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

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.”


Trump says he’ll leave if Electoral College seats Biden

Updated 4 min 57 sec ago

Trump says he’ll leave if Electoral College seats Biden

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said Thursday that he will leave the White House if the Electoral College formalizes President-Elect Joe Biden’s victory — even as he insisted such a decision would be a “mistake” — as he spent his Thanksgiving renewing baseless claims that “massive fraud” and crooked officials in battleground states caused his election defeat.
“Certainly I will. But you know that,” Trump said Thursday when asked whether he would vacate the building, allowing a peaceful transition of power in January. But Trump — taking questions for the first time since Election Day — insisted that “a lot of things” would happen between now and then that might alter the results.
“This has a long way to go,” Trump said, even though he lost.
The fact that a sitting American president even had to address whether or not he would leave office after losing reelection underscores the extent to which Trump has smashed one convention after another over the last three weeks. While there is no evidence of the kind of widespread fraud Trump has been alleging, he and his legal team have nonetheless been working to cast doubt on the integrity of the election and trying to overturn voters’ will in an unprecedented breach of Democratic norms.

US President Donald Trump gestures as he participates in a Thanksgiving video teleconference with members of the military forces at the White House in Washington on Nov. 26, 2020. (REUTERS/Erin Scott)

Trump spoke to reporters in the White House’s ornate Diplomatic Reception Room after holding a teleconference with US military leaders stationed across the globe. He thanked them for their service and jokingly warned them not to eat too much turkey, then turned to the election after ending the call. He repeated grievances and angrily denounced officials in Georgia and Pennsylvania, two key swing states that helped give Biden the win.
Trump claimed, despite the results, that this may not be his last Thanksgiving at the White House. And he insisted there had been “massive fraud,” even though state officials and international observers have said no evidence of that exists and Trump’s campaign has repeatedly failed in court.
Trump’s administration has already given the green light for a formal transition to get underway. But Trump took issue with Biden moving forward.
“I think it’s not right that he’s trying to pick a Cabinet,” Trump said, even though officials from both teams are already working together to get Biden’s team up to speed.
And as he refused to concede, Trump announced that he will be traveling to Georgia to rally supporters ahead of two Senate runoff elections that will determine which party controls the Senate. Trump said the rally for Republican Sens. David Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler would likely be held Saturday. The White House later clarified he had meant Dec. 5.

US President Donald Trump gestures as he participates in a Thanksgiving video teleconference with members of the military forces at the White House in Washington on Nov. 26, 2020. (REUTERS/Erin Scott)

One of the reasons Republicans have stood by Trump and his baseless claims of fraud has been to keep his loyal base energized ahead of those runoffs on Jan. 5. But Trump, in his remarks, openly questioned whether that election would be fair in a move that could dampen Republican turnout.
“I think you’re dealing with a very fraudulent system. I’m very worried about that,” he said. “People are very disappointed that we were robbed.”
As for the Electoral College, Trump made clear that he will likely never formally concede, even if he said he would leave the White House.
“It’s gonna be a very hard thing to concede. Because we know there was massive fraud,” he said, noting that, “time isn’t on our side.”
“If they do,” vote against him, Trump added, “they’ve made a mistake.”
Asked whether he would attend Biden’s inauguration, Trump said he knew the answer but didn’t want to share it yet.
But there were some signs that Trump was coming to terms with his loss.

US President Donald Trump gestures as he participates in a Thanksgiving video teleconference with members of the military forces at the White House in Washington on Nov. 26, 2020. (REUTERS/Erin Scott)

At one point he urged reporters not to allow Biden the credit for pending coronavirus vaccines. “Don’t let him take credit for the vaccines because the vaccines were me and I pushed people harder than they’ve ever been pushed before,” he said.
As for whether or not he plans to formally declare his candidacy to run again in 2024 — as he has discussed with aides— Trump he didn’t “want to talk about 2024 yet.”
All states must certify their results before the Electoral College meets on Dec. 14, and any challenge to the results must be resolved by Dec. 8. States have already begun that process, including Michigan, where Trump and his allies tried and failed to delay the process, and Georgia and Pennsylvania.
Vote certification at the local and state level is typically a ministerial task that gets little notice, but that changed this year with Trump’s refusal to concede and his unprecedented attempts to overturn the results of the election through a fusillade of legal challenges and attempts to manipulate the certification process in battleground states he lost.
Biden won by wide margins in both the Electoral College and popular vote, where he received nearly 80 million votes, a record.