Donors fall far short of UN target for aid to Syria

BRUSSELS (AP) – International donors pledged $6.7 billion on Tuesday to help Syrians and neighboring countries hosting refugees, but fell short of a UN target to help millions of people from conflict-torn Syria who depend on aid to to survive.

European Union Neighborhood Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi acknowledged that the war in Ukraine and the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic weighed heavily on donor economies.

Still, “donors are now sending a very strong signal to Syria and this region that we are ready to do even more than before,” he said.

The United Nations has requested $10.5 billion by 2022. It says that 14.6 million people in Syria are dependent on aid – 1.2 million more than in 2021 – and that more than 90% of Syrians live in poverty. About 3.9 million people in Syria suffer from hunger every day.

It is the second year in a row that the commitments have not met expectations. Last year, the EU, the United States and other countries pledged $6.4 billion, while the UN asked for $10 billion to meet essential needs.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, previously warned that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is making the plight of poverty-stricken Syrians much worse. Borrell said 60% of the Syrian population “suffers from food insecurity and barely knows where the next meal will come from”.

“The Russian war will increase food and energy prices and the situation in Syria will get worse,” he said.

Borrell said the bloc of 27 countries would provide another 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) for Syria this year, bringing the annual total to 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion). He said the EU would also provide 1.56 billion euros ($1.65 billion) next year. The US has pledged more than $800 million.

Borrell promised that the EU would maintain sanctions against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and stressed that there can be no normalized relations until Syrian refugees are “safe to return home”.

Food prices around the world were already rising, but the war in Ukraine – a major wheat supplier – has made things worse. The impact exacerbates the plight of millions of Syrians displaced from their homes by the country’s 11-year war. Many depend on international aid to survive.

The war in Ukraine has also created a whole new group of refugees. European countries and the US have rushed to help more than 5.5 million Ukrainians who have fled to neighboring countries, as well as more than 7 million displaced people within Ukraine’s borders.

Half of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million people was displaced by the conflict.

Aid agencies had hoped to draw some of the world’s attention back to Syria at Tuesday’s conference, which was hosted by the EU. The funding will also go to aid the 5.7 million Syrian refugees living in neighboring countries, most notably Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Non-EU country Norway has pledged 1.5 billion kroner ($156 million) for 2022 (asterisk) (asterisk) should this be 2022?.

Imogen Sudbery, of the International Rescue Committee’s aid group, urged the EU to do more, noting that “even if donors pledge the same as previous years, they will not fill this alarming and rapidly increasing funding gap.”

The Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized the event in Brussels, saying that neither the Syrian government nor its ally Russia is taking part. It said the conference is being organized by countries that are imposing sanctions on the “Syrian people” and blocking reconstruction.

“Countries organizing or participating in this conference occupy or support the occupation of part of Syrian territories and plunder the resources of the Syrian people,” the ministry said. The term “occupation” was a reference to hundreds of US troops present in the oil-rich eastern part of Syria.

Borrell said Russia was not invited because of the war in Ukraine.

“We invite those partners who have a genuine, genuine interest in contributing to world peace,” he said. The UN has decided not to co-host this year’s conference because the EU refused to invite Russia.

Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark contributed to this report.

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