Europe Pushes Ahead for More Aid to Syrians and to Disrupt Human Smuggling

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Migrants rescued by European naval ships in the Mediterranean on Sept. 19, 2015. EUNAVFOR

Seizing a chance to respond more coherently to the deadly situation in Syria, the European Union and Jordan are proposing a “resilience plan” to alleviate the humanitarian emergency while pushing for a political course to stop the Syrian government from killing what’s left of its people.

The European Union is also moving ahead in October with the second phase of a plan to intercept human smugglers in the Mediterranean Sea, forgoing United Nations Security Council consent.

Federica Mogherini, the European Union foreign affairs commissioner, and Nasser Judeh, foreign minister of Jordan, held a ministerial-level meeting on Tuesday during the UN General Assembly annual debate. Middle East countries, including those housing Syrian refugees, as well as international aid groups and UN agencies attended.

The immediate goal, Mogherini and Judeh said, is to fully meet the financial appeals of humanitarian agencies assisting Syrian people who have left their homes, which also means channeling more money to Jordan and Lebanon. With Turkey, they shoulder most of the burden of accommodating Syrian refugees. Up to 12 million Syrians have been displaced since the war began in March 2011.

Another possibility to reduce the suffering of Syrians is to use Turkey’s recent suggestion of forming a “safe zone” inside northern Syria near the Turkish border. There, Syrians could retreat to a haven and humanitarian aid could be sent. The plan, however, would require combat troops to carve out the space. No country is willing to accept that responsibility, a European delegate conceded after the meeting.

The political course discussed among the ministers would be built around the four working groups that the UN’s envoy in Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has recently arranged, as reported in PassBlue. His approach is based on the 2012 Geneva communiqué, which calls for, among other demands, the removal of President Bashar al-Assad. The groups will consider four tracks: safety and protection; political and legal topics; military and counterterrorism issues; and restoring public services and restarting development.

In addition, Europe’s proposal to stop the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Libya through an operation called EUNAVFOR Med is not likely to win approval in the UN Security Council this month, as many parties had wished. Instead, the operation will go ahead on Oct. 7, without the Council’s support, to intercept “criminal networks” in international waters where human smuggling to Southern Europe takes place. Under international law, the operation will not be able to intercept smugglers in Libyan waters, as originally proposed last spring.

The naval program will be able to board, search, seize and divert vessels suspected of being used for human smuggling or trafficking on the high seas — specifically, the south-central Mediterranean — in line with international law, according to the European Union. What will happen to the migrants intercepted on the smugglers’ boats is not spelled out. Twenty-two European countries will participate in the program.

Master of Science in Humanitarian Studies at Fordham University

Mogherini said that its name was too bureaucratic, so it is being changed to “Sophia,” after a baby born on a European rescue ship on Aug. 22 off the Libyan coast.

Mogherini and Judeh did not disclose what military choices are being taken seriously to tackle the Islamist extremists (ISIS) inside Syria, but they emphasized that de Mistura’s working groups would establish a transitional government in Damascus, thus end up replacing Assad.

Despite Russia’s avowal to stand by him, the European delegate said that everyone agreed Assad must go. Even Iran appears to be eager to help stop the Syrian war, he added, as it basks in the light of having forged the nuclear deal with Europe and the United States.

Assad’s name, the delegate said, “is toxic.”

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Dulcie Leimbach

Dulcie Leimbach

Dulcie Leimbach was a fellow of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center of CUNY from 2012 to 2017. She is the founder of PassBlue, for which she edits and writes, covering primarily the United Nations, West Africa, peacekeeping operations and women's issues. For PassBlue and other publications, she has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal) as well as from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio and Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles.

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA, where she edited its flagship magazine, The InterDependent, and migrated it online in 2010. She was also the senior editor of UNA's annual book, "A Global Agenda: Issues Before the UN." She has also worked as an editorial consultant to various UN agencies.

Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Colorado, graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver before she worked in New York at Esquire magazine and Adweek. In between, she was a Wall Street foreign-exchange dealer. Leimbach has been a fellow at Yaddo, the artists' colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and was a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She grew up mostly in Oyster Bay and Huntington, Long Island, where her family moved a dozen times, ending up in Santa Barbara, Calif. Her first exposure to the UN was at age 8, on a summer Sunday visit with her mother and sisters, where she was awed by the gift shop. Leimbach now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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