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“We should open our heart towards Arab nations”

The EU should provide all assistance with the democratic transition, Enikő Győri, Hungarian state secretary of European affairs told eu2011.hu after traveling to Tunisia on the invitation of the European Commissioner for humanitarian aid on March 3, representing the Hungarian Presidency. The purpose of the visit is to survey the humanitarian situation after the events in Libya.

“The European Union should open its heart to freedom-seeking Arab nations,” Győri said after her discussion in Tunis with the representatives of the interim government in Tunisia.

Győri visited the North African country together with Kristalina Georgieva, Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, in order to carry out direct negotiations with the transitional leaders of the country.

In the talks held in Tunis Győri expressed solidarity on behalf of the Presidency with Tunisia and other Arab nations. She highlighted that Hungary feels special sympathy for the desire of North African nations for freedom for several reasons, including that the democratic transition of Central Europe two decades ago. The Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs said that his nation feels now as Hungary may have in 1956.

The uprisings in the region resulted in a severe situation in the affected countries, but according to Győri, this crisis also carries the potential of a catharsis, which the Union should encourage to happen. She also announced that the Presidency has started organizing a conference on democratic transition.

Győri and Commissioner Georgieva also visited a refugee camp close to the Libyan-Tunisian border to survey the humanitarian situation there. According to the information of the Presidency, about 80,000 people have crossed the Libyan-Tunisian border so far. Tunisian authorities have been processing around a thousand new refugees per hour.

The main reason behind this significant wave of refugees is that there are approximately 1.5 million guest workers in Libya. Some are trying to escape the country in the current civil war situation. Most of them come from Egypt, but there are also many workers from the Sub-Saharan region, as well as from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Győri told eu2011.hu that the purpose of her visit is to gain first-hand experience, but they will also assess what kind of assistance is needed and in what quantity. “We need dual provision of assistance in order to avoid a humanitarian disaster. Both the Union and the member states should take their share of this work,” added the official.

Over recent days, the Union has implemented targeted measures on several levels to handle the situation. In order to attenuate the humanitarian situation in Libya and the neighboring countries, on March 2 the Commission increased the fund of €3 million formerly earmarked for this purpose to €10 million. During the visit, Kristalina Georgieva announced that the Commission will triple its aid: €30 million will be provided to cater for humanitarian needs.

The European Commission further announced that to support the evacuations, part of the European funding will be used to cater for the most urgent needs of people crossing the Libyan borders: tents and food, blankets and medical aid. Relief operations will be implemented and coordinated with the European Commission's humanitarian partners that are already working on the Libyan borders: the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC), the Tunisian Red Crescent, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and European non-governmental organizations. Other humanitarian needs that may arise, including inside Libya where the situation is still difficult to assess, will also be provided through this EU support.

Győri said “as it has in the Libyan evacuation of Union citizens, the Hungarian Presidency carries on the coordination of the response actions of the Union. In our capacity as President of the Council, we ensure that the European presence in Libya continues. The Hungarian ambassador to Libya is staying deployed to coordinate European action on the ground”.

The official added, “In this concern, we keep permanent contact with Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, who convened the heads of states and governments for an extraordinary meeting for March 11 to discuss further actions.”

During its meeting on February 28, the Council adopted sanctions against the Libyan regime reacting with violence to the uprising of their people. The Council also assessed the impacts of the events in North Africa on the energy market.