Fund pledge shortfall will hit Syria and refugees hard, UN warns

Donors’ conference clocked just over half of the €6.5bn needed to help Syria in 2018

Displaced people who fled the Syrian war stand near the Lebanese-Syrian border as they prepare to return to their village of Beit Jinn in Syria.Photograph: Ziad Choufi/AP

Displaced people who fled the Syrian war stand near the Lebanese-Syrian border as they prepare to return to their village of Beit Jinn in Syria.Photograph: Ziad Choufi/AP

 

The shortfall in funding for humanitarian aid for half of Syria’s population could launch on to Europe’s shores a second massive wave of migrants who would be unwelcome in countries still trying to deal with the earlier inflow of Syrians and other migrants.

The regional head of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Amid Awad, warned that any fall in funding would seriously impact on refugees, in particular, and could lead to a “repeat of 2015 and more” – the year when more than a million Syrians migrated.

The risk of a mass migration will increase if rations and education are cut, depriving distressed Syrians of both sustenance and a future for their children, and compelling them to seek sanctuary in Europe.

The donors’ conference, Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region, ended in Brussels on Wednesday with pledges of €3.6 billion rather than the €6.5 billion UN and humanitarian agencies estimated is required to meet Syrian needs during 2018. The US, which is expected to cut its donation, did not submit a pledge, making the UK, EU and Germany the largest donors.

Since generous pledges are made at high-profile conferences and funds are not always forthcoming, a coalition of non-governmental organisations called for the creation of “robust mechanisms to ensure that commitments are translated to action”.

While Syria, with the aid of humanitarian agencies, is struggling to cope with 6.1 million people displaced within the country, Lebanon and Jordan, countries with small populations and scarce resources, have been overwhelmed by fleeing Syrians.

Refugees in Lebanon

UNHCR reports that the situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the most vulnerable of the host countries, has deteriorated: 76 per cent live below the overall poverty line, 58 per cent of this number in extreme poverty. Lebanon does not permit the establishment of UN-organised camps, so refugees can be shifted from place to place.

The UN puts the number of Syrian refugees at 1.1 million, while the Lebanese government and relief agencies contend it is 1.5 million. This does not include up to half a million well-off Syrian residents. Lebanon’s population stands at six million, not including 450,000 Palestinian refugees.

Prime minister Saad Hariri admitted conditions had “deteriorated” and argued his country has become a “big refugee camp”.

Water scarcity

Jordan, with a population of 9.5 million, is also severely under pressure with up to 1.4 million Syrians. Some 20 per cent of 656,000 registered refugees live in camps, with the rest as well as unregistered Syrians living in cities, towns and villages. Jordan has a chronic shortage of water, which has been seriously exacerbated by the refugees.

Both Lebanon and Jordan have refused to accept additional Syrians and are encouraging them to go home. Last week, 500 returned from Lebanon to Syria. Jordan has deported hundreds and 50,000 are stranded in no-man’s land on its border with Syria.

By contrast, Turkey, which hosts 3.5 million Syrians and has a population of nearly 80 million, is blessed with considerable internal resources, and has, since 2016, received from the EU €6 billion in aid for the refugees under an agreement to curb their migration to Europe.

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