Aid groups appeal for Syria funds as donors head to Brussels

“Save the Children” NGO displayed a drawing by a Syrian child outside the European Commission and Council headquarters ahead of the conference. (AP)
Updated 13 March 2019

Aid groups appeal for Syria funds as donors head to Brussels

  • European Union refuse to aid rebuilding Syria before a political solution is reached
  • Syrian government and opposition representatives are will not be at the meeting

BRUSSELS: Aid organizations appealed Tuesday for funds to help Syria recover from an eight-year war that has driven almost 6 million people out of the country, as donors from nearly 85 countries readied for a pledging conference in Brussels.
Agencies, non-governmental organizations, and think tanks say the conflict, which has killed more than 400,000 people and sparked a refugee exodus that destabilized Syria’s neighbors and hit Europe, is far from over. Around 80 percent of people inside the country live in extreme poverty and refugees are reluctant to return, fearing violence, conscription or prison.
“Syrian refugees need trust that their return will be safe, secure and dignified,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said during a weekend visit to Lebanon, which is struggling to cope with arrivals from over the border.
According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, some 100,000 people have been displaced since the last wave of violence began in mid-February, including tens of thousands from Khan Sheikhoun in northwest Syria, which has been repeatedly hit by government forces from the air and ground in recent weeks. It estimated that some 140 people, including 69 civilians, were killed over three weeks.
As the conflict enters its ninth year, about 11.7 million Syrians still depend on aid, more than 6 million have been displaced inside Syria and some 2 million children are out of school.
But donor fatigue is growing: Of around $3.9 billion pledged last year, only around two thirds were funded.
Beyond providing aid, the European Union — the world’s biggest donor and host of Thursday’s conference — refuses to help rebuild the country until a political settlement has been reached.
“It’s a message of ‘you broke it, you own it,’” said Jean-Christophe Belliard, deputy secretary general of the EU’s External Action Service — essentially the bloc’s foreign office — in reference to Syrian President Bashar Assad and his backers.
The EU is hoping that the meeting can give impetus to stalled peace moves under UN auspices, on top of gathering humanitarian aid for Syria and for neighbors hosting refugees like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
But some NGOs believe that its stance over rebuilding can be a serious obstacle to genuine aid efforts.
“All too often that reconstruction line is limiting what in every other aid context in the world is considered best practice in terms of how to provide humanitarian aid,” said Matthew Hemsley, Oxfam’s Syria policy and communications adviser.
“We’re not here to build large roads. We’re not here to build a brand-new water system for Syria. We’re not here to build a whole new school network. We’re here to make sure that children can be educated in a classroom that doesn’t have rain blowing into it from broken windows, that people don’t have dirty water flowing into their home,” he said.
Absent from the donor conference are Syrians themselves. No government or opposition representatives have been invited, but civil society group representatives in Brussels for the occasion are concerned that donor countries want to pressure Syrian refugees to return, despite the dangers and uncertainties they could face.
“We have to be very careful,” warned Rouba Mhaissen, director of Sawa for Development and Aid. “A lot of government delegations are here to sell return, especially from neighboring countries.”


UK PM Boris Johnson locks down England as COVID-19 cases pass 1 million

Updated 31 October 2020

UK PM Boris Johnson locks down England as COVID-19 cases pass 1 million

  • Lockdown starts just after midnight on Thursday morning
  • United Kingdom has the biggest official death toll in Europe from COVID-19

LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered England back into a national lockdown after the United Kingdom passed the milestone of one million COVID-19 cases and a second wave of infections threatened to overwhelm the health service.
The United Kingdom, which has the biggest official death toll in Europe from COVID-19, is grappling with more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases a day and scientists have warned the “worst case” scenario of 80,000 dead could be exceeded.
Johnson, at a hastily convened news conference in Downing Street after news of a lockdown leaked to local media, said that the one-month lockdown across England would kick in at a minute past midnight on Thursday morning and last until Dec. 2.
In some of the most onerous restrictions in Britain’s peacetime history, people will only be allowed to leave home for specific reasons such as education, work, exercise, shopping for essentials and medicines or caring for the vulnerable.
“Now is the time to take action because there is no alternative,” Johnson said, flanked by his chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, and his chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance.
The government will revive its emergency coronavirus wage subsidy scheme to ensure workers who are temporarily laid off during a new England-wide lockdown receive 80% of their pay.
Essential shops, schools, and universities will remain open, Johnson said. Pubs and restaurants will be shut apart from for takeaways. All non-essential retail will close.
Johnson’s imposition of stricter curbs came after scientists warned the outbreak was going in the wrong direction and that action was needed to halt the spread of the virus if families were to have any hope of gathering at Christmas.
Johnson was criticized by political opponents for moving too slowly into the first national lockdown, which stretched from March 23 to July 4. He fell ill with COVID in late March and was hospitalized in early April.
The measures bring England into alignment with France and Germany by imposing nationwide restrictions almost as severe as the ones that drove the global economy this year into its deepest recession in generations.
So far the United Kingdom has reported 46,555 COVID-19 deaths — defined as those dying within 28 days of a positive test. A broader death measure of those with COVID-19 on their death certificates gives the toll as 58,925.
The United Kingdom has the world’s fifth largest official death toll, after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.