With Few Signs of Syria Solution, EU Pledges More Support to Refugees

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell (L), speaks to the press during the 8th Brussels Conference on "Supporting the Future of Syria and the region" in Brussels, Belgium, 27 May 2024. (EPA)
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell (L), speaks to the press during the 8th Brussels Conference on "Supporting the Future of Syria and the region" in Brussels, Belgium, 27 May 2024. (EPA)
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With Few Signs of Syria Solution, EU Pledges More Support to Refugees

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell (L), speaks to the press during the 8th Brussels Conference on "Supporting the Future of Syria and the region" in Brussels, Belgium, 27 May 2024. (EPA)
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell (L), speaks to the press during the 8th Brussels Conference on "Supporting the Future of Syria and the region" in Brussels, Belgium, 27 May 2024. (EPA)

The European Union pledged more than 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion) on Monday to support displaced Syrians, but it dismissed any notion of them being able to return home because of instability under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Before an EU-led donor conference on the 13-year-old war, Jordan's foreign minister said that the international community was abandoning Syrian refugees as funding to support them in host countries dwindles, suggesting that ways had to be found to ease voluntary returns to Syria.

The EU conference aims to keep the war on the agenda, as well as support for the millions of refugees it has created. But as the economic and social burden on neighboring countries mounts the bloc is divided and unable to find solutions, diplomats say.

Refugees returning home is not yet one of them however, the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell made clear at the start of the conference.

"While the European Union would wish that returning home could be a realistic option for all refugees, everywhere and always, we concur with the United Nations system that currently the conditions for safe, voluntary and dignified returns to Syria are not in place," Borrell said.

"We insist that it is the Assad regime that bears the primary responsibility for putting in place these conditions."

Borrell said the bloc was pledging 560 million euros in 2024 and 2025 to support refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan and a further 1 billion euros for Türkiye.

Syria has become a forgotten crisis that nobody wants to stir, amid the Israeli war in Gaza and tensions growing between Iran and Western powers over its regional activities.

Although Assad has long since reasserted control over most of Syria in a war that began with a 2011 uprising against him, more than 5 million refugees mostly in Lebanon, Türkiye and Jordan and millions more displaced internally still have little prospect of returning home.

"We're going to be sending a very clear message from Jordan as a host country that we feel that refugees are being abandoned," Ayman Safadi told reporters on arrival in Brussels. "Host countries are being abandoned."

Jordan is hosting around 1.3 million Syrians. Safadi said the issue "can only be solved by them going back to their country. So, we need to focus more on creating conditions conducive for them to return voluntarily."

Funding to support refugees is dropping with the likes of the World Food Program reducing its aid. Countries say hosting refugees is an increasing burden, notably in economic crisis-hit Lebanon, where the discontent has seen forced deportations.

"We expect our partners to uphold international law, including the principle of non-refoulement, and reject and condemn any forced deportations," Borrell said.

The 8th Syria conference brings together European and Arab ministers along with key international organizations, but beyond vague promises and financial pledges there are few signs that Europe can take the lead, diplomats said.

The bloc has no ties with the Assad government and Monday's talks come just ahead of the European elections on June 6-9 in which migration is a divisive issue among the EU's 27 member states. With far-right and populist parties already expected to do well, there is little appetite to step up refugee support.

An upswing in migrant boat arrivals from Lebanon to Europe, with Cyprus and Italy major destinations, has prompted some EU countries to warn of a big new influx into the bloc.

"We'll continue to do everything we can. But unless we're helped, unless the international community shoulders its responsibility, there will be a decrease in services and there will be more suffering for refugees," Safadi said.



Israeli Tanks at Edge of Rafah's Mawasi Refuge Zone

A man walks across  fallen tents the day after a strike on the al-Mawasi area, northwest of the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024.  (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)
A man walks across fallen tents the day after a strike on the al-Mawasi area, northwest of the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024. (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)
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Israeli Tanks at Edge of Rafah's Mawasi Refuge Zone

A man walks across  fallen tents the day after a strike on the al-Mawasi area, northwest of the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024.  (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)
A man walks across fallen tents the day after a strike on the al-Mawasi area, northwest of the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024. (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)

Israeli tanks advanced to the edge of the Mawasi displaced persons' camp in the northwest of the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Sunday in fierce fighting with Hamas-led fighters, residents said.
Images of two Israeli tanks stationed on a hilltop overlooking the coastal area went viral on social media, but Reuters could not independently verify them.

"The fighting with the resistance has been intense. The occupation forces are overlooking the Mawasi area now, which forced families there to head for Khan Younis," said one resident, who asked not to be named, on a chat app.

More than eight months into Israel's war in the Hamas-administered Palestinian enclave, its advance is focused on the two areas its forces have yet to seize: Rafah on Gaza's southern tip and the area surrounding Deir al-Balah in the center.

Residents said Israeli tanks had pushed deeper into western and northern Rafah in recent days, blowing up dozens of houses.

The Israeli military said it was continuing "intelligence-based, targeted operations" in the Rafah area and had located weapons stores and tunnel shafts, and killed Palestinian gunmen.

The armed wings of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement said their fighters had attacked Israeli forces in Rafah with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs and pre-planted explosive devices.

Elsewhere, an Israeli airstrike killed eight Palestinians in Sabra, a suburb of Gaza City in the north, and another strike killed two people in Nuseirat in central Gaza.

The military said it had struck dozens of targets throughout the Strip.

On Saturday, Palestinian health officials said at least 40 Palestinians had been killed in separate Israeli strikes in some northern Gaza districts, where the Israeli army said it had attacked Hamas's military infrastructure. Hamas said the targets were the civilian population.

In Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, health officials at Kamal Adwan Hospital said a baby had died of malnutrition, taking the number of children dead of malnutrition or dehydration since Oct. 7 to at least 30, a number that health officials say reflects under-recording.