Reps. of 40 Nations Meet in Berlin to Raise Funds for Syrian Refugees

Syria's neighbors tell donor countries that they risk 'host-country fatigue.'

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Kurdish refugees from the Syrian town of Kobani walk by their tents in a camp in the Turkish town of Suruc, October 17, 2014.
Kurdish refugees from the Syrian town of Kobani walk by their tents in a camp in the Turkish town of Suruc, October 17, 2014.Credit: Reuters

Foreign ministers and other representatives from 40 nations are meeting in Berlin to coordinate international support for refugees from the Syrian civil war.

Syria's neighbors on Tuesday urged European countries to open their doors to more refugees from the three-and-a-half year civil war, and for immediate financial and technological help as their infrastructures buckle under the massive influx of civilians fleeing the conflict.

More than 3 million people have fled Syria because of the conflict, mostly to neighboring countries. Another 6 million are displaced within Syria.

Jordan's foreign minister told the conference that his country and other nearby states are approaching "host-country fatigue" because of huge demand from refugees for housing, schools, jobs and healthcare and scant resources like water.

"We are approaching host-country fatigue in which the limit of our ability to address the needs of Syrian refugees is being tested and has already been reached," Jordan's Nasser Judeh said, adding that his country alone hosts 1.5 million Syrian refugees and economic migrants.

The message was echoed by other countries being overwhelmed by Syrian refugees. Lebanon, whose population is only 4.5 million, has alone taken on some 1.1 million refugees. Its prime minister, Tammam Salam, told the conference that the status quo was unsustainable.

In addition to placing huge strains on the country's hospitals, schools and other institutions, the refugees also are taking jobs from Lebanese workers, creating resentment, he said.

"The massive influx of Syrians into poor communities totally unprepared to cope with such a sudden burden has had a destabilizing effect, with a variety of challenges and threats that constitute a fertile ground for extremism and violence," he said.

Turkey's deputy foreign minister, Naci Koru, noted that his country had spent some $4 billion on dealing with Syrian refugees so far, and received only $250 million from the international community.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who organized the one-day conference, said in addition to easing the hardships of the refugees themselves, the focus needed to be on international investment in hospitals, schools, water supplies and waste disposal systems in the neighboring countries.

"This is not only a question of more money," he said. "We also need to use the funding more effectively and more sustainably."

He noted that Germany has taken in some 70,000 Syrians since 2012, but remains willing to do more.

"We hear the call from host countries to reduce the number of refugees," he said.

Speaking on the eve of the event, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "I hope a strong signal of solidarity comes from this conference."

Germany is urging the European Union to release funds to help the millions of Syrian refugees.

"This is one of the disasters of the century," said Development Aid Minister Gerd Mueller. "There will be deaths unless immediate, decisive and resolute additional action is taken."

Mueller said billions of euros could be diverted from existing EU budgets.

More than 50 non-government aid organizations issued a joint appeal in Berlin for aid spending for Syrians to double and for Western nations to take in at least 180,000 of the refugees.

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