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Volume 560: debated on Wednesday 13 March 2013

More than 430,000 people have been displaced by the conflict in Mali. Access is improving to conflict-affected areas, but the humanitarian response remains challenged by insecurity and sporadic violence. UK humanitarian aid is supporting more than 400,000 Malians with food, medicine and support to refugees in neighbouring countries.

I thank the Secretary of State for her response. More than 250,000 people have been displaced inside Mali and 170,000 Malians have fled to neighbouring countries. What additional assistance will her Department be providing to internally displaced people and refugees?

To date, we have provided about £13 million of overall assistance and we will work with agencies such as the UN, the Red Cross and the World Food Programme to ensure that we have a balanced approach to dealing not just with people in Mali who need our support but, as the hon. Gentleman points out, with the refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries.

Given that the humanitarian situation is likely to get worse until there is a framework of peace, does the Secretary of State support steps towards a UN peacekeeping mission? If so, what does she make of its mandate and the proposed time scale?

My hon. Friend is right that discussions are under way on whether a UN peacekeeping mission can be put in place. Ultimately, if it can sit alongside a political process of reconciliation, that might be one way of starting to create the space not only to get security back into Mali but to provide the conditions for the country to develop in the longer term.

The Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 4.3 million people in Mali are in need of humanitarian assistance. Will the Secretary of State update the House on what her Department is doing to ensure access for humanitarian agencies in Mali and in neighbouring countries?

The best thing we can do is work through independent, impartial humanitarian organisations and, through the UN, continue our lobbying work to ensure we have access. Access is a real challenge in places such as Mali and is also, of course, a particular challenge in places such as Syria. Without access, we cannot get humanitarian support to people, and that is why we focus on it.