Wednesday

26th Sep 2018

EU to send milk aid to children in Syria, not refugees

Roughly 350,000 Syrian school children will benefit from a €30 million EU milk-buying scheme, the European Commission said on Wednesday (30 March), but admitted that the quantities of European milk provided would be “marginal”.

It is the first time the commission has given substantial details of the plan, which it announced more than six months ago.

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“This new programme will help hundreds of thousands of Syrian children in need. We must remain committed to helping the most vulnerable victims of the conflict,” said humanitarian aid commissioner Christos Stylianides in a press release, which was accompanied by a Q&A fact sheet.

The documents suggest that the focus of the programme has shifted slightly in the past six months.

Agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan announced the programme in September 2015, as part of a broader aid package for European farmers.

That agriculture support was announced amid the largest refugee crisis Europe had seen since World War II.

Hence the idea was born to combine the two, and buy milk from struggling European farmers to distribute to refugees.

A refugee is someone who has fled his or her home country.

“Initially, the draft decision intended to cover all countries where internally displaced persons, refugees or other vulnerable people affected by humanitarian crises may need food,” a source at the EU commission told this website. But after analysing the situation in Syria, the commission decided the milk would be most useful there.

“In Syria, there is a severe shortage of milk products,” the commission said.

“Syrian families typically consumed milk and other dairy products on a daily basis prior to the crisis. At present, poor households rarely have access to milk and in some cases it has completely disappeared from their diet.”

Although the commission did not specify how many litres of milk will be bought, it acknowledged that “the quantities concerned are in effect marginal when considered in the context of local demand”.

The idea behind the scheme is to achieve two goals simultaneously.

“It will support European farmers through the purchase of drinking milk while at the same time contributing to address one of the biggest challenges the EU is facing,” the commission said.

However, it appeared that creating such “synergies between responses”, as EU commissioner Jyrki Katainen had called it, was more easily said than done.

The bulk of the September aid package for farmers, through largely conventional direct aid to member states, had been implemented within two months.

By contrast, Wednesday's publication of the details of the scheme took place more than six months after it was first promised.

The commission source said the plan “needed to be well prepared”, and that it needed to “clarify in advance all operational, administrative and legal questions in what is a very complex environment”.

It is unclear when the first Syrian children will be drinking European milk, but the contact said it would “conclude the contract with an implementing organisation as soon as possible”.

As it does with other aid schemes, the commission will outsource the actual buying and distribution of milk to international organisations like the Red Cross, Red Crescent, non-governmental organisations and the United Nations.

The EU requires that the milk bought with the €30 million is of “EU origin” and “will be in the form of packs of Ultra High Temperature (UHT) milk”.

UHT milk is sterilised by being heated at above 135C, and as a result can be kept unrefrigerated longer than pasteurised milk. The UHT method is most common in southern, warmer European member states.

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Most of the EU's agriculture ministers were cautiously optimistic about the EU Commission's €500 million aid package for Europe's struggling farmers, after receiving additional details.

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The European Commission floated the idea in September of buying dairy products from struggling European farmers to distribute to refugees, but the scheme is not yet up and running.

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