In February, the richest world powers pledged more than $11 billion to help frontline states in the Middle East cope with the Syrian refugee crisis. But four months later, less than a quarter of the headline sum has been turned over, and five million people are still at risk in an unstable region.
Countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are struggling with the influx – and the displaced populations face the threat of extremism in their ranks. "So I think there's a collective failure that will have to addressed," said Amin Awad, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) director for the Middle East and North Africa, in an interview. Awad said that since February, when foreign ministers from around the world gathered at a London donor conference, only $2.5 billion has been disbursed. There are more refugees worldwide than ever before – around 60 million – and more than a third of these are from the broader Middle East region.
"If you look at the Middle East population compared to the world's seven billion people, it is about 5 to 7 percent," he said. Last year, more than a million refugees crossed the Aegean on rafts and walked north through the Balkans. As that route has become closed off, refugees are turning again to boats to take them from the North Africa coast to Italy – often with tragic consequences. The purpose of conferences like the one in London was to internationalize the issue, as frontline Middle East states were facing the worst burden. But – despite a generous attempt by Germany to resettle many thousands of refugees – if anything, the mood has moved further from collective action.