• Jean AbiNader

Catching Up with Brussel II, the Donors Conference on Syrian Refugees

The last of this year’s international donors conferences that include Lebanon was held April 24-25 in Brussels. "Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region" was hosted by the European Union and co-chaired by the United Nations. There were 86 delegations from 57 States, 10 regional organizations and International Financial Institutions (IFIs) as well as 19 UN agencies. More than 250 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) participated, with 164, including 15 from Syria and 72 from Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, meeting on the first day to discuss refugee populations in and outside Syria.

While donors pledged $4.4 billion in aid for refugees in Syria and the refugee host countries, the amount falls short of what the United Nations says is needed to provide humanitarian assistance in 2018, according to an analysis posted by Devex. The UN estimates at least $9.1 billion is required for assistance to Syria and the region. An additional $3.4 billion was pledged for 2019-2020 in loans from development banks and donors, partly on concessional terms.

Since there are delays between the pledges and the actual receipt of the funding, getting commitments for less than half of the goal was difficult news for agencies and organizations delivering the assistance. Even the US, which has provided more than $1 billion annually, has not confirmed its support appropriation due to its budget process.

As the Devex story mentioned, “Oxfam dismissed the outcome as “tragically inadequate.” Pointing to “insufficient aid, not enough help for refugees, and no meaningful peace process,” Shaheen Chughtai, head of Oxfam's Syria Crisis Response, said in a statement that “while some countries did step up with new money, overall, today's aid pledges fall short of what was promised last year to help the civilians bearing the brunt of the conflict.” Last year’s Brussels conference in support of Syria raised $6 billion for 2017.

Of this year’s 36 donors, the top contributors were Germany, which pledged $1 billion; the European Commission with $691 million; and the United Kingdom with $635 million. Germany’s contribution is earmarked “toward ensuring job prospects for refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, as well as humanitarian aid in Syria;” while UK’s aid “would be spent on medical supplies and training doctors and nurses.”

The UN coordinates two humanitarian and development agencies that aim to reach 13.1 million people in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria, 5.6 million refugees in neighboring countries, and 3.9 million vulnerable members of communities hosting refugees. “The United Nations and the European Union cooperated very closely and substantially in the preparation of the conference, which further reaffirmed that only an inclusive, comprehensive, and genuine political solution will ensure a sustainable end to the Syrian conflict,” according to the UN press release on the conference.

A critical condition of aid for reconstruction was noted by Federica Maria Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who said that money for reconstruction efforts will come only once a political process is “well underway under U.N. leadership.”

“The Conference reaffirmed that only an inclusive, comprehensive and genuine political solution in accordance with UNSCR 2254 and the Geneva Communiqué, that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people for dignity and freedom will ensure a sustainable end to the Syrian conflict, prevent regional escalation and a return of ISIL/Da'esh, and guarantee a peaceful and prosperous future for Syria and the region.”

The Council on the European Union statement noted that “A successful reconstructi on process also requires minimal conditions for stability and inclusiveness, a democratic and inclusive government, an agreed development strategy, reliable and legitimate interlocutors as well as guarantees in terms of funding accountability. None of these conditions are fulfilled in Syria.”

Lebanon’s needs and desire for refugees to begin returning to Syria were detailed in an annex to the Council’s communique. “Participants agreed that present conditions are not conducive for voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity. Significant risks remain for civilians across [Syria] as the situation remains characterized by continued fighting and displacement, with 2.6 million people displaced in 2017 alone. Conditions for returns, as defined by the UNHCR and according to international refugee law standards, are not yet fulfilled. Any organized return should be voluntary and in safety and dignity.”

“The Conference welcomed the Lebanese Government's Vision for Stabilization, Growth and Employment including the Capital Investment Program together with its commitment to establish a timetable for reforms that were presented in Paris on 6 April 2018, whose implementation and follow-up with the support of the international community is critical. The Conference also welcomed the Rome II ministerial meeting in support of Lebanon's armed and internal security forces that was held on 15 March 2018.”

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