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Syria

Volume 560: debated on Wednesday 13 March 2013

Last week saw the terrible landmark of 1 million Syrian refugees registered or awaiting registration in the region. A further 2 million people are displaced within Syria. Last week, I raised with the UN the issue of preventing violence against women and girls in this and indeed other humanitarian situations and ensuring that funding supports this.

I welcome the reply from the Secretary of State and the UK’s commitment, but World Vision tells me that counting those unregistered as well as registered there could be as many as 1 million refugees in Lebanon alone. Does she agree that if catastrophe is to be prevented for those people and their host countries we need to make sure that donor countries such as the Gulf states play their part and that assistance reaches unregistered as well as registered refugees?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When I visited Jordan earlier this year, I saw for myself how many refugees were not in the camp. Indeed, the majority are in communities outside the camp, which is one reason why we have earmarked specific funding to support, both in Jordan and Lebanon, those refugees who are not in camps. Clearly, as the crisis continues, the pressures on neighbouring countries will grow. The Government are deeply concerned about that, which is why we have urged members of the international community to work together to take action.

Keeping in mind the fact that more than half the refugees in Syria are children, will the Secretary of State tell the House exactly what the Department is doing to support child health, protection and education in this humanitarian disaster?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that issue. About 75% of the refugees are women and children. As I said in my opening answer, we are formally pressing the UN to make sure that the most vulnerable refugees are taken into particular consideration in the construction of plans to support them. We have worked with UNICEF, for example, to provide not just medical assistance but care and counselling for many families, including children who have been through utterly traumatic events.

Will my right hon. Friend outline what steps we can take to protect refugees trying to get from Syria into Turkey? At present, they face fire from Syrian forces.

As my hon. Friend points out, the journeys that many people make en route to refugee camps are fatal in some cases or near fatal in others. It is extremely worrying that, for example, the Syrian Government continue to refuse humanitarian access from Turkey into Syria. We have to work through political and diplomatic routes, but I can assure him that the Government are playing a leading role in making sure that when refugees get out of that country we support them and that, through impartial, independent humanitarian organisations we are still getting support to people who remain in Syria too.

Will the Secretary of State outline what aid has already been granted by her Government to help the refugee crisis in Syria? Is it her intention to increase that aid to alleviate this human tragedy?

We have so far earmarked £140 million of aid overall. That is split partly as support for refugees outside Syria but, as the hon. Gentleman points out, a substantial portion is aimed at supporting people within Syria. It provides support in the form not just of food and shelter but of medical assistance.