European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell waits for the start of a meeting, Supporting the future of Syria and the Region, in videoconference format at the European Council building in Brussels, Tuesday, June 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, Pool)

Syria donors gather as virus, economic chaos deepen crisis

June 30, 2020 - 5:45 am

BRUSSELS (AP) — Donors from around 60 countries and international agencies are meeting Tuesday to drum up financial aid for Syria as the coronavirus and economic chaos wreak even more havoc in a country shattered by a conflict now in its 10th year.

The war has killed more than 400,000 people and sparked a refugee exodus that has destabilized Syria’s neighbors and impacted Europe. Around 11 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, and some 9 million don’t have enough to eat. More than half of the population have no jobs.

The coronavirus has sparked “a multitude of new and complex challenges including the restriction of movement and goods, the delay of certain field activities, the closure of borders and a critical insufficiency of protective equipment for staff and volunteers,” International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies President Francesco Rocca said Tuesday.

Perhaps wary of the state of coronavirus-ravaged national coffers, the European Union and the United Nations - joint chairs of the conference - underlined that they did not set a fixed pledging target.

The EU has reported that in 2019 donors contributed 8.9 billion euros ($10 billion) in grants to Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The United Nations currently requires about $3.8 billion for its Syria-related work.

It will be the eighth Syria pledging conference, and the fourth hosted by the EU, which estimates that it has donated around 20 billion euros ($23 billion) to Syria and the region over the years. Around 60 countries, key U.N. agencies and others involved in the conflict are expected to take part.

Beyond its economic impact, the coronavirus also forced the conference to be held online. The meetings are usually an important opportunity for officials to discuss thorny issues and resolve problems, but officials worry that the virtual format might reduce this years' conference to a number-crunching exercise.

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