Aid agencies use new rapid response fund to tackle Mediterranean migration emergencies

News and Press Release
Originally published

Aid agencies have begun tackling sudden humanitarian crises involving migrants in the Mediterranean region through a new rapid response fund, financed by aid from the UK government.

Members of the Start Network can now respond to acute need among refugees and other migrants, including thousands who are enduring freezing winter weather, with funding on its way within 72 hours of an alert first being raised.

The move is among a package of measures on migration announced by the UK prime minister, Theresa May, and Britain’s International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, at the weekend. Details can be revealed for the first time today of how the new Migration Emergency Response Fund (MERF) set up by Start Network, a global grouping of aid agencies whose secretariat is based in Britain, is already helping people in desperate need.

Fifteen of Start Network’s members, including leading British and European-based aid agencies, will take the lead in identifying new and emergent humanitarian need among migrants in 18 countries from Albania to Libya. They will be able to draw on the fund to:

· Provide immediate and basic life-saving support including tents, blankets and winter clothes · Help mothers with essentials for them and their babies · Tackle urgent public health concerns · Help in other ways if a sudden influx of migrants need basic support

Oxfam and Doctors of the World have already begun two emergency projects financed by the fund in Serbia and Bulgaria respectively, where unusually severe winter conditions have left thousands of refugees and migrants dangerously exposed to the cold.

Oxfam has distributed warm clothing, shoes and sleeping bags to more than 1,100 people in the Belgrade area over the past two weeks – a third of them under the age of 18 – with more to come.

Marco Savio, the agency’s Regional Programme Manager, said: “People are staying in freezing temperatures in inhuman places where they should not be living. Thanks to Start Network’s emergency fund, we were able to begin work very quickly. There’s no other funding that allows things to happen within such a short space of time.”

Oxfam’s emergency packs contain up to 10 separate items essential to survival in the cold weather, with recipients individually assessed to judge their needs. Each person may be provided with: hat, scarf, gloves, winter jacket, mattress, sleeping bag, winter shoes, socks, pullover and full length underwear.

The £2.5 million Migration Emergency Response Fund (MERF) is aimed at tackling emergent and unforeseen spikes in need. It is run along similar lines to the successful Start Fund, with members making collective decisions in just three days:

· Day 1: Immediately an alert is raised, all members are surveyed to gather first-hand information. Results are fed into discussions by a smaller group of agencies, with input from the UK’s Department for International Development’s regional humanitarian adviser.

· Day 2: If this group activates the fund, MERF partners are given a further 24 hours to submit proposals to tackle the crisis, and these are sent to those taking part in project selection.

· Day 3: A further meeting decides between competing suggestions, and may suggest improvements, before the final choices are made and disbursement of funds begins. Agencies have a maximum of 60 days to complete the projects.

Hara Caracostas, who helped to set up MERF for the Start Network, said: “This new rapid response mechanism, MERF, will provide a buffer for the overall European refugee response in times of crisis. It will plug the funding gap and reduce people’s suffering by quickly addressing emerging needs, allowing others involved the time they need to plan for additional sources of help.”

The Start Network has 42 aid agency members worldwide and aims to change how the humanitarian aid system works. Its director, Sean Lowrie, said: “One of the many problems of the current system is how slowly it sometimes reacts to unforeseen crises. It is a reflection of our members’ success in collectively managing the Start Fund that DFID has now entrusted us with this new and important challenge. Fast and efficient response to a crisis can literally make the difference between life and death.”

The Start Fund, one of the success stories of the international aid system, has responded to more than 90 crises and helped 5.4 million people since it was launched in April 2014. Its remit is to respond to small-to-medium-scale emergencies or sudden spikes in humanitarian need that would otherwise be overlooked. It is supported by the governments of Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands, and by the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department.

Through its Start Response work stream, Start Network first began responding to the European refugee crisis in October 2015 and reached more than 1.2 million people in Greece, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia and Serbia. The programmes, now concluded, were enabled by UK aid totalling £21 million. They helped with protection, communication, shelter, hygiene, food, health and camp management.

Start Network’s members range from high-profile international aid agencies, many originally British, to national NGOs in countries such as Kenya, Mexico and Jordan. Two further international bodies, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), have been entrusted with other aspects of the UK’s new migrant response.


For further information contact David Wastell: T: +44(0)20 3763 0074 | M: +44(0)7770 380 804 | Twitter: @davidwastell

NOTE FOR PICTURE DESKS High resolution photos showing refugees and migrants being assisted by Oxfam in Belgrade are available.
Contact David Wastell MUST USE Picture Credit: Marija Piroški / OXFAM


  1. The Migration Emergency Response Fund (MERF) will run until September 14, 2017. It is financed by UK taxpayers through the Department for International Development as part of the UK aid budget.

  2. It will enable response to migration crises in 18 countries: Albania, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Egypt, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Kosovo, Libya, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Morocco, Niger, Serbia, Slovenia, Turkey and Tunisia.

  3. Start Network members that have joined MERF were already active in those countries. They are: ACTED, ActionAid, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Christian Aid, Doctors of the World, International Medical Corps, International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam, Plan International, Save the Children, World Jewish Relief, World Vision.

  4. Start Network members agree to put long-term humanitarian goals above any short-term financial benefit to their individual aid agency.

  5. Start Network was originally 15 British humanitarian agencies, impatient at the slow pace and duplication of effort in aid delivery, which came together to develop an emergency response fund. It now has 42 members spanning five continents. It aims to lead for change in the humanitarian system and manages aid programmes that contribute to this objective.

  6. The Start Fund is the first multi-donor pooled fund managed exclusively by NGOs and was created in April 2014 to fill a gap in humanitarian funding. Since then it been activated 92 times and reached 5.4 million people in 49 countries, with assistance totalling more than £19 million. It aims to begin disbursing funds to “below-the-radar” emergencies within 72 hours of a member sending an alert. It is financed jointly by the UK Aid (DFID), Irish Aid (Government of Ireland), the Government of the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Department.

  7. Other initiatives from Start Network include Start Labs, developing new ways to fund crisis response, and Start Engage, helping communities in disaster-prone regions to prepare for future crises.

8.Other Start Network members: Action Against Hunger (ACF); Adeso: Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA); ARDD-Legal Aid; CADENA; Cafod: Caritas Bangladesh; Caritas Sri Lanka; Community World Service Asia; Concern Worldwide; Cordaid; Dorcas; Goal; Handicap International; Help Age International; Islamic Relief Worldwide; Mines Advisory Group; Muslim Aid; PARC; PRO-VIDA; Qatar Charity; Relief International; Solidarites International; Tearfund; Trocaire; War Child; Welt Hunger Hilfe.