UN's Syria conference asks for $10bn in aid for humanitarian crisis

Brussels IV Conference struggles to raise money as plight of Syrian population continues to worsen

epa08517557 European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a media conference after the fourth Brussels Conference on 'Supporting the future of Syria and the region' in Brussels, Belgium, 30 June 2020. The EU and the UN co-chair the fourth Brussels Conference is held in a virtual format and aims to seek a political solution to the Syria conflict, raise financial support for Syria and countries in the region that host Syrian refugees.  EPA/Virginia Mayo / POOL
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The UN called for donor nations to give almost $10 billion (Dh36.73bn) in aid to help displaced Syrians as the country continues to suffer from nearly a decade of bitter civil war.

The Brussels IV Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region, hosted via video link, brought together more than 80 countries, international organisations and civil society groups in an attempt to raise the funds needed to help the 11 million Syrians dependent on humanitarian aid.

While officials praised the participation of donor countries, before pledging was over it looked as though only $5.5bn of the required money would be raised by the end of the conference.

Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Co-operation, said the UAE remained committed to supporting the Syrian people, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

She said the UAE had provided more than $1bn in emergency humanitarian and development aid since 2012 to Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Greece, in addition to those internally displaced within Syria.

Ms Al Hashimy also praised the European Commission for its work on Syria and in the wider region.

“The UAE values the firm commitment of the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office to address humanitarian crises in countries neighbouring the UAE and for its vision for the region, especially in responding to the Syrian crisis,” she said.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said millions of Syrian lives had been “destroyed and deprived of normality” over the course of the country’s civil war.

“This conference shows that we are not forgetting the ongoing conflict," he said. "We are not forgetting the suffering of the Syrian people and we are mobilising international support behind United Nations Security Council resolutions and the United Nations-led process to settle the Syrian conflict.”

UN agencies are seeking $6bn as part of the body’s Syria Response and Resilience Programme for refugees outside the country and $3.8bn in aid for those displaced internally, through the Humanitarian Response Programme.

Mark Lowcock, the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator, said it was important in the face of mounting challenges in the region that fund-raising continues.

“No one thinks the situation is better now than it was a year ago," he said. "We have got an increasingly acute economic problem and of course we have also got Covid-19. It is important that we are able to sustain the programmes that we are already running.”

Last year, the third Brussels Conference raised a record $7bn in pledges for 2019. But the humanitarian community has faced challenges in recent months, with a pledging event for Yemen raising only $1.35bn. Mr Lowcock described that outcome as “very disappointing”.

Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, said only $1bn of the necessary $6bn for the Response and Resilience Programme had been raised so far.

“The decline on resettlement means that the pressure on host countries ... continues to be very, very strong and the appeal that we make to donors specifically is to share that responsibility more because host countries are in a very difficult situation,” he said.

"Lebanon is perhaps the most emblematic, a politically difficult passage coupled with a deep economic and financial crisis that is having repercussions also on refugees and host communities.”

Officials also met to discuss possible political solutions to end the war in Syria. Mr Borrell called for the resumption of UN-led talks on Syria and for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in Damascus to engage “genuinely” in negotiations.

A woman feeds a child while sitting on the floor at a former classroom in a school building where Syrians -- displaced from the area of Ras al-Ain by the Turkish offensive on the northeast -- are staying in the city of Hasakah, on June 30, 2020.  / AFP / Delil SOULEIMAN

James Jeffrey, the US special representative for Syria engagement, echoed these sentiments, saying there could be no economic normalisation with the Assad regime until a political solution to the conflict had been found.

But Mr Jeffery rejected announcements on Tuesday from the Kremlin that Russia, Iran and Turkey would hold a video conference on Wednesday to discuss the conflict in Syria.

“The United States does not see the Astana group as a particularly helpful way to resolve the Syrian conflict," he said. "It has worked out a series of ceasefire agreements and in all but Idlib those ceasefire agreements have been totally trashed and Assad's forces have gone in."

Mr Jeffery said the group had sought to seize the initiative of peace talks from the UN.

"We are opposed to that as well," he said.