On Monday (23 May 2016), Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is travelling to the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. In an interview published in the “Rheinische Post” newspaper on 23 May 2016 he also talks about the EU’s refugee agreement with Turkey.
Minister, the UN wants to provide an additional 500 million euros to alleviate humanitarian crises. Where is the money needed most?
In view of the number of crises and conflicts and the most serious refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War, the need for humanitarian aid is greater today than ever before. It’s the responsibility of us all to ensure that international aid organisations have a reliable basis for their work and don’t have to worry constantly about how they will get through the next month in order to do what matters most: save lives.
What’s Germany doing?
Germany is setting a good example. During the last few years, we’ve dramatically increased our humanitarian assistance: our commitments amounting to 2.3 billion euros made us the biggest donor at the London Summit and we will continue to provide support for people. Especially in the case of the very urgent crises in which the Central Emergency Response Fund has to step in, we’ve now more than doubled our contribution and here, too, have become one of the biggest backers. The aim of the Istanbul Summit is to increase the overall budget to one billion US dollars. The international community as a whole is called on to show solidarity. In order to achieve this goal, we will raise our contribution in Istanbul by ten million euros to a total of 50 million euros.
Should the UN do more to ensure that Arab countries and China play a bigger role?
This is not about pointing the finger at individual countries. Providing humanitarian aid is a global responsibility which all states have to shoulder. This Summit, in whose conception we played a key role, is intended to send the message that everyone has to do more.
What does the UN have to do to alleviate the suffering of people in Syria?
The UN relief organisations are using all access routes to take humanitarian aid to people in Syria. This is being done by transporting supplies from Turkey and Jordan, as well as from Damascus, into the areas not under the control of the Assad regime. One outcome of our consultations in Vienna and Munich was that 800,000 people previously cut off from humanitarian aid received assistance. That saved thousands of lives. However, there are still too many people in Syria without any access to aid. At our last meeting in Vienna within the framework of the Syria Contact Group, we therefore issued the United Nations with a mandate to look for ways to supply aid from the air so that those previously cut off from humanitarian assistance can be provided for. It’s primarily the responsibility of the regime to make it possible to get humanitarian aid to areas which are cut off.
Are you concerned that the EU’s agreement with Turkey will founder due to political developments in Turkey?
At first, hardly anyone believed that the agreement would be concluded. Then self-appointed experts said it wouldn’t be possible to implement the agreement. Now it’s being claimed that it’s going to fail anyway. The fact is that there’s an agreement with obligations on both sides and until now both sides have met their obligations. However, it’s right to say that the restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of the press, interference in the rule of law, the escalating Kurd conflict and now the lifting of the immunity of deputies, that all of these developments are cause for concern and cannot be ignored – irrespective of our interest in constructive cooperation. We have to talk to Ankara about them. However, no-one can say with absolute certainty that the agreement will hold.
Does Europe need a Plan B in the refugee crisis?
I wish it was that simple. But, unfortunately, there’s no magic switch which can simply be pressed. Rather, there are a whole host of measures for Europe – and we’ve been working on that since the start of the refugee crisis. This includes the agreement with Turkey. In parallel to this, however, we’re also pressing ahead with plans to establish a European border and coastguard agency. We’re continuing to negotiate on a reform of the European asylum system. And we’re supporting Greece. At the same time, it’s clear that we can only regulate migration in cooperation with countries of origin and transit. That’s why I was in the Niger and Mali recently with my French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault for talks. We’re working day and night on a political solution for Syria and are helping the government of national unity in Libya to stabilise the country and get reconstruction underway more quickly so that the situation of people there tangibly improves.
This interview was conducted by Eva Quadbeck.