Syrians and aid organisations have warned that “lives will be lost” as a result of the UK’s decision to cut aid funding to the conflict-stricken country.
The UN hoped to raise $10bn (£7.3bn) from governments and donors at a virtual two-day pledging conference for Syria that concluded on Tuesday – the biggest appeal yet to help both people inside and those displaced outside the country. The total amount of money pledged is going to be announced at 7pm UK time.
The UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab’s offer of at least £205m is a cut of one third compared to the UK’s donation of £300m at the same conference last year. In total, the UK provided £400m for aid programmes in Syria in 2020, meaning that if no further funding is forthcoming for 2021, the cut amounts to almost 50%.
The UK was also widely criticised for a decision earlier this month to cut funding to Yemen by half, while maintaining arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition.
“When the UK government makes huge cuts to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, it is saying to the Syrian people and to the courageous teachers, rescue workers, doctors and aid workers serving their communities every day under Russian and Syrian bombs: ‘We do not care about your suffering,’” said Laila Kiki, the executive director of human rights group the Syria Campaign.
”[The cuts] are a deeply worrying indication of the UK’s position in the world. Lives will be lost because of these cuts … it is a new low for the UK government.”
Around 90% of Syrians across regime, rebel and Kurdish-held areas are living in poverty, 和 5.6 million refugees live in precarious circumstances in neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Need inside Syria has increased sharply since last year because of a crash in the Syrian currency, the coronavirus pandemic, and a Russian and Chinese UN security council veto that shut one of just two remaining border aid crossings.
Some 24 million people in the country now rely on aid to survive – a rise of 4 million, and the highest number yet in the decade-long crisis.
“By stopping funds to Syria, the UK government paves the way for further political and military conflicts [as well as] hunger and Covid-19,” said Abdulaziz Ramadan, the CEO of DOZ International, a humanitarian organisation working in the Kurdish-held north-east of the country.
“We offer protection, psychological support and safe places to play and learn to nearly 20,000 children in north-west Syria, most of them suffering from trauma,” said Laila Hasso, advocacy manager at Hurras Network, a Syrian child protection organisation in north-west Syria. “If there is any reduction in aid, it will be catastrophic for the children as there are no other funding sources to fill the gap at present. The UK must continue its support and not leave them to face their fate alone.”
Three million people in the north-west of the country will be at further risk in July if Russia again vetoes UN plans to keep the final cross-border point for aid open.
“A reduction [in UK aid to Syria] would be tantamount to turning our backs on some of the most vulnerable people in the world, erode our authority on the international stage, and undermine our diplomatic hand in coming negotiations on cross-border aid access,” the shadow minister for international development, Anna McMorrin, and the shadow secretary of state for international development, Preet Kaur Gill, said in a statement issued ahead of the UK decision.
“The UK can lead by example … Aid is our first response and last line of defence on the frontlines of many crises today. It must not be slashed.”