The eyes of the Syrian children I met in Lebanon, once again, have defined my week. They fled their cities, only the luckiest of them are still with their families. They left their friends and their homes behind, tore to the ground. Their souls have wounds that none of us can really understand or imagine – only those who are old enough to remember another war, on European soil.
These children are now studying in Lebanon – others like them are in Jordan, in Turkey, in Europe – with the European Union’s constant support. Because they are children, before being refugees. And they will be young adults, when they will be refugees no more: they will have to rebuild Syria – physically, but also socially, economically and politically. Each school year or school day that they miss is a gift for those who want to recruit and enslave them to the logic of terror; it is a gift for those who don’t want peace and democracy in Syria, and don’t want Syria to rise again through peace and democracy.
For this reason, during my visit to Lebanon this week, I donated the Demokratiepreis that I had received in Bonn a few months ago to a school for Syrian children – who are now refugees – in Bar Elias. I had visited the same school a year ago, on March 21st. That was the day before the terrorist attacks in Brussels. I cannot forget what I saw in their eyes, I could not forget it the day after, as I learnt about the attacks, and up until now: the fear and the pain of the war, and at the same time the joy of life and the energy to look to the future with a smile. These children want to be doctors and teachers, football players and fashion stylists – just like all other children in the world. Investing in their present, trying to heal the wounds of the past and preparing their future – this is the best investment we can do, also for our own future.
This is why the European Union is the first humanitarian donor for Syria – both inside Syria and in those countries that are welcoming millions of Syrians, such as Lebanon. This will not change, because our hearts and our minds know it is the right thing to do. This is a way to be loyal to our common humanity and at the same time to our interests. We keep working tenaciously with our partners: the United Nations’ agencies, starting with the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Organisation for Migration (IOM), the NGOs and all countries in the region – all of them, whatever their citizens’ faith. We, the Europeans, have learnt from our great and tragic history that all men are first and foremost human beings, with their inalienable rights. Everyone deserves respect, beyond their faith, gender, and nationality (it feels so strange that we need to restate this, just days after Holocaust Remembrance Day).
So the European Union will continue to support, welcome and take care of those who flee from war. We will continue to work with all countries in the region – and beyond – in a spirit of full cooperation and respect. And we will continue to celebrate for every wall that is tore down, and for every new bridge that is built up. We will keep working for peace and coexistence. This is our history, this is our identity, our work and our commitment.
This work and commitment – for myself, during this week – have focused on the Mediterranean, with the visit to Lebanon (where I met with President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil), the presentation of a migration package to better manage the flows crossing the Central Mediterranean (which we will bring to the Malta summit next week), my meeting with the United Nations’ Envoy for Libya Martin Kobler (here is the press release), and the Ministerial meeting of the Union for the Mediterranean that I co-chaired with Jordan’s new Foreign Minister Ayman al Safadi (here are my opening remarks).
Another important event from this last week is the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo that I convened in Brussels, after the harsh tensions of the last weeks. In Brussels the President and Prime Minister of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolic e Aleksandar Vucic, and of Kosovo, Hasim Thaci and Isa Mustafa, have confirmed together their common will to solve all outstanding issues – which are tough issues – through dialogue and in a spirit of cooperation (here is the statement). It is not and it will not be easy, but this is the right path to follow to guarantee peace, security and economic development to an entire region, lying at the earth of Europe. The dialogue will continue with a new meeting, next Wednesday in Brussels.
One last thing to mention about this week: the opening of the Conference of European Space Policy (here is my speech).