11th Dec 2023

EU set to spend €1bn in aid to counter Islamic State

  • The UN estimates there will be 4.3 million Syrian refugees by the end of this year (Photo:

The European Commission wants to invest another €1 billion of aid in Iraq and Syria over the next two years as part of a broader effort to counter Islamic State.

“Our main objective is how the EU can support and implement a de-escalation of the violence, how the EU can support an environment that can create a political process leading to a political transition,” an EU official in Brussels told reporters on Tuesday (10 February).

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The money adds to the around €3.3 billion of EU and member state funds already spent in the two countries since 2011.

Much of the new money will go to humanitarian aid that is mostly directed at international and European NGOs working inside Syria and the related refugee crisis.

The number of refugees is set to increase, compounding the pressure on already over-stretched camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Around 25 percent (1.2 million) of Lebanon’s population is now Syrian refugee.

Jordan has around 600,000 refugees and Turkey hosts some 1.65 million.

It has EU officials worried, who cite figures from the UN that the number of Syrian refugees will top 4.3 million, up from the current 3.8 million, by the end of the year.

The figures in Europe are by comparison far fewer, with Sweden and Germany taking in the bulk of Syrian asylum seekers.

The new EU pledge will also go to better governance projects in Iraq, enhanced border control management in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, among dozens of other plans.

The 31-page strategy, drafted by the EU’s foreign policy branch, the EEAS and the European Commission, was presented on Monday at a ministerial gathering of EU foreign affairs ministers.

“We are not providing any military equipment,” noted the official, although the EU does not rule out becoming a “clearing house” for information about the supply of arms.

The plan received widespread endorsement from Monday’s meetings of foreign ministers, who want to see it rapidly implemented.

Islamic state/Da’esh

The spread of Islamic militants throughout Iraq and Syria since the capture of Mosul last June has forced policy-makers in Brussels to develop a response on several fronts at the same time.

The militant group has lured up to 5,000 EU nationals and has, since last year, managed to extend its control over oil and gas-rich areas in eastern Syria, western Iraq, and border crossings along the Syria-Turkey border.

The EU wants to use its diplomatic and political leverage to convince Gulf States, Egypt, Turkey, and Iran to step up the fight against the Da’esh, an alternative name for Islamic State, and to initiate de-radicalisation programmes.

It wants to ease regional rivalries, which the EU sees as among the “drivers of violence and sectarian tensions” that feed into the spread of the jihadist fighters.

“There are underlying problems of governance, of regional rivalries, of the presence of intolerant ideologies which lead to radicalisation and the suppression of legitimate political expression,” said the source.

The strategy notes that the Sunni Muslim population in Iraq, under the arbitrary application of “de-Baathfication” legislation, has been economically and socially excluded.

The phrase refers to the Baath party of Iraq's late leader Sadam Hussein, a Sunni, and post-war rule by the Shia Muslim sect.

“We think this is one of the very important elements that has led to the emergence of Da’esh phenonomen,” the EU source said.

The EU plan also wants to step up co-operation and information sharing between countries in the region Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

This includes enhancing border security in order to stop the cross-flow of goods and arms smuggling that benefit the militants.

“It means reducing corruption at the border, making sure trade is legitimate,” said the EU official.

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