EU plan to deploy 10,000 aid volunteers
by Daniel Mason
Thousands of volunteers could be trained and deployed in humanitarian operations under the European Union banner according to proposals set out today that are partly designed to create a globally trusted EU "brand".
The European Commission has allocated a budget of €240m to the project, which would see some 10,000 people being recruited as 'EU aid volunteers' between 2014 and 2020. In a statement the commission said it hoped the network would "grow over the years into a unique pool of ambassadors for European solidarity".
Common European standards for safety and security would be developed and volunteers trained together in multinational groups – serving an apprenticeship in a foreign EU country before being deployed in the field.
The commission said it would work closely with humanitarian groups, adding that only those that adhered to the new European standards would be certified as 'sending organisations'. The EU aid volunteers would be sent mostly to post-disaster zones or on preventative missions to help reduce risks rather than to areas of conflict.
Kristalina Georgieva, Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, said the scheme would not duplicate the activities of existing organisations. "There is a need to train and deploy volunteers. We are not going to do this as a separate activity, what we will do is reinforce existing organisations. About 80 per cent of what we do will be with our partners," she said.
According to the EU executive, another 10,000 people would help with tasks that could be completed at home using a computer. Provision has also been made for the training of 7,000 local staff and volunteers from organisations in countries affected by natural and man-made humanitarian disasters.
Georgieva said: "We have here a unique possibility to send a positive signal in these times of crisis – through their action in the field and on the ground EU aid volunteers will demonstrate our European solidarity by helping those most in need. And they will at the same time learn invaluable skills. Saving lives is a life-changing experience that they will never forget. Volunteering has the overwhelming support of all our citizens."
The Lisbon treaty anticipated the creation of a European Voluntary Corps and 200 people have already taken part in pilot schemes. In a recent Eurobarometer poll, some 88 per cent of Europeans supported the idea of a joint venture for aid volunteers to selected, trained and deployed.
"The number of natural and man-made disasters in the world has significantly increased over the last years and this trend is unfortunately likely to continue," the commission said. "Humanitarian organisations need more well-prepared people to support them helping communities struck by disasters."
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Georgieva added: "What we are committed to doing is to get, if you wish, a 'brand' – European volunteer – that means something, that people know what they are getting: what is the training, what are the capacities, what is the deployment opportunity."
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