Rich countries meeting in London this week must commit to real changes that will improve the lives of millions of Syrians, said Oxfam. The aid funding and resettlement places offered so far have often been so low as to be little more than token gestures. Syrians in need are waiting for actions not just kind words and promises.
While some world powers have led by example when it comes to assisting Syrians - who are still being killed, displaced, and impoverished in their hundreds of thousands - most countries still fall far short according to Oxfam's new fair share analysis. In 2015, just over half the money to fund the appeals designed to help people in Syria and surrounding countries was given.
Oxfam's analysis calculates how much aid and how many resettlement places should be given by countries according to the size of their economy. Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK continue to give generously while major donors Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the US have contributed a smaller percentage of their fair share.
Australia, France and Russia have increased their direct involvement in the conflict but fail to fund the appeals as much as they should. Russia provided just 1% of its fair share to the appeals linked to the crisis in 2015.
"Look at Norway, Belgium, and Kuwait. They have given much more than their fair share in aid. How can France, Saudi Arabia, and Russia explain their shortfalls?" said Andy Baker, who leads Oxfam's response to the Syria Crisis. "In comparison Syria's small neighbours, Lebanon and Jordan - which host nearly 2 million refugees - have spent the equivalent of 6,892% and 5,628% of their fair share in aid respectively. Our calculations of commitments that rich countries need to make on aid and resettlement are the bare minimum, and they are repeatedly falling far short. The London conference has to be a turning point," Baker said, as donor countries prepare to meet on February 4 in the British capital to pledge support for Syria and its neighbours.
Despite the unprecedented wave of public sympathy that Syrians have witnessed in 2015 as thousands of people drowned off Europe's coasts, rich countries' leaders have not kept pace. European governments should ensure that refugees are afforded safe and legal routes, so that they do not have to take dangerous journeys which expose them to abuse. Refugees who wish to stay in neighbouring countries should be afforded opportunities to support themselves and live in safety. And most importantly, there needs to be greater protection of civilians inside Syria and swift moves towards a resolution of the crisis.
"With no prospect of returning home soon, refugees are stuck between a rock and a hard place: receiving less aid, and unable to sustain themselves without the right to work or valid residency permits. They are forced into debt to pay rent and buy food, they reduce the number of their daily meals, and they remove their children from school to send them to work. Refugees are becoming increasingly vulnerable. Participants in the conference can't sit by and watch this happen," said Baker. "While Lebanon and Jordan should allow refugees easy access to legal residency, jobs, education and health, they also need support with long-term development plans if they are to prevent their own people from slipping into poverty," he added.
Inside Syria, insufficient aid funding is only part of the problem. Help is not reaching millions of Syrians in need because of sieges, bureaucratic hurdles, lack of access to civilian populations, and, most of all, unrelenting violence.
In addition to sustained aid for Syrians, Oxfam calls for the resettlement or other forms of humanitarian admission in rich countries of 10% of refugees registered in Syria's neighbours by the end of 2016, the equivalent of around 460,000 people. These are Syrians who are at risk, vulnerable women and children, and people with disabilities and war wounds. Collectively, rich nations have so far offered places to 128,612 Syrians - only 28% of the minimum they should.
Canada's pledge to resettle more than 36,000 refugees by the end of 2016 means it is offering 238% of its fair share in resettlement places. Germany and Norway have also consistently shown generosity in resettling refugees.
The British government, in contrast to its generosity with aid funding, has offered to resettle 20,000 refugees by 2020. If spread across the UK, that would mean each of its 69 cities receives around 60 refugees per year, hardly a massive influx. The US, France, Russia, Spain and the Netherlands also still desperately lag behind in resettling Syrians.
Photo: Getty/ Spencer Platt