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Humanitarian aid and Estonia


Humanitarian aid and Estonia

Humanitarian aid is a universal and fundamental expression of solidarity between people and a moral obligation. The provision of humanitarian aid, including participating in humanitarian missions, is an integral and important part of Estonia's foreign policy. It is the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in cooperation with other state institutions that is responsible for the coordination and provision of humanitarian aid.

The provision of humanitarian assistance is a separate and important area of action in the Estonian development cooperation policy as defined by Principles of Estonian Development Cooperation, approved in 2003. Estonia also has a well-established Strategy for Estonian Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid for 2016-2020, which defines the thematic and geographical priorities of the Estonian aid.

Whereas in development cooperation, Estonia focusses on five priority countries (Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus and Afghanistan), in the area of humanitarian aid Estonia places importance on the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence, basing its funding decisions on the needs for assistance. For example, Estonia has recently provided humanitarian funding to assist with the crises in Syria, Ukraine and Yemen.

In 1998, not long after regaining independence after the Soviet occupation, Estonia made its first voluntary contribution, which went to ICRC. This can be considered the moment, when Estonia became a donor and started supporting the global humanitarian system. In recent years, the Estonian humanitarian budget has been steadily increasing, now reaching to a yearly amount of 3.2 million EUR. Most of the Estonian contributions are given through United Nations organisations and funds (OCHA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNRWA, CERF, WHO, WFP), followed by donations to ICRC and other international and national aid organisations.

The humanitarian aid that Estonia has provided in the past years has focused on providing relief to suffering due to conflicts and emergency assistance after natural disasters. Estonia has helped to meet basic needs in conflict-prone situations such as Ukraine, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, South-Sudan. Estonia has given also support to earthquake, floods, cyclone and other natural disasters’ victims in Nepal, Haiti, Fiji, Iran, Turkey, India and Pakistan. When responding to such crises, the Estonian Government closely co-operates with international organisations and NGOs, which are often the leading agencies in delivering assistance.

Over the years, Estonia has achieved the capability to provide rescue and humanitarian aid that meets international standards, which allows Estonia to send the Estonian Disaster Relief Team (EDRT) to disaster areas when the need arises. The Estonian Disaster Relief Team has proved specialists to both the UN (UNDAC) and European Union disaster assessment and coordination teams, which have the responsibility of giving an initial assessment of the scope of a crisis. Since December 2006, the Estonian Rescue Service is the member of International Humanitarian Partnership.

Humanitarian affairs and the Estonian EU Presidency

From July to December 2017, Estonia will hold the presidency of the Council of the European Union for the very first time. Our presidency’s motto is “Unity through balance” and the motto will also lead us in the area of humanitarian affairs. We need unity and balanced decisions to move forward.

The Estonian Presidency will continue to ensure EU’s principled and effective humanitarian assistance with special attention to protracted displacement, resilient and innovative solution. The Estonian Presidency intends to focus, among other things, on the following areas of humanitarian affairs:

  • Effective collective response by the EU and its Member States to man-made humanitarian crises and natural disasters. Special attention will be given to Level-3, food-security, protracted and forgotten humanitarian crises.

  • Food-security and food aid will also be among our priorities, in particular against the backdrop of the deeply worrying outbreaks of famine in four countries.

  • Highlighting the role of humanitarian action in the broader migration agenda and promoting the implementation of the EU’s new approach on forced displacement. Estonia will facilitate the EU’s contribution to the development of the Global Compact on Refugees and Global Compact on Migration, and will engage with the UNHCR on the implementation of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework.

  • Addressing the root causes for irregular migration in a sustainable manner. This requires EU common action and joining up of different policy areas (including humanitarian aid and development cooperation).

  • Promoting resilience, with a special focus on the humanitarian-development nexus, especially in protracted crises.

  • Follow-up to the World Humanitarian Summit, with special focus on revising the international humanitarian system, humanitarian financing and localisation of aid, and maintaining the momentum to achieve and measure collective progress on the implementation of the EU's and the Member States' World Humanitarian Summit commitments

  • Estonia will also pay specific attention to innovation in humanitarian assistance, protection, respect to International Humanitarian Law and gender.

Cooperation with the Geneva based humanitarian organisations

Estonia and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

OCHA is among the top humanitarian partners for Estonia. Since 2014, Estonia is also a member of the OCHA Donor Support Group (ODSG). ODGS comprises 27 biggest donors of OCHA, who all together provide 95% of its budget. Being a part of the ODSG shows Estonia’s support to OCHA and allows Estonia to play a role in ensuring the better functioning of humanitarian affairs coordination and making the organisation more effective.

OCHA 2017 Donors

Estonia and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)

UNHCR is one of Estonia’s main partners in humanitarian affairs, doing laudable work helping internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees worldwide.

Estonia has been supporting UNHCR’s activities since 2001. Since 2007, Estonia belongs to the UNHCR Executive Committee. In cooperation with UNHCR, Estonia remains committed to fulfilling the New York declaration and arriving at a Global Compact on Refugees by 2018.

UNHCR Donor Profile: Estonia

Estonia and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

ICRC is Estonia’s main humanitarian partner outside the UN system. In 1998 Estonia made its vey first voluntary contribution to a humanitarian organisation, which went to ICRC. This can be considered the moment, when Estonia became a donor and started supporting the global humanitarian system.

Estonia is among the 30 biggest ICRC donors and cooperates very closely with ICRC. Estonia joined the state parties of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols in 1993. Respect to international humanitarian law (IHL) in all crises is crucial. Attacks on civilian populations, including women, elderly and children, medical facilities and schools, humanitarian and aid workers must not be tolerated and the hindering of delivery of humanitarian assistance in areas affected by armed conflict is of significant concern.

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)

Estonia cooperates with IFRC, in order to contribute to the response to natural disasters and to guarantee that humanitarian assistance gets to those in need through the National Societies, who are often the first actors to respond.

Estonia has supported IFRC’s activities for instance in Ecuador, Fiji and Haiti.

International Organization for Migration (IOM)

Estonia is a member of IOM since 2004 and cooperates closely with the organisation, including through IOM’s offices in Tallinn and Helsinki, and IOM’s headquarters in Geneva. Estonia is committed to the process leading to adopting the Global Compact on Migration in 2018.

In May 2017, IOM’s Director-General William Lacy Swing visited Estonia and met with the Estonian Minister of the Interior and the Secretary-General of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

There is also an IOM Office in Estonia.

Good Humanitarian Donorship (GHD)

Estonia has joined the informal donor forum and network of GHD and places much importance on the 23 Good Humanitarian Donorship Principles.

Estonia was the co-chair of the GHD, together with Ireland, in 2009/2010.


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