The “Supporting Syria and the Region” conference currently underway in London

More than 30 heads of state, representatives from 60 countries and UN leaders are participating at the “Supporting Syria and the Region” conference in London today. The UK, Germany, Kuwait, Norway and the United Nations are co-hosting the event, in an effort to raise significant new funding and meet the immediate and longer-term needs of those affected.

A Greek delegation headed by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is currently in London, where Mr Tsipras is expected to meet with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, among others.

During the conference’s opening procedures this morning UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said:

“This is the fourth time we have come together to show our solidarity with the people of Syria and the region. I thank His Highness the Emir and the Government of Kuwait for hosting three previous conferences which generated critical funding. I thank the co-conveners and, in particular, Prime Minister David Cameron, for hosting today’s meeting.

The crisis in Syria is about to enter its sixth year. The international community bears a heavy responsibility for failing to end it. We all hope that the efforts guided by my Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura will yield progress. But the temporary pause in the talks shows just how deep the divisions are. It is deeply disturbing that the initial steps of the talks have been undermined by the continuous lack of sufficient humanitarian access, and by a sudden increase of aerial bombing and military activities within Syria. The focus on the people of Syria is also being lost amid petty procedural matters.

I agree fully with my Special Envoy that we should not have talks for the sake of talks. The coming days should be used to get back to the table, not to secure more gains on the battlefield. I urge the Security Council and the International Support Group for Syria to press the parties to engage seriously with each other on Syria’s future. These latest political developments add even greater urgency to our efforts here today to ease the suffering of millions of Syrian men, women and children. We are here today with three objectives:

First, to meet the enormous humanitarian needs — $8 billion for this year alone. Despite the generosity of some donors, the international community has failed to keep pace with these needs.

Second, to lay foundations for long-term international support. Even if, by some miracle, the conflict ends tomorrow, the enormous humanitarian and development needs will continue for years and even decades. Syrian and other refugees need the chance to work and provide for their families. Today, let us commit to getting all Syrian children into school, within months, not years. Offering hope is the best way to slow the exodus of educated Syrians and prevent the radicalization of a lost generation.

Third, we are here to find ways to protect civilians. All sides in this conflict are committing human rights abuses of a shocking scale and depravity. Palestinian refugees, already vulnerable, are doubly dispossessed and in a desperate position. We must end sieges and bring food to starving people.

UK and Norway offer significant aid

The UK will invest at least an extra £1.2bn in international aid to support Syria and the region, according to UK Prime Minister David Cameron. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales gave his support to the aims of the conference by attending a reception held last night at Lancaster House, which was also attended by the Prime Minister.

The UK has already pledged £1.12bn in the region, making it the second biggest bi-lateral donor in the world. Today’s announcement will see an extra £1.2bn-plus being spent between 2016 and 2020, taking the UK’s total investment to more than £2.3bn. Prime Minister David Cameron said: “With hundreds of thousands of people risking their lives crossing the Aegean or the Balkans, now is the time to take a new approach to the humanitarian disaster in Syria. Today’s pledge of more than £2.3bn in UK aid sets the standard for the international community – more money is needed to tackle this crisis and it is needed now. But the conference today is about more than just money. Our new approach of using fundraising to build stability, create jobs and provide education can have a transformational effect in the region – and create a future model for humanitarian relief. And we can 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.”

Norway is also increasing its aid to Syria and the region to NOK 2.4 billion for 2016. “We intend to maintain this high level of assistance and will provide a total of around NOK 10 billion over the next four years”, said Prime Minister Erna Solberg. This allocation from Norway is a record high. “The humanitarian needs are immense. With this conference, we are urging other countries to increase their assistance too”, said Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende.

The funding provided by Norway will go towards humanitarian efforts and long-term development aid in Syria, and to Syria’s neighbouring countries. It will be used, among other things, to provide education, health, shelter, food, emergency relief, protection, water and sanitation, and to support efforts to help victims of sexual violence. The funds will be primarily channelled through the UN and aid organisations that Norway cooperates closely with. Norway is giving particular priority to education, and is earmarking as much as 15 % of its current allocation, NOK 350 million, for education this year. ‘The civil war has lasted for nearly five years. If we fail to take decisive action now, the situation for civilians and Syria’s neighbouring countries will only get worse, and this will affect the whole of the international community, including Norway”, said Ms Solberg.

Norway has been one of the largest contributors of humanitarian aid to Syria and the region since the crisis began. At the previous donor conference in Kuwait, Norway pledged NOK 750 million in the course of 2015, but in fact provided NOK 1.57 billion during the year to help civilians in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. This means that Norway is now increasing its support to three times the level pledged at the previous donor conference. The Government is allocating NOK 2.4 billion for 2016, most of it from the humanitarian budget. The Government intends to provide a similar amount each year for the period 2016-2019 to Syria, Iraq, and affected neighbouring countries, bringing the total amount of aid provided over the next four years to about NOK 10 billion.

SOURCE: Supporting Syria and the Region Conference
PHOTO: Georgina Coupe/Crown Copyright (UK Prime Minister David Cameron talks to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, September 2015).