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G7, Gulf States Pledge $1.8 Billion for Migrant Crisis

A Syrian man holds his two children as the other two family members follow him after their arrival from the Greek island of Lesbos at the Athens' port of Piraeus, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015.
A Syrian man holds his two children as the other two family members follow him after their arrival from the Greek island of Lesbos at the Athens' port of Piraeus, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015.

The world's seven leading industrialized countries, along with Gulf states, pledged to contribute $1.8 billion to United Nations aid agencies to help with the world's worst migrant crisis since World War II.

The announcement came Tuesday after a G7 meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Also attending the meeting were Gulf state leaders and those of some of the European nations dealing with the influx of displaced people.

Germany's foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters that the funds are intended largely for the U.N. refugee agency and the World Food Program. It is not clear whether the $1.8 billion figure includes previous pledges of aid.

Separately, Japan announced it will give $810 million to help with refugees from and within Syria and Iraq, the major sources of displacement -- and an additional $750 million to use for peace-building in the Middle East and Africa.

On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to speak at two high-level meetings dealing with the upheaval. He will first address a Security Council discussion on settlement of conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, the areas many migrants are fleeing. And later he hosts a high-level meeting aimed at forming a global response to the flood of migrants now overwhelming Europe.

United Nations officials say the U.N. is stretched far beyond its limits as it struggles to help some 60 million people displaced by conflict -- the highest total since World War II.

The U.N. refugee agency reported Tuesday that more than a half million migrants have now made the perilous Mediterranean Sea crossing this year in search of a new life in Europe.

The U.N. said nearly 515,000 asylum seekers have left war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa since January, with 383,000 reaching the shores of Greece and another 129,000 landing in Italy. The refugee agency said nearly 3,000 have drowned or disappeared making the passage on rickety or overcrowded boats and rafts.

More than half of those headed to Europe have come from Syria, refugees looking to escape more than four years of fighting between Syrian forces and insurgents trying to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

The unrelenting influx of migrants has divided Europe, with economic powerhouse Germany and some other northern European countries mostly welcoming them while some central European nations have tried to block their path northward through their territories.

Now Berlin has moved to tighten its control over the stream of asylum-seekers reaching its territory, announcing that it is asking parliament to reduce payments to the migrants and mostly distributing benefits in kind, such as housing and food, rather than offering cash.

Most Germans have supported Chancellor Angela Merkel in her efforts to welcome the asylum seekers, but political surveys in the country show her popularity is slipping amid criticism from members of her ruling conservative bloc.

Meanwhile, Hungary, the most vocal opponent of the migration, expanded the number of courts hearing charges against refugees who have been caught illegally entering the country through its four-meter-high razor wire fence. So far, one court has convicted 176 migrants and expelled them from Hungary, while acquitting no one.

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