Who really paid up to help Syria?

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Media captionThe BBC's Alex Forsyth travelled to Lebanon to meet some of Syria's refugee children

There have been angry recriminations about the UK's apparent scaling back of plans to accept unaccompanied child refugees.

Lord Dubs, with all the moral freight and sense of history of a refugee from Nazism, said the government was going back on its own commitments.

But is the UK really shirking its international obligations?

Figures published this week about aid for Syrian refugees might put the UK government into a less hard-hearted light.

One year ago, London hosted a major international conference to raise humanitarian funds for Syria.

There were huge pledges of $12bn (£9.6bn) in grants and $40bn (£32bn) in loans to help a region struggling with unprecedented numbers of refugees escaping war and persecution.

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Image caption A Syrian child who was part of a group washed ashore in Cyprus this week

Who paid up?

But after the photo-opportunities and handshakes and ministerial convoys - who actually paid up?

The financial report shows that a year later Ireland has paid more than Saudi Arabia and Estonia has donated more than China - not as a proportion of their economies, but in hard cash.

In terms of both promises and delivery for funds in 2016, a quartet of donors made up a huge slice of what was supposed to be a global effort.

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Image caption The Syrian war has pushed people across many countries

These are the US, Germany, the European Union and the UK - all of which have given more than they initially pledged.

The Netherlands, Japan and Norway are the next in this list of donors, but some way behind.

According to this annual reckoning, Saudi Arabia pledged $200m (£160m) for 2016 and has so far committed to $27.9m (£22m).

In contrast, Ireland, promised $21.9m (£17.6m) for this Middle East conflict and has actually paid up $27.9m (£22m).

China promised $35m (£28m) and so far has delivered $3m (£2.4m). This in the end was less than Estonia, a country with a population of 1.3 million, which promised $2.2m (£1.76m) but gave a higher sum of $3.2m (£2.6m).

Canada had been relatively generous in its promise - with a pledge of $71.3m (£57.3m). But it proved to be even more forthcoming in practice - delivering $201m (£161m), more than any of the Middle Eastern countries making pledges.

Future funding?

There might have been a long list of 48 countries and organisations at the London conference pledging support for Syria in 2016, but in practice the fundraising effort has depended on the big contributions from the top four donors.

The UK, the smallest donor of this quartet, alone promised $731m (£584m) and gave $741m (£592m).

The next phase of this accounting - for pledges for 2017 to 2020 - gets even sketchier.

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Image caption Refugees from Syria's war now living in Lebanon

The EU, the UK, Germany and Norway are the big long-haul donors - but a majority of those who made pledges for 2016 have not promised anything at all for the following years.

The world community has promised $6bn (£4.8bn) humanitarian aid up to 2020 - but Saudi Arabia and China are among those absent from the donors.

And 60% of the total pledges are from the EU, the UK, and Germany.

There are a handful of countries who are donating even though they have not made pledges, such as Canada and Ireland.

Optimists might take heart from the eventual level of funding for 2016 - where grants have exceeded the original promises by about a third.

And of course there are other ways of donating directly or through charities that countries might choose.

Who is getting aid?

But so far less than half of the promises at the London conference for 2017 to 2020 have been honoured - and in terms of the loans promised only 31% have been delivered.

It's also interesting to look at the detail of who is getting the money. Turkey is the second-biggest recipient in 2016, after Syria.

And from 2017 to 2020, the biggest recipient of this "Syrian" support will be Turkey by some distance, ahead of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

Turkey is host to the largest number of refugees in the region, with the UNHCR reporting 2.8 million Syrian refugees registered in the country.

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Image caption Gordon Brown warned of "post-truth economics" over aid funding

Apart from immediate humanitarian aid, a key aim of the fundraising has been to provide an education for all of Syria's refugees - with fears of the damage to a "lost generation".

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a UN envoy for education, appeared before the International Development Select Committee a couple of weeks ago - and warned about what was at stake.

In righteous indignation, he criticised the broken promises that meant many young Syrian refugees had lost their chance of an education along with their homes.

He warned that half of all Syrian refugee children were not in a classroom - and many would never enter school at all.


When it came to promises of aid, he told MPs: "There is a post-truth economics as well as a post-truth politics."

And despite the billion-dollar handshakes, he said, world leaders had not come up with the goods.

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Image caption Syrian refugees housed in tents in Greece this winter

The price for this lack of education would be paid in increased migration, extremism, poverty and political instability, Mr Brown said.

"Of course, there will always be a battle publicly about how well aid is used," he told MPs.

"I will just give you one figure about education that people sometimes forget.

"Take all the aid agencies in the world together, including the Department for International Development, the World Bank, Unesco and Unicef, and the average expenditure per child in low and middle-income countries on education through aid, with all these agencies taken together, is less than $10 (£8) per head per year," Mr Brown told the select committee.

"This is less than the cost of a textbook, so nobody can say that we are overspending on aid for kids who are desperately in need of educational opportunity."