Switzerland has raised its emergency aid budget by SFr10 million ($10.8 million) in response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Some four million Syrians need help inside the country and 700,000 more have fled to neighbouring countries.
The Swiss announcement was made one day ahead of an international donor meeting in Kuwait organised by the United Nations. Since the start of the 22-month-old crisis, Switzerland had donated SFr20 million towards programmes for people affected by the Syrian conflict.
“This budget may be just a small step forward in the face of the Syrian humanitarian tsunami, but it’s a small step in the right direction,” Manuel Bessler said at a foreign ministry press conference in Bern.
Around 60 per cent of Swiss funds will go towards helping the hundreds of thousands who have fled the country for Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. The remaining 40 per cent will go to operations inside Syria and in the region carried out by organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
As part of the aid already provided by Switzerland, a detachment of four technical experts from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit has been made available to UN partners in the region.
The UN warned on Monday that without more money it would not be able to help millions of Syrians affected by the fighting.
The global body has called on the international community to mobilise SFr1.5 billion to support the growing needs of the population affected by the conflict in the first six months of 2013. So far it has received just three per cent of that.
Bessler said the most worrying explanation for this low amount was “donor fatigue”.
“It’s nearly two years that this conflict has dragged on and it’s difficult to have the international community on its toes financing this operation. We won’t cover the SFr1.5 billion, but I’m hopeful we will have a substantial amount,” he told swissinfo.ch.
On Tuesday US President Barack Obama authorized an additional $155 million in humanitarian aid for the Syrian people.
Meanwhile, aid agencies have been struggling to assist the rising numbers of refugees in the region.
“We have seen an unrelenting flow of refugees across all borders. We are running double shifts to register people,” Sybella Wilkes, spokeswoman for UNHCR, told Reuters in Geneva.
Jordan has 171,033 registered Syrian refugees, as well as 51,729 who await processing, many of whom fled fighting around the southern Syrian town of Deraa this month. Lebanon has 158,973 Syrian refugees, and 69,963 awaiting processing.
"We are trying to clear a backlog of people because the numbers have gone up so dramatically [in Jordan and Lebanon]," Wilkes said.
Turkey has 163,161 Syrian refugees in its 15 camps, while Iraq hosts 77,415, the UNHCR said. There are 14,375 in Egypt and 5,417 registered across the rest of North Africa.
Bessler said there were fears the current total of 700,000 Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries could double in the next three months.
And, the Swiss-run International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) said it is getting harder and harder to deliver aid within Syria because of the increased intensity of the fighting. One aid worker said it took her convoy ten hours to deliver supplies to the northern Syrian city of Idlib when it would normally take only four.