Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock to the Bundestag during the debate on the Federal Foreign Office budget

31.01.2024 - Speech

“Sometimes I think the world has forgotten us women.”

That was the first sentence I heard during my conversation with a woman in the refugee camp in South Sudan. She had crossed the desert on foot, carrying her children on her back. 1.7 million people are fleeing from a brutal war in the Sudan. The woman next to her had had to witness her daughter being repeatedly raped by fighters.

And during this trip, I also heard several voices from Germany which were saying: Do we have to sort that out now as well? I say loud and clear: Yes!

Not only because it is our humanitarian obligation to do so, but also because it is in our own security interests that the war in the Sudan and the conflict in South Sudan do not drag even more neighbouring countries into chaos.

The war in the Middle East, the Houthi missiles over the Red Sea: crises in places that once seemed far away to us now affect us directly. That means that looking away, that turning a blind eye is not an option.

Paying close attention, being there for others when they need us, in these days that is hard security policy. Just as others, even those far away from us, have been there when we Europeans have needed them for our security, as has been the case since 24 February 2022. Germany’s reliability is one of our most important currencies in these times.

This reliability also encompasses our role as the second-largest international donor. I am very grateful to the colleagues from the Budget Committee, and also to the colleagues from the democratic opposition, the CDU/CSU, for further intensifying humanitarian assistance in this area.

[Question from the chamber]

You have already pointed out that when we talk about UNRWA, we have on the one hand UNRWA in Gaza and on the other hand the activities of UNRWA in many other countries. We also discussed this issue in depth today in the Committee on Foreign Affairs. At this point I would like to say how very, very grateful I am to all colleagues – both from the coalition parties and from the CDU/CSU – for taking a very nuanced view of this issue, as I do, too. We are aware that UNRWA has been a construct for a very long time because Gaza has no local self-government.

That also applies to other countries such as Jordan, for example, where in the past we have constantly increased our funding in order to significantly improve the situation particularly for children in schools. There, too, together with the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Finance Committee, while continuously monitoring our funding – as Otto Fricke pointed out – we have been able to bring about changes in humanitarian assistance, for example, with regard to school books – and there, too, I would ask all colleagues always to check the facts and to look when the examples cited date from – because there is evidently a need for reform in that area.

At the same time, we have to acknowledge that we are currently in the middle of a horrific war situation. As far as UNRWA is concerned, the situation facing us is that the organisation is currently the most important – and indeed just about the only – assistance provider in Gaza. All other organisations, through which we channel much more humanitarian assistance, such as the UN World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross, are at the moment basically unable to operate in Gaza. More than 200 humanitarian aid workers have already been killed. The UNRWA structures are currently almost the only ones that are still in a position to provide some form of assistance.

So it isn’t the case, as you just implied, that we have said we would just put a stop to all of that. I would ask you at this point to read my statements, and the statements of the other 15 major donors, very carefully. We made very clear that we are aware that the situation in Gaza is hell. Yet I would also like to say in response to your question that that is not only true of the situation in Gaza. The situation in which the people find themselves whose loved ones, families, children, parents are still being held hostage by Hamas terrorists is also unbearable, as we heard once again this morning during the ceremony of remembrance.

I can’t stop thinking about the words, “Be human!”, and all the words that have been uttered since 7 October. When all is said and done, it basically means being willing to see the suffering of all people and not just the suffering of one side.

With this in mind, we have now taken action in response to the intolerable allegations directed at UNRWA staff members. In a situation like this, where allegations have been made, I can’t ignore them, when UNRWA personnel have evidently participated in these barbaric acts. For me, that is not an option.

At the same time, I cannot block out or ignore the fact – and that was what our discussions in the Committee on Foreign Affairs today centred on – that a war is raging, when people say: “UNRWA has to be reformed now.” Some have stated, in media contributions at least, that someone else should somehow now do that. Mr Laschet and I also discussed this earlier. In the current situation, “somehow” is not an adequate response. We have made this clear to the United Nations. The ball is now in their court.

We know that 1.9 million people depend on this humanitarian assistance. We know that what is currently available will only last for a few weeks. That is why we have increased our funding for the Red Cross and for UNICEF. But these funds must be distributed. That is why it is so vital that, in the coming weeks, the UN embraces its responsibility, launches an investigation and at the same time – in coordination with our European partners – conducts an independent audit of UNRWA, with the involvement of European stakeholders.

At this point I want to say in no uncertain terms that the suffering is intolerable, but turning a blind eye is not an option for us. We cannot ignore the fact that children are currently having limbs amputated without anaesthetic. We cannot ignore the fact that a one-year-old child remains in Hamas captivity. That is why, in these days, we are continuing to strive every day to take practical steps, without losing sight of the bigger foreign policy picture. But I believe that our humanitarian responsibility now calls us, in our own interests, to further develop the trust placed in us and to be reliable partners for the local people. For, in times like these, trust is not something that is nice to have, but the foundation for our capability to act at all in this world of shifting values.


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