Foreign, health and development ministers from the European Union came together on Friday for quickly arranged talks to coordinate further plans to help those countries affected by the Asian tsunamis.
German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul Friday
At the emergency meeting in Brussels, ministers considered proposals for possible debt relief for countries in the region as well as creating a rapid reponse team to deal with future humanitarian catastrophes. The main aim of the meeting, according to the EU presidency, was to coordinate ideas ahead of a UN-hosted donors' conference in Geneva next week.
"There are a number of ideas which have been floated," Francoise Le Bail, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, told reporters. "It is important to make sure that the response we make, the proposals we put forward, are the right ones."
Besides ministers from the 25-member bloc, participants included David Nabarro, the top official at the World Health Organization (WHO) dealing with humanitarian crises, as well as Carol Bellamy, the head of UNICEF.
Rapid response and long-term aid
Besides debt relief, ministers threw their support behind a tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean region. They also looked at how it might respond to large-scale disasters in the future.
Earlier in the week, the EU's external affairs commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, had proposed creating a 5000-strong "crisis management corps." But at the meeting on Friday, EU governments said they preferred putting the focus on a "rapid response" aid force that would be made up of coordinated national forces.
Germany's foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, called on the EU to improve coordination in response to crises, warning that for a response force to be effective, it would have to first be efficient.
Survivors in Sri Lanka
Discussions in Brussels also included a German initiative to partner countries, municipalities and even schools in Europe with the region to help with long-term reconstruction.
The EU and its member states have pledged aid to the region worth nearly €1.5 billion ($2 billion) in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami disaster which has left more than 146,000 dead, including hundreds, possibly thousands of European tourists.
EU governments so far have pledged over €1 billion in aid while the EU Commission has earmarked €450 million.
Helping themselves, too
EU ministers also stressed the need for governments of countries in the region to continue to play their part in helping their own citizens and warned that the long-running internal conflicts in Sri Lanka and the Aceh province of Indonesia should not interfere with relief efforts.
German soldiers perpare emergency hospital containers for shipment to Indonesia
"The council launched an appeal so that aid can be delivered rapidly to all populations concerned, independent of the internal conflicts in some of the countries affected," said the ministers in a draft conclusion document.
Several ministers at the meeting were returning from or heading to the disaster region. Germany's Fischer is scheduled to fly to Thailand directly after the talks. His British counterpart, Jack Straw, was absent from the meeting since he is currently in the region.
On Friday, the EU's Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, Franco Frattini, told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that Europe might offer temporary refuge to hundreds of thousands of children affected by the disaster.
Survivors are threatened by epidemics
He said he had proposed offering to bring the children to the EU for several months, which would hopefully allow them to recover from their trauma and put them beyond the reach of criminal gangs which have been reported targeting lone children.
The United Nations Children's Fund confirmed a case in Indonesia of trafficking in children orphaned or separated from parents. Countries were warned to be on high alert for
Bringing children to the EU would require an extension of the bloc's temporary asylum rules. The United Nations estimates that 1.5 million children have been affected and are likely to suffer more than adults."There are thousands of European families ready to take them in," Frattini told the paper.