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Syria

Volume 564: debated on Wednesday 12 June 2013

The humanitarian situation in Syria has now reached catastrophic proportions. More than 80,000 people have been killed—that is nearly 1,000 a month—6.8 million are in need, including at least 4.25 million internally displaced persons, half of whom are children, and a further 1.6 million refugees are in the region, of whom 75% are women and children. UK support is providing food, health care, water and shelter for refugees, both inside and outside Syria.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer, and I am pleased to see that she is well up with what is happening. She will also be well up with what is being done by the UN commission of inquiry, which mentioned the killing of 13 children because of lack of food and medication. Will she confirm that the Government will press for an agreement at the G8 summit on improving humanitarian access for the estimated 4 million people who need it in Syria today?

I am sure we will be raising those issues at the G8, as I did when I was at the UN a couple of weeks ago. It is simply unacceptable that the Syrian Government continue to refuse to allow humanitarian deliveries across the border from Turkey, and we need all sides in this conflict to agree to give unfettered access to humanitarian agencies and to do that free from violence.

The number of refugees coming across the border from Syria into Turkey is way beyond Turkey’s ability to provide for them. Has my right hon. Friend had any discussions with her counterparts in Turkey, the European Union or the wider international community on how these refugees might be catered for?

My hon. Friend is right to recognise the impact that refugees are having on several countries in the region. Some 370,000-plus refugees have arrived in Turkey, and we have spoken with the Turkish Government about what we can do to provide support. They have played a leading role in providing humanitarian support to those refugees, and that should be acknowledged, too.

In addition to the information that the right hon. Lady has just given the House, is she aware that World Vision estimates that 1.5 million people are displaced? Does she agree that in the event of any removal of arms embargoes, there will be no less emphasis on the crucial need for humanitarian aid?

I think I can absolutely reassure the right hon. Gentleman on that point. My Department is looking at what needs to happen in not only the immediate time frame, but the far longer term. We know that more than half the hospitals in Syria have been damaged, and that the water and sanitation systems are essentially no longer working. There needs to be not only a short-term plan to examine humanitarian needs in all circumstances—he is right about that—but a longer-term plan to examine what Syria’s needs will be afterwards.

With the Council for European Palestinian Relations, I recently visited Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who had fled from Syria. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency is doing all that it can to help those people, who are living in miserable conditions?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, because that important aspect of the crisis is often not recognised. We have provided £5 million to UNRWA particularly to support its work with Palestinian refugees. That will support more than 350,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria, and will go on food parcels and other relief items.

I wish to declare an interest: I have just returned from a visit to Lebanon, courtesy of World Vision, on which I witnessed at first hand the impact of the heavy influx of Syrian refugees on that country. The number of refugees in Lebanon has reached half a million and is set to reach 1 million by Christmas. Last week, the UN appealed for £3.2 billion to deal with the humanitarian emergency. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how much the UK Government will contribute to this appeal?

I thank the hon. Lady for that question. We are looking now at what we can do to continue playing a leading role in providing humanitarian support, but I think that all Members of the House would agree that we need to put pressure on other countries in the region, and the international community more broadly, to step up to the plate and provide support, and we need to make sure that they fulfil commitments that they have already made.