The war in Ukraine cast a shadow over an international donors’ conference for Syrians Tuesday, with their country now in its 12th year of conflict. Russia was not invited to the Brussels meeting, where countries pledged billions of dollars in support for Syrians — but where some admitted to donor fatigue.
This was the 6th pledging conference hosted by the European Union — this time backdropped by a Ukraine conflict that has consumed the time and billions of dollars of Western nations.
Despite declarations of support for Syrians, even EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell acknowledged Syria’s fall from the international spotlight.
“Certainly, Syria and the suffering of its people might not be in the center of the news anymore, there’s a certain fatigue after 11 years, but it remains in our minds,” he said.
The EU pledged more than $1.6 billion in humanitarian aid for Syrians this year, the same amount as last year.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the United States will contribute $800 million.
"Given the focus that all of you have and we have on Ukraine, I thought it was important for me to come here from New York to say that we have not forgotten the Syrian people,” she said.
The U.S. and Europeans are targeting their aid to millions of displaced or otherwise struggling Syrians, along with countries hosting Syrian refugees. As before, Washington and Brussels have ruled out any funds going to rebuilding the war-shattered Syrian homeland.
“If you go spending money on reconstructing Syria, it’s going to support the Syrian regime. We want to support the Syrian people,” said Borrell.
Humanitarian groups say after years of conflict that have depleted their resources, many Syrians face dire conditions.
“For the first time ever really, when we speak to Syrians, they’re saying they’re less worried about bombs and bullets and they’re more worried about starvation," said Mark Kaye of aid agency the International Rescue Committee. "I think this is a real wakeup call to the international community is that we have a real potentially catastrophic crisis within a crisis on our hands.”
The EU did not invite United Nations Security Council member Russia to the Brussels conference. Borrell said with its war in Ukraine, Moscow shows it has no interest in building peace.
As a result, he said, the U.N. did not officially co-sponsor the Syria donors’ meeting as it has in the past — but high-level U.N. officials were present and actively involved in it.