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Syrian Refugees

Volume 574: debated on Wednesday 29 January 2014

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement regarding the Government’s proposal to relocate some of the most vulnerable refugees who have fled the conflict in Syria. The whole House will join me in deploring the appalling scenes of violence and suffering that we have witnessed in Syria. More than 100,000 people have been killed, and the credible reports of systematic use of torture and starvation are simply sickening. Millions of innocent people have fled their homes. There are now more than 11 million Syrians in desperate need, including 6.5 million people displaced inside Syria and more than 2.3 million refugees in neighbouring countries, at least half of whom are children. The numbers are staggering and the scale of the crisis is immense. The Prime Minister has rightly called it the greatest refugee crisis of our time.

The greatest contribution we can make is to work to end the conflict altogether, using UK diplomacy and our international influence to support the negotiations taking place in Geneva at this moment, and that is precisely what we are doing. Our goal is a peaceful settlement that enables a political transition and an end to the violence in Syria. That is the only way to create the conditions for all Syrian refugees to do what they most want to do, which is to return to their homes and livelihoods in peace.

We are also leading the world in responding to the humanitarian disaster. Britain is the second largest bilateral donor in the world after the United States. We have provided £600 million for the Syrian relief effort so far, of which £500 million has already been allocated to support refugees and the internally displaced. We are helping Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey to support those who have sought refuge there. As a result of our assistance, 320,000 people a month are being given food, 900,000 a month have drinking water, and we have enabled almost 316, 000 medical consultations to take place. This is the UK’s largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis, and it comes on top of our efforts to secure humanitarian access inside Syria and to provide essential materials such as shelter, blankets and stoves to help vulnerable Syrians to survive the winter.

The greatest need is in the region and it is there that the United Kingdom can make the largest impact. The Prime Minister made it clear last week that our country has a proud tradition of providing protection to those in need, and where there are particularly difficult cases of vulnerable refugees who are at grave risk, we are ready to look at those cases. Following consultations with the London office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in recent days, I can tell the House that the Government will be launching a new programme to provide emergency sanctuary in the UK for displaced Syrians who are particularly vulnerable.

The programme—the vulnerable person relocation scheme—will be based on three principles. First, we are determined to ensure that our assistance is targeted where it can have the most impact on the refugees at greatest risk. The programme will focus on individual cases where evacuation from the region is the only option. In particular, we will prioritise help for survivors of torture and violence and for women and children at risk or in need of medical care who are recommended to us for relocation by UNHCR. That is where we, as the United Kingdom, can make a distinctive contribution. For example, some of the worst abuses in the Syrian conflict involve the use of sexual violence, including in regime detention centres. The UK’s preventing sexual violence initiative is working to end those crimes globally. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has deployed teams of experts to train Syrians to document and investigate crimes of sexual violence and enable future prosecutions. The Department for International Development is prioritising the protection of women and girls, including providing clinical care for 12,000 Syrian refugee survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in Jordan. Looking at examples such as these through our resettlement scheme, without excluding any others, will help promote our wider goal of ending war-zone sexual violence. That is an approach co-ordinated across the whole of Government.

Secondly, the scheme will be run in addition to the two resettlement programmes the Home Office operates in partnership with the UNHCR: the gateway programme, which settles 750 refugees from a small number of targeted locations every year; and the mandate resettlement scheme, which is designed to resettle individual refugees who have been recognised as refugees by the UNHCR and have a close family member in the UK who is willing to accommodate them. It will also be in addition to the asylum claims that we have been considering—and will continue to consider—under our normal rules. Since the crisis began, we have taken in nearly 3,500 Syrian asylum seekers, the fourth highest number in the European Union, with 1,100 Syrian nationals recognised as refugees in the year to September 2013.

Thirdly, because we want to focus our assistance on the most vulnerable people, we do not intend to subscribe to a quota scheme. I want to make it clear to the House, therefore, that this programme will run in parallel with the UNHCR’s Syria humanitarian admission programme and we will work in close consultation with UNHCR offices in London, in Geneva and in the region.

The United Kingdom has a deep and strong working relationship with the UNHCR built up over many years and £61 million of UK humanitarian assistance to Syria is being delivered through UNHCR programmes. Our approach is entirely consistent with the wider UNHCR programme, is supported by it and will allow us the control to make the best use of our capability to help these cases.

This House and our whole country can be proud of the role we are playing in supporting the Syrian people at a time of great crisis. British money is helping to provide food, water and shelter to hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians every day. We are granting asylum to those who need it, consistent with this country’s proud tradition of giving help to those who need it most, and through the relocation scheme that I have announced today we will be providing emergency sanctuary to the people who are most at risk, including victims of torture and violence. But the only way for the violence and suffering to end is with a negotiated political transition and the Government will spare no effort in working to find a peaceful solution to the crisis that will allow refugees to return home. I commend the statement to the House.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement today. We have long had cross-party agreement about humanitarian aid for those suffering in the region as a result of the dreadful conflict and crisis in Syria. I believe that now we can come together with cross-party support for helping the most vulnerable civilian refugees, too.

