Press Releases European Humanitarian Forum: Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the opening ceremony

European Humanitarian Forum: Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the opening ceremony

Good morning to everybody.

Dear Minister [Caroline] Gennez [Belgian Minister of Development Cooperation and Major Cities],

Dear President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mirjana Spoljaric,

Esteemed Martin Griffiths, United Nations Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator: you must have a lot of work.

Dear Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,

Dear Janez, Commissioner Lenarčič – colleague and friend, both.

Ladies and gentlemen,

You have already mentioned this but allow me to repeat it again: there are more people in need of emergency assistance than ever before. Things have become very bad, much worse, every day. Let me go through a few important points.

The first one – you will not be surprised – is the situation in Gaza. I will have a look at that, not only from [a] humanitarian but also [from a] political point of view.

Gaza is no longer controlled by anyone. Not by Hamas, and not by Israel. The territory of Gaza is very quickly becoming a territory without any kind of order. Not a state, but a single order. It is more and more looking like Haiti, like Somalia, like Syria, or Mosul.

This will be the first failed state before having existed. All territories beyond the control of the state become spaces captured by armed groups [and] organised gangs living of trafficking of all kinds, which basically leave the population with only two options: immigration or terrorism. Or both. This is something that was already said in December, and now on which [has] everybody agreeing. That is what is happening in Gaza.

In Gaza, we are no longer ‘on the brink of famine’, we are in a state of famine, affecting thousands of people. Chancellor [of Germany, Olaf] Scholz told Prime Minister [of Israel, Benjamin] Netanyahu “We cannot stand by and watch the Palestinians starve”. Ok, then what are we going to do? We cannot stand by and watch Palestinians starve. What are we going to do?

Because this famine it is not a natural disaster, it is not a flood, it is not an earthquake; it is entirely man made. By whom? Let’s dare to say it: by whom? By the one that prevents humanitarian support [from] entering into Gaza; by the lack of access; by the acute insecurity inside Gaza.

Insecurity in itself prevents distribution of support, of help. But the problem is that hundreds of trucks are waiting at the border, and the ones controlling the border are preventing from coming into [Gaza].

I am coming from Washington, and I dare to say – well, yes – Israel is provoking famine. “Oh, how do you say that? What evidence do you have?”. Come on, what evidence do I have? Hundreds of trucks are waiting to enter [Gaza], and it is absolutely imperative to make crossing points to work effectively and open additional crossing points. It is just a matter of political will, Israel has to do it. It is not a question of logistics. It is not because the United Nations has not provided enough support. The support is there, waiting. Trucks are stopped, people are dying while the land crossings are artificially closed. And yes, it is good to look at support by sea or by air, but we have to remind [ourselves] that we have to do it because the natural way of providing support is being closed, artificially closed.

We send parachutes to a place that is one hour by car from the next airport. Why do not we not send it to the airport? Because they do not let it, and this is unacceptable. Starvation is used as a weapon of war. Yes, starvation is used as a weapon of war. Let’s say that.

And it is not a question of a lack of sufficient supplies: we hear that there are several months of food stocked on the Egyptian side. Several months of food stocked. And even more than in any other conflict, children are suffering the most in Gaza, because they have nowhere to go, nowhere to hide.

So, I would like to encourage you, to encourage the call for actions for the children affected by the war in Gaza. This is a war of children; more children have been killed in Gaza in these months, than in the whole world in the last 4 years.

We need to work with Israel, yes, we need to work with them, on some potentially promising signs we that have seen in recent days of a little bit of willingness to facilitate new additional land routes into the North of Gaza.

Second, about the actors, most notably UNRWA. UNRWA is the last lifeline for many. No other agency has the staff and capacity on the ground to provide support. Yes, UNRWA is facing allegations. And we await with interest the results of the ongoing independent investigations, as well as the findings of the [Catherine] Colonna Commission set up by the United Nations Secretary-General [António Guterres].

But let me remind you of one thing: UNRWA exists because there are Palestinian refugees. It is not a present of the international community to the Palestinians, it is an answer to their needs. And even if UNRWA disappears, the Palestinian refugees will not disappear. They will not disappear by making UNRWA disappear. It is important to launch this message, in a moment in which many countries [like] Canada, Switzerland are restarting [their] support to UNRWA. And I hope the European Commission will, apart from the first package of financial support, quickly provide the rest.

The second point I want to make is about the alarming situation in other places in which we face war.

In Ukraine, Russia shows no respect for international humanitarian law either. 14 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

In the Sahel, terrorism and the reactions of military regimes are exacerbating instability. One in five people in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger – [together it] make[s] 17 million people – depend on humanitarian assistance.

Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Yemen, Nigeria and Myanmar. This is the list of the most awful crisis where tens of thousands of people are being killed in internal fight. And Janez [Lenarčič] knows better than I how many people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

My last point is about humanitarian funding gap and the need for global outreach.

Humanitarian funding should be a shared responsibility. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In 2022, the three largest global donors accounted for 64% of all humanitarian assistance. You have said that – dear Janez [Lenarčič] – we have to increase and broaden the donor base, going beyond the European Union and the like-minded. And our global outreach efforts should not be limited to funding:

We need to increase our respect for international humanitarian law. We see unacceptable levels of violence against humanitarian aid workers, which have risked their lives more and more, working in dangerous contexts.

Humanitarian action cannot stand alone. We need to work together to find solutions to the drivers of humanitarian needs. And for that, increased multilateralism [in] international relations is a must. I hope that the Summit of the Future in September at UN General Assembly will be a key opportunity to reinvigorate global commitment to multilateralism.

We see at the United Nations Security Council more and more vetoes and less and less agreements. And in particular, in these dramatic circumstances, the vetoes do not allow to take political actions.

I hope that in the medium future the discussions at the United Nations Security Council will allow for a ceasefire in Gaza, to free the hostages, and to increase humanitarian support to the Palestinian people.

I hope the UN General Assembly in September will be an opportunity to reinvigorate our global commitment to multilateralism, and I hope that this Forum today will send a strong message of the continued support from the European Union and our Member States to engage to address humanitarian crises through the world.

Yes, we need good Samaritans, we need people to support people in need, but stop [it] with the crocodile tears. We have to take action in order to prevent what is happening, not only complain about it.

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