G-7, Gulf states pledge $2.57 billion for UN refugee aid

Women reacting as they arrive on a dinghy with other refugees and migrants to the Greek island of Lesbos on Sept 29, 2015.
Women reacting as they arrive on a dinghy with other refugees and migrants to the Greek island of Lesbos on Sept 29, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) - The G-7 group of leading economies and Gulf states pledged US$1.8 billion (S$2.57 billion) in funding on Tuesday (Sept 30) for United Nations aid agencies helping Syrian refugees.

The commitment came after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon told world leaders at the opening of the General Assembly debate that UN humanitarian agencies were "broke".

"We have agreed to provide together US$1.8 billion for the international aid organisations of the United Nations, especially the UN refugee agency and the World Food Programme," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters.

The pledge was announced after a meeting of foreign ministers of the G-7 - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States - with their counterparts from Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other European ministers.

Germany holds the presidency of the Group of Seven major democratic economies, which also includes Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and the United States.

Germany on Tuesday committed an additional 100 million euros (S$160 million) to UN agencies to improve assistance for refugees in their home regions.

"Those who take care of refugees - especially the World Food Program and the UN refugee agency - are dramatically underfunded," Mr Frank-Walter Steinmeier told journalists earlier, before the Group of Seven meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

"I think we have every reason to try everything so that people do not leave the countries neighboring Syria" because they face food shortages, he said.

Mr Steinmeier had urged the other G-7 members, European countries and Gulf states to step up their financial contributions as well.

"They will only do this if we lead by example, and this is why we will go into this meeting with the pledge to give additional 100 million euros to the international agencies of the United Nations that take care of refugees," he said.

The United Nations is struggling to help some 60 million people displaced by conflict, the highest number since the end of World War II.

Four million have fled the war in Syria, with hundreds of thousands traveling to Europe to try to rebuild their lives.

The war in Syria and Europe's migration crisis will take centrestage at the United Nations on Wednesday, as world leaders seek to overcome deep divisions over how to address the turmoil.

Russia will chair a Security Council meeting on terrorist threats that is expected to focus on the crisis in Syria.

Mr Ban will separately host a meeting on Europe's migration crisis aimed at agreeing on a global response.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres thanked Germany and donor countries for stepping up with financial contributions.

"We are financially broke," he said, adding that UN agencies were unable to provide the "bare minimum" for refugees in countries neighboring Syria.

UN appeals for Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen have received about half of the funds needed and only a third of the money requested for Syria. The United Nations is asking for a record US$20 billion to meet this year's needs - six times the level of a decade ago.

Germany has been at the forefront of Europe's migrant crisis by welcoming refugees fleeing the brutal civil war in Syria.

Many refugees say they have fled to Europe as a cash crunch raises shortages in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, the main temporary homes for the four million Syrians who have fled.