Every year, the European Commission invites around 200 humanitarian partners to discuss developments, challenges and opportunities in the humanitarian sector. This annual conference serves as a platform for organisations to share their perspectives and experiences and participate in discussions about future actions and cooperation. Mousumi Saikia, from Islamic Relief, reports back.

I am in Brussels at the European Commission’s Annual Humanitarian Aid Partners’ Conference, along with 350 other participants attending the annual partners’ conference. It is a proud moment when I realise that the biggest contingent is from the UK, which is a clear indication of the UK’s rich heritage, legacy and contribution to humanitarian work.

Mousumi Saikia, DFID partnership coordinator for Islamic Relief.

Mousumi Saikia, DFID partnership coordinator for Islamic Relief.

2015 was a year when Europe woke up to a changed world – long protracted conflicts in the Middle East contributed to a unprecedented, albeit perhaps not unexpected, exodus and migration of people to Europe.

How Europe responds to this crisis, internally and externally and the courage of our moral convictions will define us in the years to come.

Aptly this year’s focus is humanitarian assistance in a changing world. Addressing the conference, European commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, Christos Stylianides emphasised the “importance of forging strong partnerships and working together with humanitarian partners in order to respond to the increasing challenges and needs in the humanitarian sector.” Only in this way, he argued, can the intensity, complexity and long-lasting nature of crises and, in particular, the refugee crisis, be dealt with effectively.

The message is clear; the European Commission’s strategic priorities for 2016 are the refugee crisis and long-lasting displacement; disaster risk reduction and resilience (implementation of the Sendai Framework), and policies such as education in emergencies.

With reference to education in emergencies, interestingly there was great emphasis on the potential for education to be used as a tool for prevention, preparedness and response to crisis and especially for building and promoting peace. One speaker very lyrically commented “we need to learn from children how to be peaceful”.

It was appropriate that as part of the conference, we focussed on the role of humanitarian assistance in migration and displacement, particularly on challenges to international protection in the current refugee and migration crisis. We discussed mixed-migration flows outside and inside the EU; and vulnerability and needs based assessment.

In response to my query, the UNHCR Head of Asylum and Migration Unit responded that civil protection in the current migrant crisis had indeed been a challenge. This was mainly because the current European policies on migration were in place to deal with European migration flows and also very fascinatingly the very sophistication of these policies had been a hindrance. Despite the challenges, civil protection remains a high priority for the UNHCR.

The two very long and intense days listening to and pitting my intellect against some of the best in the industry gave me plenty to reflect on. Back at Islamic Relief, we’ll be considering how best to respond to the changed humanitarian scenario.