UN says Syria donors on track to raise over $6.5 billion


BRUSSELS (AP) – International donors are on track to pledge more than $6.5 billion in aid for Syria and refugees who fled the conflict-ravaged country, a top U.N. official said Thursday as the civil war enters its ninth year.

However, a significant slice of the funds – some 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion) – was already offered to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by the European Union in 2015 as part of its deal to persuade him to get the Turkish coastguard to stop Syrian refugees and other migrants from setting out for Greece.

“It looks at the moment that we will raise at least $6.5 billion, possibly more than that. Possibly close to 7 billion,” U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told reporters at the donor conference in Brussels. “That is a very significant result. If that is where we end up at the end of the day, we will be pleased.”

The EU, the world’s biggest aid donor, announced that it would provide 560 million euros ($633 million) this year, while planning to offer the same amount next year and in 2021.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also said the 28-nation bloc would give Turkey 1.5 billion euros more to help it manage Syrian refugees. In 2015, the EU promised Erdogan 3 billion euros to help manage the refugee burden, plus a further 3 billion if the first tranche was correctly spent.

Lowcock said the EU’s offer of 1.5 billion euros from that second tranche “is one of the reasons why it looks as though we’re going to have a good outcome on the pledging.”

The United States pledged more than $397 million in refugee support.

Prior to the conference, the U.N. had said that $3.3 billion would be needed to help meet Syria’s own aid needs this year, plus a further $5.5 billion to support neighboring countries where most Syrians are seeking refuge. About 11.7 million Syrians still depend on aid and more than 6 million of them have been forced from their homes but remain in the country.

U.N. agencies, non-governmental organizations, and think tanks are warning that the conflict, which has killed more than 400,000 people and sparked a refugee exodus that destabilized Syria’s neighbors and also hit Europe, is far from over.

Around 80 percent of people inside Syria live in extreme poverty, and refugees are reluctant to return, fearing violence, conscription or prison. Almost 6 million people have fled Syria, many living in precarious conditions in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Mogherini said the EU, which is hosting the conference along with the United Nations, hopes that the donor meeting will give impetus to stalled peace talks under U.N. auspices.

“We have to keep focused on a political solution for the conflict in Syria. It’s not over yet. People need our support,” she said.

But beyond providing aid, the EU refuses to help rebuild the country until a political settlement has been reached, even though some NGOs believe that stance is a serious obstacle to genuine aid efforts.

Absent from the donor conference are Syrians themselves. No government or opposition representatives have been invited, but civil society groups are concerned that donor countries want to pressure Syrian refugees to return, despite the dangers and uncertainties they face.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, left, talks to UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, centre, and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, right, during a Syria donors conference at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, March 14, 2019. The European Union’s top diplomat says the EU expects “significant pledges” for Syria at a donor conference, as the bloc seeks to keep the 8-year conflict in the international spotlight. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)