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Volume 549: debated on Tuesday 4 September 2012

The humanitarian situation in Syria is dire and getting worse. More than 2.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, many are internally displaced and more than 200,000 have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. The UK is the second largest national donor of international aid for the Syrian people and will continue to do all it can to assist.

Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary outlined the blocking stance that Russia and China were taking in the Security Council. Will he set out whether Russia and China, in light of their approach, are giving additional humanitarian aid to ease the suffering of the Syrian people?

No, and the hon. Lady is quite right to raise that point. Given the under-subscription to the UN appeal for funds, which we discussed in the House yesterday, we need countries around the world to contribute. We are setting a strong example in doing so, as is the United States. It is very important that other countries do so, and in my view that should certainly include all the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

I welcome the efforts that the Government are making through their contact with opposition groups in Syria to promote the protection of minority rights in whatever regime replaces the murderous Assad regime. Will my right hon. Friend particularly bear in mind the especially vulnerable position of the Christian community in Syria—he will understand the reasons for that position—and continue to do that work?

Absolutely. The position of Christians is vulnerable not only in Syria but in other middle Eastern countries, and it is an issue to which we regularly return. The Syrian opposition must not only come together as a united front for the purposes of negotiation and transition in this crisis, but reinforce at every opportunity their commitment to the representation of all groups and religious affiliations through their own composition and through support for the rights of all communities in Syria. That is crucial and is constantly reiterated by our special representative to the opposition.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement yesterday and for reporting to the House so promptly. One of the areas that he has identified as of real concern is the overspill of refugees and humanitarian problems across Syria’s borders to the adjacent nations. What specific assistance is he giving to the countries that are offering so much to those people?

Our assistance takes many forms. Our main assistance comes from what the Department for International Development is doing in support of international agencies and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That is helping to fund the supplies for people in camps who have crossed the border into Jordan and Turkey. Again, through international agencies, a lot of that aid is getting to people inside Syria as well. There are specific projects, for instance to help the victims of sexual violence who have gone to Jordan, which I talked about yesterday, and to help buttress Lebanon and support the work of its armed forces in maintaining its own security. So we have a lot of specific projects, too.