Local and regional authorities have a key role in helping to combat two very different crises, but both having major international implications: the ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, and the war in Syria. This was the message delivered to the ALDE Group at its Extraordinary Group Meeting, by the EU Counter-terrorism Coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, the Deputy Head of Cabinet for Commissioner Stylianides, Kim Eling, and the member of Commissioner Mimica’s cabinet, Maud Arnould.
Specifically, local and regional authorities can:
- Help to keep Syria in the headlines and to overcome public fatigue.
- Train front-line workers to identify potential jihadists as quickly as possible
- Exchange best practice with other European local and regional authorities through the Radicalisation Awareness Network, of which the CoR is a part.
- Work to fight islamophobia, and extremist parties that undermine community relations, making a clear distinction between the vast majority of muslims who wish to live peacefully in Europe and the minority who take up violence.
- Give proper recognition to the European health workers who return from the ebola-affected countries, so that these volunteers are not stigmatised, but instead are hailed as heroes.
- Mobilise resources to encourage more volunteers to go
- Exchange best practice with local and regional authorities in the affected countries to help them recover.
During the presentations and debate, the ALDE members heard that the situation in Syria is getting worse in terms of scale and violence. There have been 200,000 dead, there are millions of displaced people, the needs are rising, yet public attention is dropping. The World Food Programme has suspended food vouchers for 1.7 million Syrians. Getting the warring parties to agree to basic rules to allow the humanitarian work to function is proving to be very difficult. Of the millions of refugees, only 2.5% are in Europe, with the rest in Lebanon and Jordan, taking these countries close to breaking point. Islamic State has thirty thousand fighters, twelve thousand of which are in Syria, the rest in Iraq. Half of them come from 90 countries around the world, and there are probably 3000 from Europe. Europe needs to understand why there are so many volunteer fighters from Europe and why so many women willing to provide support; why more fighters come from Flanders and Brussels, but very few from Wallonia or Spain, despite having large muslim communities. Prison is a big incubator of radicalisation, therefore only those who have committed crimes or who are unwilling in participating in rehabilitation programmes should go to prison. Allowing radicalised youth to go and fight is not a good idea, because they often return traumatised and having gained experience in handling weapons.
Ebola can be defeated, as Nigeria and Senegal have demonstrated. The EU is providing humanitarian assistance, supporting the African Union health workers, and focusing on rebuilding urban sanitation and governance. It is important not to over-invest in the health systems, because it is vital that the recipient countries – Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea – dedicate part of their own budget now and in the future to their health systems. In Liberia most schools are closed, so investment in education will be vital. The USA is better at giving recognition to their health workers who volunteer to go to West Africa, and Europe can learn from that.
The meeting was chaired by ALDE President, Bas Verkerk, in the presence of ALDE members and the nominees to the LeaDeR Awards hosted every year by the ALDE Group.