Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
International donors have pledged around $7 billion in aid for Syria and refugees who fled the war -ravaged country, the European Union announced Thursday, but it was unclear how and when the money would be made available to those in need. EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides said the donors made a “collective pledge of almost $7 billion” for 2019, short of the $8 billion the United Nations had hoped to raise for humanitarian aid inside Syria and for refugees living in difficult conditions in neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, as well as Egypt.
“Now is the time to move fast, to translate these pledges into action on the ground, to make the most out of this funding in an effective and transparent way, in the best interest of the most vulnerable Syrians wherever they are,” Stylianides told donors at the end of the three-day conference of 80 countries and organizations in Brussels.
U.N. humanitarian aid chief Mark Lowcock said “we’re very pleased with the outcome,” and that the funds “will help to save millions of lives and protect civilians across Syria and across the region.”
Addressing the conference’s final session earlier in the day, Prime Minister Saad Hariri appealed to the international community to provide Lebanon with more than $2.5 billion in funding to support long-term projects to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees to their home country.
He emphasized that the only solution to the Syrian refugee crisis lay in their safe return to their country in accordance with international laws and treaties. Hariri reiterated his government’s commitment to implement key fiscal reforms to revitalize the sluggish economy and reduce the budget deficit.
The Lebanese government was asking for the funds to cope with what it estimates 1.5 million Syrian refugees, whose presence is straining Lebanon’s flagging economy and frail infrastructure.
Hariri said the impact of the Syrian displaced crisis on Lebanon was exacerbating the country’s existing economic and social challenges.
“The needs remain substantial and the competition over scarce resources and jobs has put the relationship between host communities and the displaced under severe tensions. These conditions could lead to widespread discontent and elevate the risk of violence, thus threatening Lebanon’s stability and giving an incentive to the displaced to seek refuge elsewhere,” Hariri said in his speech in English.
“There is no room for complacency or donor fatigue. We should rather work together and intensify our efforts to ensure that critical humanitarian assistance is delivered and the financing of livelihood development projects to improve the living standards of both the displaced and the host communities,” he said.
To achieve this, the Lebanese premier defined the priorities as follows: Ensure adequate funding for the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan, secure multiyear commitments, increase the support provided to host communities and support and develop the social protection systems in Lebanon.
“Our appeal for 2019 is about $2.6 billion. In 2018, donor contributions to our plan amounted to $1.2 billion, representing around 45 percent of the original $2.7 billion appeal,” he said.
Hariri warned that Lebanon cannot continue to bear the economic costs of hosting displaced Syrians, stressing that the refugees’ return to their homeland was the only solution to the displacement crisis.
“In the midst of all the challenges facing Lebanon and the region, we should not forget that the only solution to the Syrian displaced crisis is the safe return of the displaced to their home country, in accordance with international laws and treaties,” he said.
“In this connection, I would like to reiterate that my government remains committed to working with UNHCR on any pragmatic initiative that ensures the safe return of the displaced Syrians, including the Russian initiative … Lebanon cannot continue to bear the economic, social, and environmental impact of hosting 1.5 million displaced.”
Hariri promised his government would move forward with reforms recommended at last year’s CEDRE conference held in Paris, deemed essential to unlocking over $11 billion in grants and soft loans pledged by donors to finance investment and infrastructure projects in Lebanon. “Lebanon continues to face mounting economic and social challenges. Growth remains dismal at barely 1 percent, unemployment and poverty levels remain high, and the public finance situation is under severe strain.” “At the CEDRE conference, the Lebanese government submitted a vision for the medium to long term to deal with these challenges. The international community responded positively and mobilized significant resources to help put this vision on the right track for execution,” Hariri added.
“My government is fully aware of the need to move forward with fiscal, structural and sectorial reforms to jumpstart the economy, create jobs, and improve the deficit and debt ratios.”
“Indeed, my government will have to take difficult decisions in the coming weeks to reduce spending,” Hariri said.
Speaking to reporters at the conference hall, Hariri called on the international community to exert pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad to allow refugees to return home. “It is not normal to have 10 million displaced people outside Syria,” he said.
Hariri headed the Lebanese delegation to the conference that included the ministers of education and social affairs. He held talks and meetings with a number of EU and Arab officials on the sidelines of the conference, including Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir.
The Brussels III Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region was designed to drum up financial support for states that host large numbers of Syrian refugees.
The EU led the pledges with 2 billion euros ($2.26 billion).
European powers reiterated that progress on a U.N. led peace process must come before they will release funds to rebuild Syria – though they have dropped their insistence that Assad must go.
Before the conference the U.N. estimated that $5.5 billion was needed to help the approximately 5.6 million Syrians forced to flee their country, mostly to Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.
Germany pledged 1.44 billion euros, Washington almost $400 million and Britain some 400 million pounds ($529 million).
The conference raised pledges of a further $2.4 billion for humanitarian, resilience and development activities for the Syria crisis response in 2020 and beyond, the UN aid agency OCHA said.
Meanwhile, the Lebanon civil society delegation that attended the Brussels conference called for a political solution that addresses the root causes of the conflict in Syria.
“While welcoming a substantial level of funding pledged at the conference … Lebanon NGO networks and academics warn that with a lack of progress to find a political solution and address the ongoing protection threats in Syria that act as barriers to refugee returns, a sustained and inclusive response to the crisis in Lebanon remains vital,” the delegation said in a statement.
Speaking at the close of the conference, Dr Nasser Yassin, director of Research at the Issam Fares Institute, American University of Beirut, said: “The majority of refugees want to return to Syria, but they will only do so when they trust that they will be safe. The Brussels Conference has yet again shone a light on the ongoing human rights abuses across the country that continue to act as barriers to refugees’ ability to return. The EU and international community need to actively and assertively engage to find a political solution in Syria by addressing the root causes of the conflict.” with agencies