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Syria

Volume 569: debated on Wednesday 23 October 2013

The humanitarian crisis in Syria has reached catastrophic proportions. Since the start of the conflict, over 100,000 people have been killed, 2.1 million have become refugees, and nearly 7 million people within Syria are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

Let me declare an interest as a member of the International Rescue Committee’s policy and advocacy committee. Given that 60% of Syrian refugees are living outside refugee camps, what steps are the Department taking to ensure that there is adequate support for urban refugees and the communities that are supporting them?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think that for some countries the total is possibly in excess of 70%. In Jordan, for every refugee who is in the Zaatari camp, there are four outside it. We are therefore working very closely with Governments such as Jordan’s through the World Bank trust fund that we helped to set up—we launched it when I was at the World Bank just a couple of weekends ago—to make sure that we have the investment in infrastructure and public services that the host communities need to be able to support not only their own day-to-day lives but those of the many people who have arrived in their midst.

In order to try to reduce the terrible humanitarian crisis not just in Syria but throughout the region, with the prospect of conflict in Lebanon, does the right hon. Lady agree that the non-governmental organisations are right to seek to work with local organisations, and will she encourage them in that objective?

We are encouraging NGOs to work with grass-roots organisations, and they, too, understand that they need to do that. This is vital if we are to maintain the support of the host communities, who have been incredibly generous in accepting refugees. I should also point out to the right hon. Gentleman that one of the challenges is making sure that we can work with NGOs, which have the breadth and capacity to be able to work across the piece and across communities but are absolutely working on the ground with existing civil society organisations.

May I thank the Secretary of State for the comprehensive evidence session that she gave to the International Development Committee yesterday? I welcome the leadership role that the UK has played in committing these funds, but will she urge other countries such as those in Europe and the middle east also to step up to the plate and ensure that the UN appeal is fully funded and Britain is not left in front without followers?

I could not agree more with the right hon. Gentleman. Britain has done exactly the right thing in playing a leading role in the humanitarian response. It is absolutely right for the Syrian refugees, but right for us too, to try to do what we can to keep stability in the region. However, we cannot do that on our own, and it is now time, in the run-up to the next donor conference in January, for other countries in the international community to ask themselves what more they can do alongside the UK in making sure that the next UN donor appeal, unlike the last one, is fully funded.

Some 58,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Jordan since the onset of the civil war. Organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross are aiding those displaced individuals with the basics to live. What more can Governments do to help charities such as the Red Cross?

We need to do a number of things. First, we need to make sure that the financing and resources are in place so that not just the life-saving work, but the broader work on educating the 1 million children who are now refugees can take place. As I have said, we also need to work with host Governments—such as the Jordanian Government, who have been incredibly generous—to make sure that they are well placed to be able to cope with this huge, unprecedented number of refugees.

9. Mindful of the impact on Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and mindful of the fact that this is an international humanitarian crisis, what international co-operation are we receiving with regard to the refugees in those countries? (900651)

As I have said, it is deeply concerning that the United Nations donor appeal is only half funded. Having said that, as a result of the Prime Minister’s leadership, since the G20 we have managed to get an additional $1 billion of funding. The key test for us all will be whether the donor conference in January can be successful so that we can meet the needs of the UN agencies that are working so hard.

This refugee crisis is the greatest since that in Rwanda and the Secretary of State has our support in trying to get aid to those civilians, including 1 million refugee children. If the violence continues at its current ferocity, what is her Department’s assessment of the likely refugee numbers by the end of this year and of the capabilities of neighbouring nations to absorb them without destabilising their politics and economies?

Some non-governmental organisations would assess that the number of refugees could reach the 3 million mark by next spring. That is deeply concerning and it is one of the reasons why, alongside all the humanitarian work we have done on the ground, the UK has brought together top donors and UN agencies to make sure that they can work together effectively as a single team on a single strategy for not just supporting refugees outside Syria, but, critically, reaching those in need in Syria.

We look forward to the Department’s assessment of possible refugee numbers by the end of the year. Refugees are not just scampering across borders; they are also clambering on to small boats in order to seek safety by travelling across the Mediterranean. The tiny dot of an island, Lampedusa, has become a checkpoint for people seeking refuge from north Africa and Syria. Sadly, 300 people have drowned on that journey. Does the Secretary of State accept that the international community has to do more to prevent those desperate people from dying in such dreadful circumstances as they flee civil war only to drown in the Mediterranean?

What we have seen is shocking and it is one of the reasons why international development is so important. We need to make sure that we can work with developing countries so that they can provide people with opportunities, prosperity and a future so that they can pursue their lives with their families where they grow up. Surely that has to be the best thing and surely it is sensible to help Governments tackle instability and conflict on their own territory, rather than allow it to spread to ours.