Skip to main content


Volume 564: debated on Tuesday 18 June 2013

The humanitarian situation in Syria is dire. More than 93,000 people have been killed and 6.8 million are in need of humanitarian assistance. That includes at least 4.25 million internally displaced people and 1.6 million refugees. We have committed £171 million to provide food, health care, water and shelter for refugees inside and outside Syria.

In view of the dire humanitarian situation in Syria, does the Foreign Secretary agree that the overwhelming thrust of policy in Syria must concentrate on humanitarian measures, rather than on arming the rebels or military intervention?

There are many aspects to the problems in Syria. I was explaining to the media yesterday that our biggest effort is on the humanitarian side. The United Kingdom is one of the biggest national donors to help with the humanitarian situation. We are working on a further substantial increase in our humanitarian assistance, because the UN has called for another $5.2 billion over the next six months. As we speak, the Prime Minister is seeking agreement among the countries of the G8 that the humanitarian situation should be one of our top priorities.

Does my right hon. Friend understand that the urgency of the humanitarian problem is underlined by the fact that in the camps, particularly in Jordan, rape, violence and forced marriage are commonplace, which has an impact on the economic and political stability of Jordan itself? Can he satisfy the House that his Government—our Government—[Interruption.] Old habits die hard. Can he satisfy the House that our Government are doing everything in their power not only to contribute in the way he described, but to persuade other nations, particularly rich nations in the Gulf, to do so as well?

Our Government, of whom my right hon. and learned Friend is a vigorous supporter at all times, are indeed doing that, not only through the financial assistance I have described, but by sending specific support and equipment to Jordan to help ensure people are safely taken to camps as quickly as possible. We have also sent to the Syrian border some of the experts I have assembled on preventing sexual violence in conflict, and we certainly vigorously encourage other nations to join in meeting the UN’s appeal for funds.

Last week, I visited the Domiz camp in Iraq, where 150,000 fleeing Syrians have been given refuge and are being well looked after by the Kurdistan regional government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees working together. Unfortunately, however, only 28% of Syrian aid is currently funded, and there is a shortfall this year of £3.8 billion as a result of people not meeting their obligations. Will the Foreign Secretary press the G8 at least for the members of the G8 to meet their obligations, so that lives and individuals on the ground can be helped?

The G8 is going on now, as the hon. Gentleman knows. As I mentioned a moment ago, one of the priorities of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is to agree at the G8 that the G8 together will supply a large share, a large slice of the new UN appeal for $5.2 billion. On my many visits to the middle east region, including the Gulf, of which there will be more shortly, I strongly encourage other nations to take part. The new appeal is several times bigger than the $1.5 billion appeal for the last six months, which shows that we are now dealing with the biggest humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century so far.

22. In Jordan there are large camps. Everybody can see them on our TV screens and see what is happening. In Lebanon there are proportionately a similar number of Syrian refugees, but they are not in camps and are dispersed among the towns and cities. Nevertheless, the problem is real. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that Lebanon is not overlooked in any aid funding? (160020)

Yes, absolutely. I have visited centres for Syrian refugees in Beirut, where, as my hon. Friend rightly says, people are not in camps, although they are given vouchers, for instance, so that they can buy food locally. I pay tribute to the hospitality of the Lebanese people. The United Kingdom is, for instance, funding the construction of border observation posts for the Lebanese armed forces to try to assist the stability of the border in Lebanon.