Brussels (AFP) – International donors on Tuesday pledged $6.7 billion to help Syrians and neighboring countries hosting refugees, but fell short of a United Nations goal of providing aid to millions of people from conflict-torn Syria who depend on aid for survival.
The European Neighborhood Commissioner, Oliver Varheli, has acknowledged that the war in Ukraine and the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic have weighed on donor economies.
However, he said, “donors are now sending a very strong signal to Syria and this region that we are ready to do more than before.”
The United Nations was seeking $10.5 billion for 2022. It says 14.6 million people in Syria depend on aid – 1.2 million more than in 2021 – and more than 90% of Syrians live in poverty. About 3.9 million people in Syria go hungry every day.
It is the second year in a row that pledges have fallen short of expectations. Last year, the European Union, the United States and other countries pledged $6.4 billion, and the United Nations requested $10 billion to meet vital needs.
Earlier, the European Union’s foreign policy coordinator, Josep Borrell, warned that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was adding to the plight of poverty-stricken Syrians. Borrell said 60 percent of Syria’s population “is food insecure, barely knowing where the next meal is going to come from.”
“The Russian war will increase food and energy prices, and the situation in Syria will become worse,” he said.
Borrell said the 27-nation bloc will provide an additional 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) to Syria this year, bringing the annual total to 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion). He said the European Union would provide 1.56 billion euros ($1.65 billion) next year. The United States pledged more than $800 million.
Borrell pledged that the European Union would continue sanctions against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and stressed that relations could not be normalized until Syrian refugees were “safe to return home.”
Food prices around the world were already rising, but the war in Ukraine – a major supplier of wheat – made matters worse. The impact has exacerbated the plight of millions of Syrians who have been driven from their homes by the country’s 11-year war. Much depends on international aid to survive.
The war in Ukraine also created a whole new group of refugees. European countries and the United States rushed to help more than 5.5 million Ukrainians who had fled to neighboring countries, as well as more than 7 million displaced within Ukraine’s borders.
Half of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million was displaced by the conflict.
Aid agencies had hoped to draw the world’s attention to Syria at Tuesday’s conference hosted by the European Union. Funding is also directed to help the 5.7 million Syrian refugees living in neighboring countries, notably Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
Norway, a country outside the European Union, has pledged 1.5 billion kroner ($156 million) for 2022 (asterisk) (asterisk) Should this be in 2022?.
Imogen Sudbury of the International Rescue Committee’s aid group urged the EU to do more, noting that “even if donors make the same pledges as in previous years, they will not fill an alarming and rapidly growing funding gap”.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry criticized the Brussels event, saying that neither the Syrian government nor its ally Russia is taking part in it. She said that the conference is organized by countries that impose sanctions on the “Syrian people” and impede reconstruction.
The ministry said that “the countries organizing or participating in this conference occupy or support the occupation of part of the Syrian territory and plunder the wealth of the Syrian people.” The term “occupation” was a reference to the hundreds of US forces stationed in the oil-rich eastern parts of Syria.
Borrell said Russia was not invited because of the war in Ukraine.
“We invite those partners who have a real and real interest to contribute to peace in the world,” he said. The United Nations decided not to co-host this year’s conference because the European Union declined Russia’s invitation.
Associated Press writers Bassem Marwa in Beirut and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.