Europe told not to let Ukraine war eclipse other global crises

UN agencies say fallout from Russia's invasion is worsening plight of other nations

The UNHCR urged Europe not to forget about displaced people around the world, such as those seen here in Iraq. EPA
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European countries were urged on Friday not to let the war in Ukraine limit their efforts in tackling other humanitarian crises around the world exacerbated by the fallout from Russia’s invasion.

Filippo Grandi, the head of UN refugee agency, said fragile situations in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia were being worsened by food shortages, price increases and energy problems linked to the Ukraine conflict.

He said these problems could add to the swelling numbers of the world’s displaced people, which have already sharply increased because of the war in Ukraine, sending millions of people into neighbouring countries.

There were an estimated 84 million displaced people in the world at the end of last year and the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the figure was approaching a “red line” of 100 million.

“We’re not only dealing with the crisis in Europe, enormous as it might be,” Mr Grandi said, speaking alongside Mr Borrell at a meeting of EU foreign and development ministers in Brussels.

“I fully appreciate that there are heightened costs for European countries to deal with both the refugee crisis but also, going forward – let’s hope soon – the reconstruction of Ukraine. This will be a massive undertaking.

“But if we do that, but at the same time we weaken the response in other places, it will backfire. Then we will have higher costs in other places to cover.”

Sweden and Norway have announced cuts in overseas development aid to finance support for refugees. The UN this week urged Norway to rethink the proposal.

Humanitarian agencies are concerned about food insecurity arising from the war between two of the world’s main agricultural exporters, with Ukraine blaming Russia for blocking shipments from its harbours.

Jens Laerke, a spokesman for UN humanitarian agency OCHA, said on Friday that the food situation had reached “alarming levels” in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger and brought the worst insecurity in eight years.

About 18 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa face potential food shortages in the next three months, he said. The World Food Programme separately said it was rationing supplies to refugees and displaced people.

Rations in Burkina Faso are at 75 per cent in the hardest areas to reach for humanitarian workers and 50 per cent in some other places, the WFP said.

Mr Borrell said Europe’s efforts to provide medical equipment during the past two years of the coronavirus crisis were giving way to pledges of food assistance.

He said: “After the mask diplomacy … and then vaccine diplomacy, now we are entering a period of food diplomacy."

Updated: May 20, 2022, 3:00 PM