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Supporting Syria conference: Germany leads aid effort with pledge of $3.6 billion

London: Australia has hinted at a new, bigger aid package to help Syrian refugees, after its planned contribution to a donor conference in London was dwarfed by the pledges of bigger - and smaller - nations.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced, as expected, that Australia would give an extra $25 million in humanitarian and development aid.

However, Australia's contribution appeared modest on a day of generosity - Germany (with four times Australia's population) pledged 150 times the amount, and even Finland, with a quarter Australia's population, pledged twice as much.

During her speech, Ms Bishop emphasised the amount of money Australia has already given in aid to Syria and Iraq - one of our country's biggest ever responses to a humanitarian crisis.

And in what Fairfax believes was a last-minute addition to her speech, Ms Bishop revealed Australia may pledge more in the near future.

"Australia is also developing a multi-year assistance package to help build and strengthen the capacity of Jordan and Lebanon to continue to host the large number of refugees within their borders," she said.


Ms Bishop said the $25 million pledged on Thursday had come from an emergency fund usually set aside for events such as local natural disasters in the Pacific.

"Next financial year there will be another budget process so we will be in a position to consider a multi-year contribution - to Jordan in particular," she said.

Her announcement of the extra multi-year package was "not at all" a reaction to the level of contributions from other countries on Thursday, she said.

Ms Bishop rejected criticism from several charities that Australia's latest contribution was less than its fair share.

"I would ask them to tell me where they would like me to find the money, where they would like me to cut funding in order to provide more," she said. "This is not a bottomless pit."

Australians should be proud of the help they were giving in the region, she said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged €2.3 billion ($3.6 billion) in aid for Syria, in response to the worsening humanitarian crisis and the resulted exodus of refugees.

"Today should be a day of hope," Dr Merkel said.

The pledge, which was greeted by British Prime Minister David Cameron as "extraordinarily generous", came at a gathering of international donors in London attended by 70 countries' representatives and co-ordinated by the United Nations.

Two-thirds of those still in Syria need help, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

Half of the refugees who left Syria were children.

"The requirements are immense," he said. "We must end sieges and bring food to starving people."

More than 13 million Syrians are urgently in need of aid, and hundreds of thousands are trapped in areas where food deliveries are rare or non-existent.

Organisers of the Supporting Syria conference in London hoped to raise billions more in pledges on Thursday, which would go directly to Syria to help starving citizens, and to countries in the region helping, housing, feeding and educating Syrians who have fled the conflict.

More than €1.1 billion ($1.71 billion) would come from Germany this year, Dr Merkel said.

The chancellor is under increasing pressure to reduce the number of migrants coming into Germany, as Germans worry about the economic impact of the million-plus who arrived last year.

Public concern sharpened after scores of sexual assaults were reported from a gathering of migrants in Cologne at New Year's Eve.

A survey this week by public broadcaster ARD showed popular support for the Chancellor was at its lowest level for almost five years.

The UK pledged to invest an extra £1.2 billion ($2.5 billion) in international aid for Syria and the region between now and 2020, doubling its aid commitment.

It would go into immediate aid but also into job-creation and education, Mr Cameron said.

"We can provide the sense of hope needed to stop people thinking they have no option but to risk their lives on a dangerous journey to Europe," he said.

Norway increased its aid to Syria and the region to NOK 2.4 billion ($391 million), and promised to provide a total of NOK 10 billion ($1.63 billion) over the next four years.

Australia has promised an extra $20 million for life-saving humanitarian assistance in Syria, and $5 million to Iraq, through groups such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and Australian NGOs.

Australia's assistance will help Syrian refugees and their host communities in the region access vital resources such as food, shelter and protection, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said.

The Australian government will also deploy 10 Australian Civilian Corps specialists to Lebanon and Jordan to help with education, water, sanitation, camp infrastructure, logistics and protection for Syrian refugees.

The conference was also addressed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, who stressed the need for Syrian children to receive education in exile, so a generation did not lose their opportunities for a better life.

On Wednesday, the UN suspended Syrian peace talks amid a renewed offensive by the Assad regime and Russia.

US secretary of state John Kerry said the suffering in Syria was growing, and "should tear at our consciences".

He announced the US, which had already donated US$4.5 billion ($6.4 billion), would donate another US$925 million ($1.3 billion) in aid.

Of this about two-thirds would be direct humanitarian aid. Much of the rest would pay for the schooling of 300,000 young Syrians in Jordan and Lebanon.