Global aid summit must not to focus on refugee crisis alone: leaders

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 29, 2016 10:14 AM

By Sebastien Malo

UNITED NATIONS (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The refugee crisis triggered by conflict in the Middle East should not monopolize the first World Humanitarian Summit, which needs to find solutions to broader humanitarian problems, a top EU official and the head of a leading aid group said.

The global summit in Istanbul on May 23-24 is expected to draw 5,000 government and civil society delegates who will seek to agree on how humanitarian action should meet modern-day challenges.

The summit comes as hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing conflict and poverty have crossed into Greece by sea from Turkey in the past year, triggering a humanitarian crisis.

Alarmed at the influx, the European Union and Turkey agreed to seal off the route last month, after Balkan states closed their borders to migrants trying to make their way to wealthy western Europe, stranding thousands in Greece.

Still, the summit should not become an arena to disentangle the European migrant crisis, said the European Union's ambassador to the United Nations, Joao Vale de Almeida, responding to questions by a reporter on Thursday.

"The summit is basically about humanitarian action, humanitarian aid, humanitarian concept... and not about this particular situation," he said at a news briefing at the United Nations.

David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee, said there was a danger the meeting would focus on the current refugee crisis in Europe at the expense of other crises.

"I think it's very, very important ... that it's not seen as a European-Middle Eastern summit," the former British foreign minister said.

"If it becomes just a discussion about the Middle East and Europe, we'll lose African countries, South Asian countries, Far Eastern countries who have genuine reasons to be very concerned about this crisis of forced displacement."

In December, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR estimated that the number of people forcibly displaced worldwide was likely to have surpassed a record of 60 million people.

On top of Syria's civil war, conflicts in Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo have generated large numbers of refugees, UNHCR reported.

The World Humanitarian Summit should look scrutinize how aid funds are spent, said Vale de Almeida.

"The aid needs to be better spent," he said. "For instance ask yourselves how much money do we spend on things that are not necessarily central to the people we are trying to help: bureaucracy, overhead costs."

(Reporting by Sebastien Malo, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)