A camp for internally displaced people in Syria. The EU may soon have to cut its humanitarian aid to Syria. Photo:Getty.
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Why aren’t EU states delivering on their humanitarian aid pledges?

The EU is the world’s largest humanitarian donor, and it is facing a funding gap of almost half a billion euros.

The EU is the world’s largest humanitarian aid donor, funding over 50 per cent of humanitarian aid projects. It is currently facing a worrying funding crunch, with the Guardian reporting it is facing a €480m shortfall. Unless member states respond quickly by releasing funds, this means the EU will have to make further cutbacks to its projects, may have to lay off staff and will be less able to respond to new emergencies. So what has gone wrong?

The EU humanitarian fund was already €130m in the red at the start of 2014, having overspent last year, and it is responding to an almost unprecedented number of high-level emergencies at the same time: the civil war in Syria, violence in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, and the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

The other problem is that there is a gap between what EU member states have pledged in aid, and what they have actually delivered to date. Member states are reluctant to fund EU aid projects when they face public spending squeezes at home.  The resources director of the EU’s humanitarian aid directorate (DG Echo), Walter Schwarzenbrunner, told the Guardian he needs to receive another €400m, with €150m arriving before the summer to avoid “real crisis”. He has already made cuts to humanitarian relief to the drought-prone Sahel, and unless this money arrives by July, Schwarzenbrunner believes they will have to cut back on life-saving projects in priority areas, including Syria, CAR and South Sudan.

The global recession might have dampened support for humanitarian aid projects among Europeans who feel they want to see the money spent at home, but a recent survey found that 8 out of 10 EU citizens still believe humanitarian funding is important (although one in four would rather more of this funding was directed through individual member states rather than the EU). 

They are right, too. For a start there’s a strong moral imperative to support victims of natural disasters or war. But if you prefer to take a more pragmatic (or cynical) approach to international affairs there’s a strategic case to be made for humanitarian aid: it is a powerful source of “soft power”, a tool for diplomacy and a way of projecting values such as respect for human rights overseas. Humanitarian aid can promote stability and security, too. At a time when the EU’s foreign policy response to crises like Syria and Ukraine has exposed the bloc as weak, indecisive and short-sighted, decisive action on humanitarian funding is even more important. 

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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France’s burkini ban could not come at a worse time

Yet more legislation against veiled women can only further divide an already divided nation.

Since mayor of Cannes David Lisnard banned the full-body burkini from his town’s beaches, as many as 15 French resorts have followed suit. Arguments defending the bans fall into three main categories. First, it is about defending the French state’s secularism (laïcité). Second, that the costume represents a misogynistic doctrine that sees female bodies as shameful. And finally, that the burkini is cited as a threat to public order.

None of these arguments satisfactorily refute the claims of civil rights activists that the bans are fundamentally Islamophobic.

The niceties of laïcité

The Cannes decree explicitly invokes secular values. It prohibits anyone “not dressed in a fashion respectful of laïcité” from accessing public beaches. However, the French state has only banned “ostentatious” religious symbols in schools and for government employees as part of laïcité (the strict separation between the state and religious society). And in public spaces, laïcité claims to respect religious plurality. Indeed, the Laïcité Commission has tweeted that the ban, therefore, “cannot be based upon the principle of laïcité”.

While veils covering the entire face such as the burqa or niqab are illegal, this is not to protect laïcité; it is a security matter. The legal justification is that these clothes make it impossible to identify the person underneath – which is not the case for the burkini.

 

By falling back on laïcité to police Muslim women in this way, the Cannes authorities are fuelling the argument that “fundamentalist secularism” has become a means of excluding Muslims from French society.

Colonial attitudes

Others, such as Laurence Rossignol, the minister for women’s rights, hold that the burkini represents a “profoundly archaic view of a woman’s place in society”, disregarding Muslim women who claim to wear their burkini voluntarily.

This typifies an enduring colonial attitude among many non-Muslim French politicians, who feel entitled to dictate to Muslim women what is in their best interests. Rossignol has in the past compared women who wear headscarves through choice to American “negroes” who supported slavery.

Far from supporting women’s rights, banning the burkini will only leave the women who wear it feeling persecuted. Even those with no choice in the matter are not helped by the ban. This legal measure does nothing to challenge patriarchal authority over female bodies in the home. Instead, it further restricts the lives of veiled women by replacing it with state authority in public.

Open Islamophobia

Supporters of the ban have also claimed that, with racial tensions high after recent terrorist attacks, it is provocative to wear this form of Muslim clothing. Such an argument was made by Pierre-Ange Vivoni, mayor of Sisco in Corsica, when he banned the burkini in his commune. Early reports suggested a violent clash between local residents and non-locals of Moroccan origin was triggered when strangers photographed a burkini-wearing woman in the latter group, which angered her male companions. Vivoni claimed that banning the costume protected the security of local people, including those of North African descent.

Those reports have transpired to be false: none of the women in question were even wearing a burkini at the time of the incident. Nonetheless, the ban has stood in Sisco and elsewhere.

To be “provoked” by the burkini is to be provoked by the visibility of Muslims. Banning it on this basis punishes Muslim women for other people’s prejudice. It also disregards the burkini’s potential to promote social cohesion by giving veiled women access to the same spaces as their non-Muslim compatriots.

Appeals to public order have, occasionally, been openly Islamophobic. Thierry Migoule, head of municipal services in Cannes, claimed that the burkini “refers to an allegiance to terrorist movements”, conveniently ignoring the Muslim victims of recent attacks. Barely a month after Muslims paying their respects to friends and family killed in Nice were racially abused, such comments are both distasteful and irresponsible.

Increased divisions

Feiza Ben Mohammed, spokesperson for the Federation of Southern Muslims, fears that stigmatising Muslims in this way will play into the hands of IS recruiters. That fear seems well-founded: researchers cite a sense of exclusion as a factor behind the radicalisation of a minority of French Muslims. Measures like this can only exacerbate that problem. Indeed, provoking repressive measures against European Muslims to cultivate such a sentiment is part of the IS strategy.

Meanwhile, the day after the incident in Sisco, riot police were needed in nearby Bastia to prevent a 200-strong crowd chanting “this is our home” from entering a neighbourhood with many residents of North African descent. Given the recent warning from France’s head of internal security of the risk of a confrontation between “the extreme right and the Muslim world”, such scenes are equally concerning.

Now more than ever, France needs unity. Yet more legislation against veiled women can only further divide an already divided nation.

The Conversation

Fraser McQueen, PhD Candidate, University of Stirling

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.