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IMMIGRATION

Norway refugee boss to chair aid academy

The world's first academy to train local aid workers and volunteers as first responders to disasters that occur in their own countries was launched in London on Monday.

Norway refugee boss to chair aid academy
Jan Egeland working in the field. Photo: Norwegian Refugee Council.
The Humanitarian Leadership Academy aims to set up 10 centres to train 100,000 aid workers, health professionals and volunteers from 50 countries, particularly in areas prone to disaster and conflict.
 
The project could "revolutionise the entire humanitarian sector", according to Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council and chair of the Humanitarian Leadership Academy's board.
 
"Investment in a new and better trained generation of humanitarian workers closer to where we find the greatest needs will bring development and sustainability to many of the world's most fragile communities," Egeland said.
 
More aid workers are needed to deal with what Save the Children described as an "unprecedented number of crisis", including 50 million people who have been forced to flee their countries, the largest number of refugees since World War II.
 
Trained locals would be able to respond faster in the crucial first days after a disaster, according to Gareth Owen, humanitarian director of Save the Children UK.
 
"The usual way to respond is to mobilise our civil service of responders, usually from the West," Owen said. "We have to get more frontline leadership out there in a local setting and support that in a better way with the wisdom we've accrued as international respondents," he said.
 
"Ultimately it's about having the right people in the right place at the right time. Decisions made early on by people who are on the ground matter hugely."
 
The effort has received £20 million ($30 million, 27 million euros) in funding from Britain's Department for International Development, out of £50 million it needs for its first five years.
 
Norway has contributed £500,000, while charity Save the Children has paid for the start-up costs and is hosting the academy. The first training centres are to open in Kenya and the Philippines later this year.
   
Training will be available in a range of languages and the academy will spread best practice globally, according to Save the Children.    
 
Aid agencies such as Oxfam and Action Against Hunger and academic bodies like the Open University and HCRI Manchester University are also collaborating on the project.

POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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