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Donor fatigue persists as nations commit around $8.1 billion for conflict-hit Syrians

International donors meeting in Brussels said Monday they will commit 7.5 billion euros ($8.1 billion) in both grants and loans to support Syrians battered by war, poverty, and hunger for the rest of this year and beyond.

The pledges surpassed the modest $4.07 billion that the United Nations had appealed for, but was also a significant drop from amounts pledged last year and previously — an indication of persisting donor fatigue as the world's attention is focused on conflicts elsewhere, including the wars in Ukraine and Sudan, and most recently Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

At last year’s conference, donors pledged $10.3 billion, just months after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey and much of northern Syria, killing over 59,000 people, including 6,000 in Syria.

This year's amount is meant both for Syrians inside the war-torn country and for some 5.7 million Syrian refugees in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, which struggle with economic crises of their own and have been frustrated by the ever-shrinking aid.

This year's pledged total includes 5 billion euros in grants — about 3.8 billion euros for 2024 and 1.2 billion euros for the next year and beyond — and 2.5 billion euros in loans.

U.N. agencies and international aid organizations in recent years have struggled with shrinking budgets, and humanitarian officials have decried the budget cuts that have forced the downsizing of aid programs despite skyrocketing poverty.

Syria’s civil war, which erupted in 2011, has killed nearly half a million people and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of of 23 million. For several years now, the conflict has remained largely frozen, along with efforts to find a viable political solution to end it. Meanwhile, millions of Syrians have been pulled into poverty, and struggle with accessing food and health care as the economy deteriorates.

The conference brought back the urgency of trying to revitalize a gridlocked U.N.-led roadmap to end the conflict even as the mood in host countries turns increasingly hostile towards Syrian refugees.

Officials in tiny Lebanon, which hosts almost 780,000 registered Syrian refugees and hundreds of thousands of others who are undocumented, have been demanding that refugees return to alleged “safe zones” in Syria, even before a political solution is in place to end the war.

Aid organizations and most Western countries believe such places don't exist and that conditions in Syria are not yet conducive to safe returns.

In Brussels, eight EU member states who have called for the reassessment of conditions in Syria to allow refugee returns, reiterated those calls at the conference. Cyprus, which says it has been struggling to cope with surging Syrian migration, was among them, and Hungary echoed similar sentiments.

Aid groups have insisted that more sustainable solutions, notably through boosting early recovery efforts to fix infrastructure and help create jobs in Syria is a crucial condition for people to go back.

“The more that people that will be lacking essential services, safety, and basic commodities, the more difficult it will be to pave the way towards stability, reconciliation and returns," Stephan Sakalian, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Syria, told The Associated Press.

“If we want to be able to ensure sustainable refugee returns, we have give to the people the possibility to come back voluntarily, safely, and in a sustainable environment," he added. "Otherwise we risk seeing the reverse trend of people wanting to continue leaving Syria.”

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