$16 billion raised for Syria

British Prime Minister David Cameron (file, Reuters)
British Prime Minister David Cameron (file, Reuters)

Donor nations have pledged to give US$11 billion (NZ$16 billion) in aid to Syrians by 2020 as world leaders try to tackle the world's worst humanitarian crisis, but New Zealand won't be contributing any.

With Syria's five-year-old civil war raging and another attempt at peace negotiations called off in Geneva after just a few days, a donor conference in London on Thursday (local time) sought to address the needs of some 6 million people displaced within Syria and more than 4 million refugees in other countries.

Underlining the desperate situation on the ground in Syria, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the meeting that up to 70,000 Syrians were on the move towards his country to escape aerial bombardments on the city of Aleppo.

Davutoglu accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces, backed by foreign fighters and Russian air strikes, of seeking to do the same to Aleppo as they did to the besieged town of Madaya, where dozens have starved to death.

"What they want to do in Aleppo today is exactly what they did in Madaya before, a siege of starvation," he told a news conference at the end of the event.

Turkey is already hosting more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees. Jordan and Lebanon are the other countries bearing the brunt of the Syrian refugee exodus.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said donors had pledged a total of US$6 billion for Syrians for 2016, and a further US$5 billion to be spent by 2020, describing the total as the largest amount ever raised in a single day for a humanitarian crisis.

Germany offered the most at $2.8 billion, while the UK gave $2.6 billion and the US an extra $1.3 billion.

Australia came in much less with $27 million -- but it was still more than New Zealand, which put up nothing.

New Zealand has contributed $19 million to date.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark was at the meeting with the UN, and former Deputy Prime Minister Jim McLay was there for New Zealand -- representing, but not pledging.

He says pledging money today "doesn't fit our budget cycle".

UN agencies are appealing for US$7.73 billion for this year, with governments of countries in the region asking for an additional US$1.2 billion for their national response plans.

"We have combined a renewed effort to address the shortfall in humanitarian funding with a new approach to provide the education and jobs that will bolster stability in the region," Mr Cameron said.

Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, where a significant share of the money pledged will be spent, committed to ensuring all refugee children in their countries would have access to education, and to opening up their economies so adult refugees could work.

Such measures are seen as crucial by European countries keen to improve living conditions for refugees in the region so they are less likely to travel to Europe.

A million migrants and refugees from Syria and other countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia arrived on the continent last year, triggering a huge political crisis in the European Union.

But when it comes to refugees, New Zealand doesn't top the charts either.

Canada has promised to take as many as 50,000 Syrian refugees by the end of next year and Australia, an extra 12,000.

But New Zealand's taking just 600 more and it's spread out over the next couple of years.

Ms Clark says it's not just down to New Zealand to do more, but all nations need to.

"Everyone can always do more," she says. "It's not a question of, ' will New Zealand do more?'. [It's] 'will everybody do more?'. We have 4 million refugees."

But opening borders to refugees and opening wallets for aid isn't going to fix Syria -- you can't buy peace.

A political solution is what's needed and unfortunately any back-slapping in London was overshadowed by the suspension of all-important Syrian peace talks in Geneva, cut off just days after they began.

Newshub. / Reuters