50 years of humanitarian assistance – Opening statement by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas

04.09.2018 - Speech

Welcome to the Federal Foreign Office!

50 years of humanitarian assistance provides us with a good opportunity to look back on what has happened and what has developed. And it’s something we can be proud of.

We launched our humanitarian assistance here at the Federal Foreign Office back in 1968 with one staff member and 11 million euros. Today, around 60 colleagues are engaged in this field and we’re talking about sums of 1.5 billion euros.

You could say that’s a good, a positive development. Actually, however, it’s merely a consequence of an exceptionally negative development, namely that there are still humanitarian crises in our increasingly developed world. Unfortunately, the scale and number of these crises have risen drastically during the last few years. Since 2014, we have substantially increased funding once more. This shows how topical and complex this issue has become in many parts of the world.

Jordan was one of the countries I visited just after taking up office. I experienced something there which brought home to me how vital humanitarian assistance is.

I had a meeting with the Royal Family and travelled directly from the palace to a refugee camp. I went from one world into another completely different world in the same country – not far apart from one another.

In this refugee camp, a family asked me to go to their container. I went there alone and spoke to the family at length. They knew that I was coming and had taken so much trouble to prepare everything. At some point I realised that these people had lost their country and their home but not their dignity or pride.

I believe that’s one of the tasks of humanitarian assistance. It won’t help us to resolve any conflicts or end any crises. However, it helps people who have lost so much to retain their dignity. That’s a lot and, incidentally, it’s not always possible – despite humanitarian assistance.

Humanitarian assistance is far more than charity. It’s the manifestation of a humane foreign policy and therefore an issue we focus on intensively. We provide money to this end and are now the second largest donor in this field. All of this is good and right. It makes sense and is also responsible. However, there are a host of other issues which are giving us cause for concern and which we likewise have to focus on.

I’d like to look at one point which Mark Lowcock mentioned yesterday in his much talked-about speech at the Hertie School, namely that we need people who can ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches its destination. These people work for the many organisations we cooperate with. We discovered in the past that their work is becoming increasingly difficult and that they sometimes can no longer do anything because they themselves are in danger and no longer have the necessary protection to do their job. That applies to Syria, as well as to many other conflicts.

That’s why Mark was right when he said last night that the erosion of international humanitarian law must not result in humanitarian assistance ultimately not arriving where it’s needed. Because we no longer have people on the ground who can ensure that help is provided. That’s the reason why we’ve decided to put this issue on the agenda when we take up our seat on the UN Security Council next year. After all, this is the prerequisite for ensuring that the money we provide actually arrives where it is needed.

It’s thus not always about the volume of funding provided but also about ensuring that we’re operationally able to assist. For that we need many of those who are here today. I’m fully aware of your great commitment and of your mostly very dangerous work. That, too, is an issue which we have to look at more closely. We cannot merely talk about money.


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