Refugee crisis funding – what about aid for countries neighbouring Syria?
Today sees the start of a big international conference on Syria in London, the focus of which is how we plug the appalling gap in foreign aid contributions to the country. Predictably, the morning papers were filled with quotes about the size of Britain’s own Syrian aid contribution.
I don’t deny for a second the truth of these figures. We are second only to the US in the amount of money we contribute to the humanitarian aid effort in the country, and today we have pledged to double this to some £2.3 billion to 2020.
But the effects of the Syrian civil war have been felt widely. Contrary to popular assumptions, most of the burden has been borne by countries neighbouring Syria. The graph below – sourced from the UN High Commission for Refugees’ website – paints the picture starkly: at the end of last year they recorded nearly 4.5 million “Persons of Concern” from Syria in Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey. The experience for Lebanon has been particularly harrowing: Syrian refugees constitute nearly a quarter of what the country’s population was in 2012, before the refugee crisis really blew up.
Any bold and coordinated response to the Syrian refugee crisis must also include a handsome aid contribution to these countries too, which begs the question: how much has Britain contributed in aid to them?
The Department for International Development (DFID) released the figures in reply to four Written Parliamentary Questions I put together (see here, here, here and here). I copy the figures below. These figures are for aid specifically earmarked to help these countries with the Syrian refugee crisis, although for at least some of the below countries (Jordan, for example) this is in fact the only aid of any kind which we give them.
The Department for International Development (DFID) actually cut the aid budget to countries neighbouring Syria in 2014/15 – it went down by nearly a quarter across the board, with the decline most pronounced in Iraq (50%) and Jordan (30%).
In Iraq and Lebanon, DFID subsequently increased the budget in 2015/16, which means that overall the total aid budget is considerably up over the course of the four years. But the funding for Jordan and Turkey has held steady.
The UK’s financial contribution to the Syrian refugee crisis has been considerable, and constitutes the most we have ever pledged in aid for a single humanitarian crisis. We have just committed even more funds in the London conference. But the international community need to see countries neighbouring Syria as part of this, and make similar financial commitments there too. If they don’t, I can see the effects of the Syrian Civil War reverberating across the wider Middle East – especially in the politically-fractured state of Lebanon.