Short on cash, EU Commission eyes private sector engagement in humanitarian action

Syrian refugees wait at a train station in Vienna. Migrants from war-torn Syria and other regions in turmoil continue to flood across borders into neighboring countries and into the heart of Europe. Photo by: Josh Zakary / CC BY-NC

The financial toll of Europe’s refugee crisis, the worst in the history of the European Union, could press the public and private sectors into new forms of partnership.

Migrants from war-torn Syria and other regions in turmoil continue to flood across borders into neighboring countries and into the heart of Europe. Meanwhile, the EU’s executive body is “scraping the barrel” for funding to address the crisis, as European Commission Vice President for Budget and Human Resources Kristalina Georgieva said in a recent meeting on the future of humanitarian finance.

Devex spoke with other top EU officials on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, including European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides, who suggested another path towards finding more resources. Engaging the private sector in humanitarian response, said Stylianides, is a “top priority.”

The EU aid chief said that the international humanitarian community recognizes the need to engage the private sector in order to be more effective in its work and suggested that the current refugee crisis could be a “turning point” in how the humanitarian community approaches that engagement.

“I recognize that we need a specific legal and modern framework for this engagement,” Stylianides said, adding that he and his colleagues in the humanitarian field are in a good place to help relieve some of the reluctance and overcome “traditional difficulties” associated with public-private engagement in humanitarian action.

“I’m not ready now to say something more specific,” Stylianides said, but he stressed that the humanitarian community’s recognition that “the private sector is not a danger for the humanitarian principles and for the international humanitarian law” is “a very important step.”

The commissioner added that private sector engagement is not only a priority for him, but also for his predecessor Georgieva, who in her new role holds sway over the European Commission’s purse strings.

“We have very good collaboration and cooperation … and this issue regarding engagement of the private sector is a top priority for both of us,” Stylianides said.

The EU — currently the top donor in efforts to alleviate the Syrian refugee crisis — has already mobilized approximately 4 billion euros ($4.46 billion) for humanitarian, development, and economic aid to Syrians in their own country, and in their host countries including Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey.

The EU has also mobilized 70 million euros in emergency funding for member states most affected by the crisis, in addition to 7 billion euros in multiannual funding to support migration and border management priorities from 2014-2020. Plans to introduce an additional 100 million euros in emergency funding in 2015 are underway.

An additional 1.8 billion euros was allocated for an “Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing root causes of irregular migration in Africa.”

New budgetary support is expected in the next six months including 1 billion euros for the EU Regional Trust Fund to respond to the Syrian crisis and a 200 million euro increase in humanitarian aid and civil protection resources directed towards the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Program and other organizations supporting refugees.

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About the author

  • Jeff tyson 400x400  1

    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, DC, he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the United States, and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.