feeding refugees in sprawling camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. He said it was immoral that the only pathway Europe offered to desperate refugees to access protection was to cross the perilous Mediterranean at great cost and risk of death.’
There are 2.2 million Syrian refugees registered in Turkey – 250,000 to 350,000 of whom are living in Government-run refugee camps, with the remaining Syrian refugees living in Turkey left to fend for themselves without access to legal employment.
In 2014, Amnesty International reported:
“According to Turkish government sources, only 15 per cent of Syrian refugees outside official camps receive assistance from humanitarian agencies and organisations. The need to provide basic food and shelter means that families resort to desperate measures to try and make ends meet – even putting their children to work.”
There are also approximately 230,000 asylum-seekers from other countries in Turkey while Lebanon and Jordan are hosting 1.1 million and 633,000 Syrian refugees respectively.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) – referred to by Mr Sutherland in his speech – is described as the ‘food assistance branch of the United Nations and the world’s largest humanitarian organisation addressing hunger and promoting food security’.
In September of last year, the Guardian reported that the UN’s humanitarian agencies were “on the verge of bankruptcy and unable to meet the basic needs of millions of people because of the size of the refugee crisis in the Middle East, Africa and Europe”.
“The deteriorating conditions in Lebanon and Jordan, particularly the lack of food and healthcare, have become intolerable for many of the 4 million people who have fled Syria, driving fresh waves of refugees north-west towards Europe and aggravating the current crisis.”
“This year the World Food Programme cut rations to 1.6 million Syrian refugees. The most vulnerable living in Lebanon now only have $13 to spend on food each month, a figure that the WFP warned would leave refugees vulnerable to recruitment by extremist groups. “
In the same Guardian article, it was reported that the UN only received $0.9 billion of the $2.89 billion it requested for its Syria Regional Response Plan.
“The majority of the UN’s humanitarian work is funded entirely by voluntary donations from individual governments and private donors, with agencies such as the UNHCR and Unicef receiving none of the regular budget that member states pay into the UN’s central coffers.”
“[UN high commissioner for refugees, António] Guterres is leading calls from within the UN to change this system and ask member states to make more regular payments to the main agencies.”
More recently in a TED talk, Mr Guterres said the sharp increase in refugees arriving in Europe in 2015 was largely prompted by the dire conditions facing refugees – particularly in Lebanon and Jordan – which were, in turn, largely due to lack of UN funding.
“The living conditions of the Syrians in the neighboring countries have been deteriorating. We just had research with the World Bank, and 87 percent of the Syrians in Jordan and 93 percent of the Syrians in Lebanon live below the national poverty lines. Only half of the children go to school, which means that people are living very badly. Not only are they refugees, out of home, not only have they suffered what they have suffered, but they are living in very, very dramatic conditions.”
“And then the trigger was when all of a sudden, international aid decreased. The [UN] World Food Programme was forced, for lack of resources, to cut by 30 percent food support to the Syrian refugees. They’re not allowed to work, so they are totally dependent on international support, and they felt, “The world is abandoning us.” And that, in my opinion, was the trigger. All of a sudden, there was a rush, and people started to move in large numbers and, to be absolutely honest, if I had been in the same situation and I would have been brave enough to do it, I think I would have done the same.”
Such cuts in funding could explain the following.
Between January 1, 2015 and November 14, 2015, an estimated 387,340 people had arrived on Lesbos via rubber dinghies – with the vast majority of these people arriving on the north of the island and spending a night there, in ill-equipped transit camps, until travelling down to Mytilene in the south for registration the following day.
Since November 29 – when the €3billion EU/Turkey deal was struck – the majority of boats arriving on Lesbos have been arriving on the south of the island.
When people arrive off boats they are generally soaked, very cold and their few possessions are either also soaked, and therefore abandoned, or were lost at sea. Some arrivals say they haven’t eaten for days.
According to figures obtained from the UNHCR, as of November 13, 2015 – when there were four “roving” UNHCR staff working in northern Lesbos – the UNHCR had provided the following by way of food, blankets and clothes in the area:
– 50,400 high-energy or sesame bars. These included 19,600 high-energy bars in Skala Sikaminias; 12,300 high-energy bars and 3,600 sesame bars in Molyvos; and 14,900 high-energy bars in Mantamados. They were distributed via their partner groups Starfish, MsF, Eurorelief, Samaritan’s Purse and the International Rescue Committee.
– 16,390 blankets. These included the distribution of 2,810 blankets in Mantamados, 3,605 in Skala Sikaminias and 9,975 in Molyvos.
– 1,913 raincoats. These were distributed in Molyvos.
The UNHCR spokeswoman said:
“UNHCR has significantly ramped up its presence in Lesvos and UNHCR staffing is being increased. Thirteen additional staff have been deployed, many speaking the language of the refugees, and bringing the total staff on Lesvos to 30. As you are aware, the situation is very challenging in all areas. At the North, new arrivals neither stay nor get registered by the Greek authorities. Thus, it is important for us to also focus in providing them protection and assistance the accommodation/registration sites near Mytilene, where people stay for a longer time than in the north.”
“UNHCR staff engage in a range of activities. Among others, they provide information to the new arrivals as regards the situation on the island, the processes that they have to go through, their rights and responsibilities…”
Alessandra Morelli, regional operations chief for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, recently spoke of her appreciation of the efforts of volunteers on the island of Lesbos, telling the Wall Street Journal: “Everyone recognises [the volunteer efforts]. But “now it’s time to bring professionals.”
Further to this.
In an open letter to the former chairman of Goldman Sachs International, Mr Sutherland – that has been circulating on social media and Reddit in recent days – a man called Patrick Holland writes:
“This refugee problem was brought about by the so called policy of ‘regime change’ favoured by some members of the US government and their lobbyists and the military-industrial business people, banking and big oil interests, including the neo conservatives…”
“Massive amounts of money are being made from these wars, supplying all sides of the conflict. Many newspapers report increased revenues and profits for military industrial interests and large banking interests which are involved in these conflicts in the Middle East. Several of these neo conservatives, lobbyists and military-industrial business people, banking and oil interests, are personal friends of yours, Mr Sutherland, you have met them in Bilderberg meetings, Trilateral Commission meetings, European Roundtable meetings, Goldman Sachs meetings, BP meetings, and WTO meetings.”
“You should get these people to stop their wars, stop their game playing in the Middle East. Use your influence, your power, your position, the press and media, your political connections, and your Goldman Sachs, Bilderberg and Trilateral connections to do this. This would help end the refugee problem…”
Selfishness on refugees has brought EU ‘to its knees’ (Irish Times)
Related: The Syrian opposition: who’s doing the talking?Charlie Skelton (The Guardian, July 12, 2012)
Previously: In Their Backyard