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Extra Berlin funds for UN refugee efforts

November 4, 2015

The German parliament's budgetary committee has earmarked an extra 75 million euros for refugee camps run by the UN in and near Syria. This follows UN warnings that world funding doesn't even cover the "bare minimum."

Syrische Kinder im Flüchtlingslager im Winter
Image: AFP/Getty Images

Germany's parliament was due Thursday to allocate 75 million ($81 million) from its supplementary 2015 budget to UN agencies struggling to house and feed Syrian refugees in Jordan and Turkey, as well as inside war-torn Syria.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's budgetary specialist Eckhardt Rehberg told the news agency Reuters that Germany saw itself as a reliable contributor to international organizations and expected other nations to do that same.

"For the care of refugees in the refugee camps, a lot would be achieved if other nations followed suit and likewise raised their financial commitments," said Rehberg who is a member of the Bundestag parliament's budgetary committee.

Bundestagsabgeordneter Eckhardt Rehberg
Follow Germany's example, urges RehbergImage: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Wüstneck

Likewise, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged European nations to make improved long-term contributions to international aid organizations.

"We will not succeed if we don't tackle the causes of [refugee] flight," Steinmeier said.

If approved on Thursday, parliament will allocate 65 million euros extra to the UN's World Food Program (WFP) and 10 million euros to the UNHCR refugee agency.

Germany has provided more than one billion euros since Syria's war broke out in 2011.

Not even the bare minimum

The mass arrivals of refugees in Europe from Syria - but also Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea - was triggered, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, by meager funding for the world's 60 million displaced.

He told the UN General Assembly's human rights committee in New York that contributions by UN member nations were not enough "to cover even the bare minimum, and we are starting to see what happens as a result of that."

The UNHCR had received less than half of the money it needed this year, he said.

Earlier this year, the WFP was forced to cut its assistance to vulnerable families in camps by 30 percent "which made many refugees feel that the international community was starting to abandon them," he added.

After years of exile, most of the four million Syrian refugees in neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey had depleted their savings and had lost hope that Syria's conflict would end, prompting their exodus, Guterres said.

He said that Europe had the capacity to manage current refugee inflows but described the EU's recent fractious decision-making on relocating 160,000 asylum seekers among its member nations as being "far too slow."

More Berlin coalition talks

The intended Bundestag vote on extra UN funding was due to coincide on Thursday with more top-level talks between Merkel and her two coalition partners on how to resolve their row on the handling of refugee arrivals.

Talks last Sunday ended inconclusively with Sigmar Gabriel and his center-left Social Democrats (SPD) rejecting a demand by Merkel's conservative Bavarian ally Horst Seehofer that the federal government establish large transit border camps and deport persons uneligible for asylum.

Deutschland Österreich Grenze Bayern Flüchtlinge
Refugees arriving at Wegscheid in BavariaImage: Reuters/M. Rehle

"Giant internment camps for thousands of refugees, which some inappropriately call 'transit zones' are paper tigers," Gabriel said, according to the tabloid newspaper "Bild" ahead of its Thursday edition.

The SPD parliamentary group's manager Christine Lambrecht reiterated that the Social Democrats wanted registration centers inside Germany to handle what she said was a big problem of unregistered persons.

The Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) which governs Bavaria, the main entry point for refugees reaching Austria via the Balkans, said Wednesday the SPD's registration center concept was inadequate.

At last Sunday's talks, Horst Seehofer, the CSU's leader and Bavarian regional state premier, reportedly insisted on refugees being held at borders for registration before officially entering Germany.

He had previously claimed that Bavaria could enact "self defense" measures along the Bavarian segment of Germany's eight-nation border if Berlin failed to stem refugee inflows.

Constitutional experts, however, pointed out that border controls are the federal government's prerogative.

Bavaria prepares legal case

Bavaria's interior minister Joachim Herrmann on Wednesday said the southern state had asked former top judge Udo di Fabio to examine the legal prospects of a Bavarian lawsuit before Germany's constitutional court.

Peter Altmeier, the refugee crisis coordinator in Merkel's chancellery, on Wednesday said Germany had to strike a balance between acting humanely and ensuring its security.

Visiting communal officials, police and Austrian representatives at Wegscheid, a Bavarian town near Germany's border with Austria, Altmeier said regulated procedures were needed to handle refugee arrivals.

The situation was "formidable" and could only be handled jointly, he said.

Stateless children especially vulnerable

On Tuesday, the UNHCR said crises in Syria and other regions were resulting in a stateless child being born every 10 minutes without citizenship.

Refugee widows were unable to register their children, creating serious hurdles to enrolling them at schools, getting medical care and finding work to support them.

ipj/rc (KNA, Reuters, dpa, epd, AP)