Millions of people are on the run in places such as Syria and Nigeria due to the rise of violent extremism, many of them receiving essential aid from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Its president Peter Maurer was in the European Parliament to meet the foreign affairs committee on 26 May and President Martin Schulz on 27 May. We talked to him to find out what life is like in these crisis-hit areas and how Europe could help to make a difference.
The ICRC has been very active in addressing the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Iraq and Syria. What repercussions has Islamic State's rise had on the local population and on ICRC activities?
Even before the appearance of the Islamic State group, Syria experienced the most serious humanitarian crisis in many years. Millions of Syrians have been displaced. The ICRC has a great challenge gaining access in Syria and Iraq. We can sometimes negotiate exemptions to carry out medical and sanitation work, but without stable access to Islamic State-controlled territory the population lacks stable support.
Life is extremely difficult for Syrians in Islamic State-controlled territory, but also for those cornered between frontlines. Even in government-controlled areas of Syria life after five years of conflict has become very difficult.
You have just returned from the Lake Chad region. How should the international community respond to the humanitarian crisis arising from the conflict with Boko Haram?
With more than 1.5 million people displaced in northern Nigeria, this crisis is often underestimated. As there are also refugees in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, responding to the humanitarian needs of those displaced is a huge task. For the moment the ICRC is the only relevant international actor in northern Nigeria and we need to upscale our water, sanitation, shelter, food and medical assistance. Psychosocial support is also needed.
The European Commission is the ICRC's fourth largest donor with 9.4% of all contributions. What difference do EU contributions make to your operations?
The EU is one of our top five donors and makes an immensely important contribution in helping us work. I see the EU not only as a donor but also as a region with a keen commitment to international humanitarian law. The ICRC needs more financial support as we are increasingly confronted with challenges where we are amongst the only ones responding.