Tuesday

25th Apr 2017

Donors pledge billions for Syria amid European shame

  • 13.5 million men, women and children inside Syria need urgent assistance, says the United Nations (Photo: Reuters/Omar Sanadiki)

Donors from around the world pledged €5.5 billion in aid for Syria, with Germany saying Europe should be ashamed for not doing more given the efforts in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.

"Looking at the willingness of Europe to take in refugees, I think that we can only thank those countries and we should be ashamed," Germany's foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters on Wednesday (5 April).

Lebanon has a population of four million but hosts over 1 million displaced Syrians on top of half a million Palestinian refugees.

Lebanon's prime minister, Saad Al-Harir, described the tensions and social unrest between Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees as a "ticking time bomb".

"I'm afraid that Lebanon cannot continue and will not continue to sustain the consequences of hosting 1.5 million displaced on its territory," he said.

Jordan has a population of over six million and hosts 2.8 million refugees. Of those, around 1.3 million are Syrian, and only half are registered with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

"This is equivalent to 200 million refugees being hosted by the EU, not factoring that the EU on average, is more than 500 percent wealthier in terms of per capita income," said Jordan's prime minister, Hani Al-Mulki.

Turkey hosts close to three million, whereas around 880,000 asylum applications were filed by Syrians in Europe between 2011 and 2016.

Low-level envoys

Representatives from 70 countries and organisations had gathered in Brussels to discuss the conflict in Syria as a follow-up to a similar meeting in London last year.

The latest pledge also includes €3.47 billion up until 2020, with leaders saying none will go towards reconstruction unless there is a serious effort in moving towards a political transition of power.

"There is one thing that we will not pay for, unless we see a credible political transition in Damascus, and this is reconstruction," said Gabriel.

His views were echoed by the EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, who described the fund as a powerful "peace dividend".

But notable absences at the conference also included Turkey, and only low-level envoys were present from Iran, Russia and the United States.

All are seen as key decision-makers in a conflict that has been raging on for the past six years - killing hundreds of thousands and producing over 5 million Syrian refugees.

Iran, Russia and Turkey are supposed to guarantee a ceasefire in Syria, following their Astana meetings.

The effort is crucial in helping humanitarian relief to access the war-torn country.

But Turkey did not send anyone to Brussels. Iran and Russia sent deputy foreign ministers, while the United States sent an under-secretary of state.

Last year's London conference had been attended by John Kerry, the then US secretary of state.

The lack of US engagement points to a broader policy shift under Donald Trump, who has warmed up to the Syrian regime's biggest ally, Russia.

Chemical attack and UN fiasco

The conference came on the heels of a suspected nerve agent gas attack earlier this week in a town in the Idlib province.

A UK-based Syrian monitoring group says the death toll has climbed to around 86, with images of children and civilians suffocating and foaming at the mouth.

Leaders and ministers have condemned the attack amid demands for an immediate investigation.

Britain and France had called an emergency session at the UN's security council to demand an investigation by the Organisation of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

But the vote was postponed due to Russian resistance, with the country having since drafted its own resolution on the matter.

All three nations are veto-holding permanent members of the security council.

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