World urged to donate to Syria after decade of war

SYRIA/BRUSSELS (AFP) – After 10 years of war in Syria, the international community was asked to step up with billions of dollars in new aid pledges yesterday to fund humanitarian causes.

The fifth Brussels Conference on Syria was held by video link because of coronavirus precautions, but the needs of Syria’s refugees and vulnerable civilians are pressing.

“With the added impact of COVID-19, there is no respite for civilians in Syria,” United Nations (UN) agencies said in a media statement ahead of the donor meeting.

“They face increasing hunger and poverty, continued displacement and ongoing attacks,” they said, warning that 24 million people in Syria and its neighbours are threatened.

“That is four million more than in 2020, and more than at any other time since the conflict began.”

More than 50 countries will be represented, along with 30 other organisations: NGOs, humanitarian agencies and international financial institutions.

Women walk in a neighbourhood heavily damaged by airstrikes in Idlib, Syria. PHOTO: AP

The goal is to raise USD10 billion – USD4.2 billion for humanitarian relief inside Syria, and the rest for refugees sheltering in the region.

This will help Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, which have been forced to provide for millions of war refugees despite many problems of their own.

“It has been 10 years of despair and disaster for Syrians,” UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said.

“Now plummeting living conditions, economic decline and COVID-19 result in more hunger, malnutrition and disease. There is less fighting, but no peace dividend.”

The previous donor conference in June last year raised pledges of USD5.5 billion for 2002, according to the UN. The European Commission, virtual host of yesterday’s new round, counted a total of USD7.7 billion, with just under a third carried forward to 2021

The EU and its 27-member states – which worry that failure to help refugees in the Middle East could see them come to Europe – provided two thirds of the funds.

Various platforms for discussion were held online yesterday and the main donors’ round will take place today, with the final sum known at the end of the day.

The civil war in Syria has killed more than 388,000 people and displaced millions since the regime’s brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.

In addition to fighting between Russian and Iranian-backed government forces and rebels, militant factions like the Islamic State group have taken advantage of the chaos. This in turn has drawn in US and allied western forces, which carried out air strikes and worked with Kurdish fighters against the IS group.