Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

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Refugee crisis in Europe

Refugees and migrants in Serbia. © European Union/ECHO/Fabrice Martin

The world is facing an unprecedented displacement crisis. Today, more than 65 million people are forcibly displaced as a result of violent conflicts and natural disasters.

In 2015, over 1 million people – refugees, displaced persons and other migrants – have made their way to the EU, either escaping conflict in their country and in search of better economic prospects. While the numbers have shown a decreasing trend in 2016, by June around 156 000 people have reached Europe (source: UNHCR).

Many people arrive in the EU after perilous land or sea journeys and require basic humanitarian assistance, such as provision of clean water, health care, emergency shelter and legal aid. Many of these displaced people are children who have special protection needs.

The migration flow is impacting transit countries, such as Turkey, Greece and Libya, sometimes overwhelming national emergency response capacities.

ECHO Daily Map on Refugee Crisis - Eastern and Central Mediterranean Routes

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The EU's humanitarian and civil protection response

The European Commission has taken a comprehensive approach to tackle the refugee crisis in Europe with its European Agenda for Migration, drawing on the various tools and instruments available at the EU level and in the Member States.

The Commission's humanitarian and civil protection department supports refugees and their host communities in four ways.

Providing emergency support within the EU

In April 2016, the European Commission announced an initial €83 million worth of humanitarian funding for emergency support projects to assist refugees in Greece. The projects address the most urgent humanitarian needs of some 50 000 refugees and migrants currently hosted in over 30 sites in Greece.

The emergency support funding is made available to Member States whose own response capacities are overwhelmed by urgent and exceptional circumstances, such as the sudden influx of refugees. The assistance is complementary to Member States actions and provided in close coordination with the countries concerned, as well as the Commission humanitarian partner organisations such as UN agencies, non-governmental organisations and international organisations. This funding can be used for the provision of basic necessities such as food, shelter and medicine.

Emergency support in Greece

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Helping transit countries with humanitarian funding

The Commission supports refugees in Turkey who have fled violence in both Syria and Iraq, with particular emphasis on vulnerable people living outside of camps. Since the beginning of the Syria crisis in 2011, the Commission has provided a total assistance of €455 million in Turkey, including humanitarian aid and longer-term assistance.

In November 2015, the EU set up the Refugee Facility for Turkey. EU institutions and Member States committed to funding up to €3 billion to be coordinated via the Facility. Over €240 million worth of projects have already been released to date.

Since the beginning the refugee crisis, the Commission has provided humanitarian aid amounting to over €22.5 million to the Western Balkans, notably to Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Aid is channelled via humanitarian partner organisations to the most vulnerable people, and consists of emergency assistance (food, water, hygiene, non-food items, health, basic protection) distributed at transit points such as borders and registration facilities.

In Libya, the Commission has contributed more than €8 million in humanitarian aid since mid-2014, supporting internally displaced people and other vulnerable groups with the provision of protection, health care, cash support, psycho-social assistance, as well as non-food and hygiene items.

Putting the EU Civil Protection Mechanism at the disposal of Member States and neighbouring countries

Through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, the Commission coordinates the delivery of immediate material to support Member States and neighbouring countries facing major peaks in the refugee crisis that overwhelm their immediate response capacities. The assistance, provided only upon the request of the affected country, is based on voluntary contributions from countries participating in the Mechanism.

The Mechanism has been activated to help cope with an increased refugee influx several times in 2015 and it is still active in some member states of the mechanism in 2016. Hungary, Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia and Greece have received material assistance such as winterised tents, beds and blankets from the Mechanism participating countries to help them better cope with the arrival of refugees and asylum seekers.

The Mechanism is coordinated by the European Commission's Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC), which is closely monitoring the refugee crisis and facilitates a coherent and efficient European response.

EU Civil Protection Mechanism support: State of play
Accepting participating States'Support to Civil Protection Mechanism for Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia and Greece

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Scaling up humanitarian aid for major crises

The EU, together with its Member States, is a leading donor of humanitarian aid in all the major countries and regions, from where refugees currently arriving to the EU originate. This includes Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. In 2015, the European Commission provided over 72% of its annual humanitarian aid budget (over €1 billion) to projects helping refugees and internally displaced persons.

The Commission has stepped up its resources targeted to refugees and internally displaced persons by €200 million for 2015 and €300 million for 2016. This funding is directed to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), World Food Programme (WFP) and other organisations – including the Red Cross family and international NGOs – to help refugees especially in and around Syria. At the donors' conference in London in early February 2016, the EU and its Member States pledged further €3 billion to assist the Syrian people inside Syria as well as refugees and the communities hosting them in the neighbouring countries.


EU humanitarian aid does not address the root causes of displacement and migration, such as conflict, human rights abuses, economic poverty or climate change. This type of aid helps people caught up in or fleeing man-made or natural disasters, wherever they are. The EU’s humanitarian assistance goes directly to people in distress, irrespective of their nationality, religion, gender, ethnic origin or political affiliation.

Delivered in line with the humanitarian principles of independence, impartiality, neutrality and humanity, EU humanitarian aid is not a tool for migration management. Humanitarian assistance is provided to victims of conflict and natural disasters according to vulnerability criteria and needs assessments.

Last updated
20/06/2016