Leaders aim to find billions for Syria

By BBC

World leaders will gather for a donor conference in London on Thursday in an attempt to raise £6.2bn ($9bn; €8.3bn) for those affected by the war in Syria.

Some 70 leaders are expected to attend the conference, the fourth of its kind, including UK PM David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

They are aiming to raise funds for education and jobs for Syrian refugees.

Hours before the conference was due to begin, peace talks between the Syrian regime and opposition broke down.

The United Nations-brokered talks, which opened just two days ago, are expected to resume on 25 February.

Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s special envoy at the talks, admitted there had been a lack of progress but said that the negotiations had not failed.

The £6.2bn being sought on Thursday is made up of a UN-coordinated appeal by dozens of aid agencies for around £5.3bn and approximately £900m requested by regional host governments.

David Cameron will pledge an additional £1.2bn from the UK.

Part of the reason for the record request is the underfunding of previous appeals. Only 43% of the $2.9bn pledged to the UN’s 2015 appeal has so far been funded.

On Monday, officials told Reuters news agency that the European Union would promise €2bn ($2.2bn; £1.5bn) in aid at the conference. It pledged €1.1bn at the last gathering in Kuwait a year ago.

One of the aims of the conference will be to ensure there are school places for all refugee children in the region by 2017, as well helping the host countries to provide places for their own children.

Officials said they would also be looking to open up new trade and business opportunities for the host countries, in order to boost their economies and put them in a better position to help refugees.

A coalition of more than 90 charities meeting in London on Wednesday, including Oxfam and the Malala Foundation, called for better access to education and jobs for refugees in Syria and neighbouring states.

Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said: “Only an end to the fighting and a negotiated political solution will stop the suffering of ordinary Syrians, which is why it’s important that international governments push for agreements in the Geneva Syrian peace talks.

“But in the meantime, it is imperative that we invest in hope, education and livelihoods for the civilian population and pave the way for a more stable future.”

The UN children’s agency said Tuesday that $1.4bn would be needed to rescue children in Syria and surrounding countries from becoming a “lost generation”.

The vast majority of Syrian refugees are sheltering in neighbouring countries, including Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.

Jordan is hosting 635,000 of the 4.6 million Syrians registered as refugees with the UN. Speaking to the BBC ahead of Thursday’s conference, Jordan’s King Abdullah said his country was at “boiling point”.

Thursday’s conference is being jointly hosted by the UK, Germany, Norway, Kuwait and the UN.

Speaking to the BBC ahead of the conference, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called on those attending to “show unity of purpose in your political commitment towards Syria”.

“I sincerely hope that this conference in London is used not only to mobilise funds but as a place where we can put strong pressure on the Syrian group and on the international community as a whole,” he said.

More than 250,000 people have died and 11 million have fled their homes in almost five years of civil war in Syria.

Anti-government protests developed into a civil war that, four years on, has ground to a stalemate, with the Assad government, the so-called Islamic State group, an array of Syrian rebels and Kurdish fighters all holding territory.

Government forces concentrated in Damascus and the centre and west of Syria are fighting the jihadists of Islamic State and al-Nusra Front, as well as less numerous so-called “moderate” rebel groups, who are strongest in the north and east. These groups are also battling each other.

Iran, Russia and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement are propping up the Alawite-led Assad government, while Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar back the more moderate Sunni-dominated opposition, along with the US, UK and France. Hezbollah and Iran are believed to have troops and officers on the ground, while a Western-led coalition and Russia are carrying out air strikes.

  

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