EU, UN seeks aid boost for Syria at major conference

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The European Union (EU) and United Nations (UN) on Tuesday begin a two-day conference to drum up fresh aid pledges for wartorn Syria and reinvigorate the faltering Geneva peace process as the conflict enters its eighth year.

Donor countries, aid organisations and UN agencies will gather in Brussels for the seventh annual conference on Syria’s future as international inspectors probe a suspected gas attack in the town of Douma, highlighting the brutal nature of the war.

The meeting comes in the wake of strikes by the United States, France and Britain on Syrian military installations, carried out in response to the Douma incident which has been widely blamed on Damascus.

EU officials hope to beat the $6 billion pledged at last year’s gathering, as a fierce offensive launched by President Bashar al-Assad, backed by key ally Russia, intensifies the crisis.

“We’ve seen the situation get dramatically worse since the beginning of the year. We’ve had inside Syria some 700 000 displaced during a period of four months,” one senior EU official said.

Some 6.1 million people are now internally displaced, more than five million Syrians have fled their country and 13 million people are in need of aid, according to the EU.

Top UN and EU officials will hold talks with aid groups working in Syria and neighbouring countries on Tuesday to get their views before government ministers arrive on Wednesday.

Save the Children International chief executive Helle Thorning-Schmidt urged donors to focus on education, saying a third of Syrian youngsters are out of school and a third of Syrian schools are unusable because of the war.

“We have let Syrian children down. This is the seventh year and they’re still being let down,” Thorning-Schmidt told AFP.

“2018 has been a very bloody year for Syrian children and one of the things they are missing out on enormously is education.”

UN children’s agency UNICEF said some 2.8 million Syrian children had missed out on education, warning that in parts of the country simply going to school “has at times become a matter of life and death”.