Will donors deliver for refugees?

The pledges for this year are still well below $8.5 billion the United Nations says is needed.

The London donors’ conference for Syria has received pledges for $6 billion for 2016 and $5 b through 2020, the largest sum ever raised in a day. Organisers Britain, Norway, Germany, Kuwait and the UN have congratulated themselves on this breakthrough. However, the pledges for this year are still well below $8.5 billion the United Nations says is needed for this year since the refugee crisis is growing and increasing demand for life saving aid.

The test of the intentions of the international community is whether donors deliver. Four previous appeals have secured substantial pledges but in all cases, funding fell far short. The sum received was 38 per cent short in 2012, 32 per cent in 2013, 49 per cent in 2014 and 43 per cent in 2015. Combined unpaid pledges from nine countries reached $384 million, incl-uding from the US. Oil rich Ku-wait, the host of earlier pledging meetings as well as the London event, was the main defaulter. 

It is significant that countries fuelling the war in Syria – the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – give less than those receiving refugees as asylum seekers.
During the London gathering, Western donors maintained a proprietary colonial attitude. Syrian civil society organisations complained they were invited late, ignored, and under-represented. “Syrians are the primary stakeholders in the Syrian conflict and should be treated as such in all processes devoted to addressing the Syrian conflict,” the six attending groups stated.

In an effort to secure funds urgently required to save Syrian lives and provide for the future, the UN agencies and international aid organisations designed a new strategy for dealing with the impact of the Syrian war on Syrians and their hard pressed neighbours.
“In previous years, we focused on just the humanitarian component while responding to this crisis, but now we have adopted a much bigger approach,” John Ging, operations chief of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told Deccan Herald on the sidelines of intra-Syrian peace talks in Geneva before their suspension by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura.

This approach involves not only the provision of shelter, food, and health care but also education for Syria’s children, jobs, and support for countries hosting 4.5 million refugees. The donor summit called for and received pledges for $7.73 b for assistance to 13.5 m needy Syrians at home and in exile and $1.23 b to build schools, hospitals and infrastructure in regional host countries “challenged overnight by the influx of refugees.” The funds are to be allocated to a range of UN and other agencies.

On the failure to honour pledges, Ging said, “We have had only 50 per cent and that means we have been meeting only 50 per cent of the most urgent needs (resulting) in hunger, loss of life because we do not have enough medicine... children are not being vaccinated causing outbreaks of preventable diseases...Mobilisation of new funding for education and other activities cannot come at the expense of food and medicine.”

The running shortfall, he argued, “Compounds the suffering of people already in mortal danger, people who have had their lives and livelihoods destroyed.” The international community must not “feel fatigued by the duration of this conflict but energised by our responsibilities.”

Economic impact

He had expressed hope that “support commensurate with the wealth of countries [would] be forthcoming.” However, the US, the richest country in the world, donated $925 m, less than Norway's $1.1 b. Under the threat of an influx of Syrian refugees, European Union donated $3.35 m for this year and a similar sum for 2017. The country accepting most Syrian asylum seekers, Germany provided $2.6 b through 2018.

Donors were spurred to be generous by the presence of Lebanon’s Premier Tammam Salam, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Devutoglu whose countries host the overwhelming majority of Syrian refugees and cannot afford to continue.  The World Bank says the economic impact of the war on the region has been $35 b.

Lebanon – where 1.5 m Syrian refugees constitute one quarter of the population – has restricted entry to Syrians transiting through the airport, obtaining visas, and requiring health care. The cost to Leb-anon, the most affected neighbour of Syria, is fixed at $13 b.

Jordan – with 1.27 million Syrian guests – has left 16,000 Syrians stranded at the border and offered to fly them to any country that would receive them. King Abdullah warned  his country could “be forced to take painful measures that will lead to a greater influx... to Europe if Jordan is left on its own to deal with the consequences of the... crisis.”

Turkey where 2.5 m Syrians have registered as refugees and hundreds of thousands more are residing among 78 m Turks has introduced visas to stem the flow.  Ankara claims it has spent $6 b on the refugees and argues the situation is not sustainable.

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