Canadian donations for Syrian relief efforts fall short
A family of Syrian refugees carry their belongings as they make their way to a bus which will take them to a nearby hotel after arriving at Toronto's Pearson Airport on Friday, Dec. 18, 2015. (Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
OTTAWA -- The dollars are still being counted, but the amount of money donated by Canadians for overseas Syrian relief efforts will likely fall well short of the maximum $100 million the government had promised to match.
But a spokesman for a coalition of aid groups said it was unlikely that number was ever going to be met and the pressure is now on aid agencies to find other ways to get public support for the humanitarian crisis created by the five-year-old Syrian civil war.
The matching program for Syrian relief was created last fall and was supposed to close at the end of 2015. By then, about $12.2 million had been raised and the Liberals extended the deadline until Feb. 29 to try and bring in more.
Three groups -- UNICEF, World Vision and the Humanitarian Coalition -- say they pulled in about $10.3 million in total during the entire matching period.
Officials at UNICEF were reaching out even in the final hours, said spokesperson Tiffany Baggetta.
"We have seen an increase in donations to our Syrian crisis response through January and February -- particularly in the last couple of weeks," she said.
Baggetta said two major donor events brought in $200,000 for the fund in the last week.
Deadlines are among the reasons matching funds work as an engagement tool, said Nicolas Moyer, the executive director of the Humanitarian Coalition, which is made up of CARE, Oxfam, Plan Canada and Save the Children.
Still, he said he never expected the total to hit $100 million, calling it a political number, not one grounded in policy.
"We've never seen that kind of result for a conflict like this in Canada," he said of why that goal was unrealistic.
"It's something that had already been in the news for four years. Past experience did not suggest we would be in that realm."
The challenge now, Moyer said, is for aid agencies to figure out how to get to that realm.
Even as a fragile truce holds in Syria, the majority of the population is living in extreme poverty, without secure access to food, water or shelter. Regular UN requests for money remain underfunded and the nature of the conflict has also seen aid unable to reach some of the most vulnerable populations in the country.
Meanwhile, more than 4.7 million people are registered as refugees with the United Nations in countries in the region, while hundreds of thousands more have fled to try and find safety in Europe.
Among those who fled was the family of Alan Kurdi. The toddler drowned; a photograph of his dead body on a Turkish beach made him a household name around the world.
Kurdi had relatives in Canada, which brought the crisis home for many and turned it into an unexpected campaign issue for the Conservatives, prompting, among other things, the launch of the matching fund.
The $10.3 million the three groups raised in the six months of the matching period is only slightly higher than the amount the Red Cross has raised since it started fundraising for overseas Syrian relief in 2013. Since then, they've brought in about $9.6 million.
The vast majority of the funds did come from after the matching program was announced, the agency said, but they won't know the final amount eligible to be matched until they finish processing donations.
All aid groups participating in the fund have until the middle of this month to declare their final totals to the government.