Donor countries meeting in Kuwait yesterday promised more than US$2.4 billion – including a UAE pledge of another $60 million – in humanitarian aid for victims of the Syrian war.
About 70 countries and 24 organisations attended the conference, which was hoped to raise an unprecedented $6.5bn (Dh23.87bn) to help those affected by the almost three-year civil war.
At the opening of the conference, the Kuwaiti emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, pledged $500m.
The United States added $380m, bringing its humanitarian contribution to $1.7bn since the war began.
Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Presidential Affairs, announced the UAE’s pledge of $60m, which brings the country’s total aid for Syrians to more than $360m.
The EU, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Britain, Japan, Norway and Iraq were among the other donor nations.
Sheikh Sabah urged the UN Security Council to work harder to end the war. “I call on Security Council and member states to put aside their differences to reach a solution.”
US secretary of state John Kerry told gathered nations that their responsibility was more than financial.
“We are under no illusion that our jobs are to just write a check,” Mr Kerry said, blaming Mr Al Assad for starving his people and blocking international aid workers. “The international community must use every tool at our disposal to draw the world’s attention to these offences.”
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon called the conference last month after announcing that $6.5bn would be needed for Syrians at home, and those who fled as refugees to neighbouring countries, for 2014.
Yesterday’s meeting took place a week before the planned Geneva 2 talks, where it is hoped a solution can be found to the war between those trying to oust the president, Bashar Al Assad, and troops loyal to him. The war has so far claimed more than 120,000 lives and displaced more than 2 million Syrians.
In the UAE, a campaign has been started to encourage pupils and parents to donate small sums to help the refugees, under the Our Hearts are with the Syrian People initiative.
Children at many schools will be asked to contribute Dh5 or Dh10, and schools will also collect supplies such as blankets and clothes.
All public and private schools in all emirates except Abu Dhabi are taking part starting today, officials said at the Ministry of Education in Dubai yesterday.
The ministry has joined forces with the Emirates Red Crescent (ERC) to organise the fund-raiser. ERC is also working with the Princess Haya bint Al Hussein Cultural Islamic Centres to organise another initiative under the campaign.
The Mezher and Umm Al Sheif branches will raise money for three days as part of the initiative.
Aid officials hope the schools campaign can “really emphasise more towards the giving and the overall UAE culture and the Islamic traditions we’ve been raised in and given”, said Mohammed Al Fahim, deputy secretary general for support services at ERC.
The fund-raising phase of the campaign will last two weeks, ending January 30.
Afterwards, 12 Emirati pupils in Grades 10 and 11 are to join a leading education official on a trip to the Emirates Jordanian refugee camp until February 2.
They will take donations and work with Syrian schoolchildren to help them with their studies, discuss their lives and show moral support.
Education authorities in each participating emirate are to choose one boy and one girl to send to Jordan.
They must be earning high grades and be healthy and active in extra-curricular activities, said Mubarak Al Hammadi, head of competitive activities at the ministry.
Part of the aim is to encourage pupils to cultivate a sense of giving.
“They have to feel with the Syrians,” Mr Al Hammadi said. “It is important what we put in the students’ hearts. You have to help. You have to give.”
About 500 pupils are studying in the refugee camp school that is mostly run by Syrian teachers, said Mohammed Al Shahin, Red Crescent general secretary.
The organisation is helping the camp’s 4,000 or so refugees with work experience to continue their jobs, paying them salaries.
Mr Al Shahin said he returned from visiting the camp two days ago.
“I think one year is lost for each student,” he said. “They miss their country. When you sit with them and speak to them, you will want to cry.”
He said the teachers were trying to help them to catch up in their studies.
The Our Hearts are with the Syrian People campaign launched last month under the directive of the President, Sheikh Khalifa.
More than Dh120m was raised through a telethon and stalls set up in malls.
The number of refugees displaced throughout the region is expected to grow. Mr Al Shahin said he believed the number in the Emirati-run camp would reach 10,000 in the next month.
Unusually harsh winter conditions last month increased aid organisations’ sense of urgency to provide supplies to the refugees, tens of thousands of whom are in tent camps.
The UN is looking for $2.3bn to support 9.3 million people inside Syria, and $4.2bn for Syrian refugees, who expected to nearly double in number to 4.1 million by the end of the year.
Lebanon is home to the largest number of refugees with 905,000, followed by Jordan with 575,000, Turkey 562,000, Iraq 216,000 and Egypt 145,000.
* with reporting by Lindsay Carroll, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse
* An earlier version of the article stated that Dh238.7bn was raised when in fact it was Dh23.87bn.