The European Union did not take appropriate measures on time to tackle the consequences of the refugee crisis and was very slow in realising the dimensions of the problem, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides and MEPs Takis Hadjigeorgiou (AKEL-GUE) and Eliza Vozemberg (New Democracy-EPP) have said.
Stylianides, Hadjigeorgiou and Vozemberg were the keynote speakers at a conference that took place in Nicosia Friday titled “EU Foreign Policy and Huminitarian Aid: Developments in the Middle East“.
The conference was organised by the offices of the European Parliament in Cyprus and Greece, the Representation of the European Commission in Cyprus and the Diplomatic Academy of the University of Nicosia.
Stylianides said that the refugee crisis did not solely concern EU but it is rather an international problem that needed international cooperation and collaboration and action at all levels.
He highlighted the role of Cyprus, an island just 70 km away from Latakia in Syria, but at the same time an EU member state and described the refugee crisis as the biggest since the end of World War II, pointing out that the numbers of refugees had reached unprecedented levels.
He said that 12-13 million people had fled Syria as refugees or are internal migrants and should be provided with basic humanitarian assistance such as food, water and simple facilities.
Humanitarian issues required political solutions and the EU so far had been the biggest donor giving over €5 billion in aid.
Referring to Cyprus, Stylianides said the island could be the example that demonstrated that co-existence of Muslims and Christians was not impossible.
Hadjigeorgiou, in his intervention, said: “We are faced with a global crisis”, adding that images of drowned bodies in the Mediterranean had led to a wave of sympathy all over the world.
It is high time, he said, to show that politics could be moral as well.
Referring to Turkey, he said that the Arab Spring may soon turn into a Turkish winter with consequences for all andurged the two leaders in Cyprus to have in mind that they did not have too much time to solve the Cyprus issue.
Vozemberg said the EU should rethink its role “and the decisions it takes.”
She said that Europe as a whole was very slow in realising the real problem, adding that it was not long ago that some EU countries stated that refugee crisis was only affecting the southern member states.
Vozemberg added that solidarity should be accompanied by coherent policy and a common European strategy and should not be perceived as begging.
Ambassador Leonidas Pantelidis, Director for Middle East and North Africa at the Foreign Ministry, spoke about the Cypriot strategy at regional and international level, saying specifically that at the level of national regional policy, Cyprus was investing in activities like the trilateral forum between Greece-Cyprus-Egypt and Greece-Cyprus-Israel. “Our effort is to begin to cement the links and build the bridges necessary in the direction of what he calls a more politically and economically integrated region,” he said.
He referred to two recent examples of successful diplomacy in the region, one being the agreement of Iran with the 3+3 on the nuclear file and the second the destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal. Both, he said, were possible because of what he calls successful multilateralism and persistent diplomatic engagement.
Dr. Michalis Attalides, Coordinator of the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence at the University of Nicosia, spoke about the geopolitical developments in the Middle East and the challenges for EU external policy.
He noted that the refugee crisis was not resolved by building walls and fences nor by granting financial assistance to countries in need, or strengthening Frontex. What is needed he said, is a realistic foreign policy. He noted that the main conflict was between Sunni and Shia Muslims and only secondarily between some Muslims and some Christians.
Dr. Zenon Tziaras, Political Analyst at the Diplomatic Academy of the University of Nicosia, spoke about the impact of the Islamic State in the Middle East and Turkey.
He said that ISIS had changed the geo-political landscape of the region and strategic calculations of states across the world. He also added that Turkey was one of the countries affected the most by ISIS and that the refugee crisis has repercussions for economy and security in the country.
The Ambassadors of Greece, Italy and France as well as High Commissioner of the UK also made brief interventions at the conference.
Greek Ambassador Elias Photopoulos said that the protection of the refugees was a fundamental part of EU ideals and that global and comprehensive approach is needed that will yield permanent results.
Guido Cerboni, Ambassador of Italy said that his country had given $180 million to the West Bank and Gaza aid but now it had to redirect its aid to Syria. He said that crisis includes violence targeting women and girls, the youth as well as crimes against humanity, rape and sexual slavery.
Fighting Daesh (ISIS) is not only a security issue, said Luc Florent, Ambassador of France, adding that his country had mobilised its air force at the international Coalition. He said that political solutions are needed for stability in the region.
British High Commissioner Ric Todd said that EU must do more for the refugees, adding that international and European collaborated action and cooperation is needed as well as cooperation with other countries such as Turkey. (CNA)