Aid in the billions heading for Syria

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Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Foreign Minister Børge Brende have been busy this week raising more money for aid to Syria, and vowed that Norway would donate NOK 10 billion (USD 1.1 billion itself) over the next four years. Solberg gently chided Norway’s European neighbours for not being more generous themselves.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg in discussion with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende at the donors' conference for Syria in London on Wednesday. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg in discussion with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende at the donors’ conference for Syria in London on Wednesday. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

“Some of our neighbours could perhaps have contributed more,” she told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) as an international donors’ conference got underway in London on Wednesday.

Solberg is representing Norway at the donors’ conference, which Norway has helped arrange along with Great Britain, Germany, Kuwait and the UN. The UN has asked the international community to donate a total of NOK 70 billion and Norway is coming up with a seventh itself.

Before the conference began, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had called on other nations to double the amounts they gave last year. Now Norway has emerged as one of the world’s largest donors of humanitarian aid to Syria, to help Syrians “where they are” and, hopefully, discourange them from making their way to Europe to seek asylum.

Solberg also met with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London before the donors' conference began on Wednesday. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Solberg also met with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London before the donors’ conference began on Wednesday. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

The UK has pledged GBP 1.2 billion over the next four years, which amounts to around NOK 15 billion. Norway ranks second only to Kuwait regarding the amount of aid on a per capita basis.

Solberg thinks other European countries participating in the donor conference, especially those most strongly resisting the refugee influx of the past year, “should have given more, based on the extent of the crisis.” She especially referred to eastern European nations, “even though they don’t have very large state budgets.”

Both Solberg and Cameron said they hope the aid will limit the stream of refugees to Europe. “The most important thing is for the opposition and government (in Syria) to reach agreement on a transition to a government that can fight IS and create a safe and secure Syria,” Solberg told NRK.

“I think the majority want to return to where they came from,” Solberg said. “They don’t want to sell off their property and what they have left to come to Europe, they would prefer to be in their own country, and the best foundation for that is to have the possibility to survive locally.”

Her foreign minister Brende was also meeting with women representing civilian society in Syria, and opening a simulataneous conference on civilian societies. Among its participants are numerous humanitarian organizations including the Norwegian Red Cross, Redd Barna (Save the Children), Care and refugee aid groups.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund