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Syrian political solution still needed, say charities in response to record aid pledges

Madeleine Davies

by Madeleine Davies

Posted: 05 Feb 2016 @ 12:52

 AP

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Perilous journey: refugees arrive by ferry from the Greek eastern islands, at the port of Piraeus, Athens, on Thursday

Credit:  AP

Perilous journey: refugees arrive by ferry from the Greek eastern islands, at the port of Piraeus, Athens, on Thursday

BLANKETS will not stop bombs, Christian Aid has warned, at the conclusion of a conference that has secured $10 billion (£7 million) of pledges in humanitarian aid for victims of the Syrian crisis.

NGOs have welcomed the commitments — a record sum — but have warned that, without a political solution to the crisis, now in its sixth year, the suffering will continue.

“As we heard from Syrian colleagues over the past two days, unless political will to end the violence inside Syria is put into action, the numbers of the dead will rise as will the numbers seeking refuge in the neighbouring countries and in Europe,” said Frances Guy, Christian Aid’s Head of Middle East Region, on Thursday.

“More food and blankets will not stop the bombs. The plea from the International Red Cross should be answered: Find a political solution, urgently. Lift all sieges immediately. Start putting Syrians first.”

The sum pledged at the conference, hosted in London by the UK, Germany, Kuwait, Norway, and the UN, is the most money ever raised in one day in response to a humanitarian crisis.

“It means millions of people will now receive life-saving food, medical care, and shelter in Syria and beyond,” the Prime Minister said. The UK, already the second largest donor to the crisis, pledged a further £1.2 billion, taking its total to date to £2.3 billion.

The Prince of Wales gave his support to the conference by attending a reception held on Wednesday night.

Mr Cameron reiterated his argument that funding host countries was a superior strategy to resettling Syrians in the UK. He suggested that the funding would “provide the sense of hope needed to stop people thinking they have no option but to risk their lives on a dangerous journey to Europe”.

A communiqué from Bond, a coalition of 400 NGOs, including Christian Aid and Oxfam, called on donors to provide “safe and legal routes within and beyond the region” and regularise their residency and registration.

The EU has pledged more than $3.3 billion (£2.3 billion), Germany $2.5 billion, and the US $900 million. The goal was to raise $9.6 billion (£6.2 billion) to support the 4.5 million Syrians who had fled to neighbouring countries, and the 13.5 million vulnerable people in Syria.The 2015 UN-coordinated appeals were only 56 per cent funded.

The declaration issued by the donors at the end of the conference paid tribute to the “extraordinary generosity” shown by the host countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. 

PA

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“Very difficult odds”: King Abdullah of Jordan speaks during the conference

Credit: PA

“Very difficult odds”: King Abdullah of Jordan speaks during the conference

King Abdullah of Jordan has warned that his country is at “boiling point”. The country is hosting 635,000 Syrian refugees, and a quarter of its state budget is spent on supporting them.

“It hurt us when it comes to the educational system, our healthcare,” he told the BBC shortly before the conference. “Sooner or later, I think the dam is going to burst, and I think this week is going to be very important for Jordanians to see, is there going to be help — not only for Syrian refugees, but for their own future as well.”

Currently, just one per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan have work permits. The authorities estimate that it may be possible to create 200,000 job opportunities for them, without their competing with Jordanians. But this will depend on international support.

In a declaration issued on Thursday, the donors agreed to support the opening up of the labour market in host countries by providing access to markets and financing and investment from private-sector partners. It expects that up to 1.1 million jobs will be created for refugees from Syria and host-country citizens in the region by 2018.

The plans published by host countries emphasise the pressure placed on communities, public services, and infrastructure by the influx of people fleeing Syria’s war. Lebanese unemployment is estimated to be up to 20 per cent, and growth is close to zero.

The Lebanese Prime Minister, Tammam Salam, spoke of his country’s struggle to contain an “eruption” of refugees. It is hosting more than one million: more than one in three people is a refugee from Syria or Palestine. Nevertheless, its government is committed to opening the doors of its state schools to all children. It will need at least $350 million a year to do so.

The London declaration makes a commitment to securing access to education for all refugee and host-community children by the end of the 2016-17 school year.

Syrian refugees were taking “desperate measures” to survive in Lebanon, said Patricia Mouamar, the communications manager for World Vision in Lebanon, on Friday. Their children were going to work, and their daughters were being married in their early teens.

Although money would help to finance schooling, she said, parents were concerned about the safety of their children when attending evening lessons, and many needed their children to work.

“Money is very important, but it should not be without always keeping in mind what is the ultimate solution,” she said. “We need to be working for a lasting peaceful solution inside Syria. Every single refugee I have met during the last five years — hundreds of them — there is no one who told me ‘I don’t want to go back home.’ Everyone wants to go back home. Everybody, all the countries, need to be working towards that solution.”

On the eve of the London conference, the UN announced that peace talks between the Syrian regime and opposition had been suspended. 

PA

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Assurances: David Cameron and Ban Ki-moon speak to the media at the close of the talks

Credit: PA

Assurances: David Cameron and Ban Ki-moon speak to the media at the close of the talks

The General Secretary of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, said that they had been “undermined by the continuous lack of sufficient humanitarian access, and by a sudden increase of aerial bombings and military activities within Syria”.

The Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, reported on Thusday that tens of thousands of Syrians were fleeing from Aleppo to Turkey because of Russian airstrikes. “This is ethnic cleansing and a war crime,” he said.

“Once a UN Secretary General went to Srebenicia in Bosnia to apologise because the UN failed to stop the massacres in 1995, and I am sure, one day, another UN Secretary General will go to Aleppo and to Madaya to apologise to the Syrian people because it has not stopped these massacres.”

The London declaration refers to “an urgent need for an immediate lifting of all sieges across Syria and an end to attacks on medical facilities and schools and the violence against humanitarian workers”. It also condemns human rights violations.

Resolutions to this effect by the UN Security Council have been repeatedly ignored.

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