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Iraq: Asylum

Volume 468: debated on Monday 3 December 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what estimate he has made of the number of Iraqi refugees in Syria; what discussions he had with the Syrian authorities about the safe and early return of these refugees; whether the Government are providing financial support to Syria to assist them in housing, feeding and schooling these refugees; and what discussions he has had with (a) his European counterparts and (b) his American counterpart about this situation. (168624)

The UN estimates there are between 1.2 and 1.4 million Iraqi refugees in Syria. The UK Government are very concerned about the humanitarian situation for these refugees. Our engagement and support has been through the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which has an internationally recognised mandate to lead the international response to refugee situations. Their operations are closely co-ordinated with the Syrian Government. Activities include rehabilitation of vacant buildings for housing, food distribution and education initiatives. UNHCR is also investigating reports of increased refugee returns from Syria and the reasons behind such returns. We await the outcome of this work.

Since January, DFID has committed £3 million to UNHCR for their work with Iraqi refugees. This takes our overall Iraq humanitarian response to £15 million this year and to over £130 million since 2003. DFID officials are working closely with American and European aid agencies, such as the European Community Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO), as well as with other partners to co-ordinate programmes and share information.