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
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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.”


Indonesia palm oil growers threaten retaliation over EU ‘intimidation’

Updated 30 sec ago
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Indonesia palm oil growers threaten retaliation over EU ‘intimidation’

  • Earlier this week, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, warned that if the EU implements a ban on palm oil imports, Indonesia would retaliate strongly with possible bans on European products
  • Indonesia and Malaysia together produce about 85 percent of the world’s palm oil

JAKARTA: Biofuel producers in Indonesia called on the Indonesian government and EU to find a “win-win solution” to a dispute over legislation that will phase out palm oil manufacturing in the region, risking jobs and billions of dollars in revenue.
Earlier this week, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, warned that if the EU implements a ban on palm oil imports, Indonesia would retaliate strongly with possible bans on European products, including passengers jets, train coaches, and motor vehicles.
“We want a win-win solution. Retaliation is not a favorable option but, eventually, what else can we do? It could become necessary if we keep being intimidated,” said Master Parulian Tumanggor, chairman of the Indonesia’s Biodiesel Producers Association.
“If they stop biofuel, millions (of workers and farmers) will become unemployed. We don’t want that,” he added.
Pandjaitan said that with Indonesia’s aviation industry expected to expand threefold by 2034, the country will require about 2,500 aircraft in the next two decades — a big market for European companies.
Aircraft demand from Indonesia is worth more than $40 billion and it will create millions of jobs.
“It’s a matter of survival. If they treat us like this, we will retaliate strongly. We are not a poor country, we are a developing country and we have a big potential,” Pandjaitan said in a briefing with the EU ambassador to Indonesia, Vincent Guerend, and European investors.
Darmin Nasution, chief economic minister, said Indonesia is considering a challenge to the EU legislation via the World Trade Organization, and will seek support from the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Indonesia and Malaysia together produce about 85 percent of the world’s palm oil.
Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi spoke with her Malaysian counterpart, Saifuddin Abdullah, on the sidelines of Organization of Islamic Cooperation emergency meeting in Istanbul on Friday.
“We agreed to work together to fight against discrimination of palm oil in the EU,” she said via Twitter.
Nasution said palm oil contributed $17.89 billion to Indonesia’s economy in 2018 and almost 20 million workers depended on the plantations for their livelihood.
On March 13 the European Commission adopted new rules on biofuels based on sustainability criteria with a two-month scrutiny period. The EU said “best available scientific data” show palm oil plantations are a major cause of deforestation and climate change.
Palm oil plantations in Indonesia have resulted in massive deforestation on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.
Guerend acknowledged the importance of palm oil to Indonesia in terms of jobs, but said that there was some flexibility in the regulation.
“It will be further modified in a few years’ time. It’s not cast in stone forever as the industry is dynamic, expanding, and reforming, and we take that into account,” he said.
“Our invitation for everyone is to work on sustainability because it’s in everybody’s interest,” he added.