Compassion and common sense have prevailed over the Government’s resistance last week. Britain is rightly providing help and assistance to the majority of refugees that have claimed sanctuary in the neighbouring countries—Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey—and is rightly leading international efforts, but the Opposition and many others have argued for some time that a minority of refugees are too vulnerable to cope or survive in the camps: the abandoned children, torture victims, women who have been abused and those who need medical help.

We have all heard the heart-rending stories of children burnt by chemicals, families torn apart, fathers executed and mothers raped, so when the UN asked us and other countries across the world to provide sanctuary to the most vulnerable refugees and 18 other countries stepped forward to help it was simply wrong of Britain to refuse. It is a tribute to the support of Members from all parties in this House, to the charities that have campaigned on the subject and to the UN that the Home Secretary has bowed to the pressure before the Opposition day debate this afternoon. It is a reversal of her position last week, but she is right to have listened and I am glad that she has done so.

I particularly welcome the Government’s commitment to helping the survivors of torture and violence, women and children at risk and those who have suffered sexual violence. Let me now ask the Home Secretary a series of questions about her announcement today. First, I welcome her announcement that these places will be in addition to the places provided by the UN to the existing UN gateway and mandate programmes. Countries such as France, Finland and Austria have each agreed to take about 500 refugees, and the Netherlands 250. The right hon. Lady has not set a specific figure, but can she confirm that she expects Britain to provide similar levels of sanctuary?

Secondly, can the Home Secretary confirm that the refugees to whom Britain offers sanctuary will also have access to specialist help and support—for example, working with many of the excellent charities that help those who have suffered great trauma and abuse?

The right hon. Lady says that much of the programme will in fact be delivered by the UNHCR, and she will know that all the things she says she wants to do—the three principles she set out—are possible within the UN Syria programme. Some countries within it have set specific figures; some, such as the US, have not set what she would call a quota, but are still operating within the UN programme. So my third question is: is what she has announced effectively the UN programme, but with a different name?

Fourthly, will the Home Secretary agree to look again at her net migration target? I am sure she agrees with me that there is a world of difference between immigration policy and border control on the one hand, and giving sanctuary to those fleeing persecution on the other. Refugees are included in her net migration target; does she agree that they should no longer be?

I believe that there is now cross-party agreement in support of helping the vulnerable refugees whose lives have been wrecked by the Syrian conflict, and I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement today. Britain has a long history of helping those who are fleeing terror and persecution. We should stand together in this House and support that tradition now.

I think this is an issue on which Members from all parties across the House can genuinely come together and welcome the steps—all the steps—taken by the Government to provide aid and support to those suffering from the terrible humanitarian crisis resulting from the conflict in Syria.

The right hon. Lady asked several questions, the first about the numbers. We have not set a figure. As the Deputy Prime Minister made clear earlier today, we expect several hundred refugees to come, but we have not set a quota precisely because we want to look at particular needs.

It is particular needs that drive the answer to right hon. Lady’s second question, about specialist help and support. We will of course look to the arrangements we have used for the gateway programme, for example, to see the extent to which we will be able to relocate refugees in line with our existing structures and relationships with local authorities, but there will be people, identified on a case-by-case basis, who need very particular assistance—perhaps very particular medical assistance. We will of course seek to ensure that that is provided for those individuals.

The scheme I have announced is, I think, in the spirit of the UNHCR programme, but it is not technically part of it. The UNHCR has welcomed what we are doing—[Interruption.] I have to say to the Opposition Front Benchers that I think they are trying to make an argument where we do not need to have one. We took a very simple decision. We wanted to create a scheme that gives us greater flexibility and enables us to focus clearly on the issues on which the Government as a whole have been focusing, particularly women and girls at risk and preventing sexual violence. I hope that the whole House accepts that the scheme will offer genuine benefit to some of the most vulnerable people who have been displaced from Syria, and that it will welcome the scheme.

As one who was critical earlier this week, I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement—although I cannot conceal my belief that perhaps it would have been better had we been a part of the overall UNHCR programme.

My right hon. Friend knows that I have previously emphasised the need to deal properly with the children who have suffered so grievously in Syria, and I hope that she will ensure that that is given due regard in applying any criteria.

If anyone is moved to challenge the decision my right hon. Friend has announced, I remind her of the wise words of her noble Friend Lord Hurd, who on a similar occasion said, “The fact that we can’t do everything does not mean that we should do nothing.”

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his comments. I am pleased that he is pleased that I have been able to respond rather more fully on this issue today than I was able to do in oral questions on Monday. We will give priority to survivors of torture and violence, women and children in need and at risk, and particularly those in need of medical care. I hope that the priorities that we are setting will incorporate his concerns on this issue. The flexibility that we have within the scheme will be of benefit to us.

In the early 1990s, the Major Government accepted under humanitarian programmes about 3,000 refugees from Bosnia, and in the late 1990s, when I was Home Secretary, we accepted a slightly larger number from Kosovo, because of the terrible crises that existed in both those territories at those times. Will the Home Secretary look carefully at the experience of both the Bosnian and the Kosovan refugees to see what lessons can be learned, including about support within the UK, for these vulnerable people, and the contribution that these people, who often did not have go through the awful hoops of seeking access to this country, were able to make subsequently to our prosperity?

I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point about the contribution that has been made by many groups of refugees who, over the years, have found sanctuary here in the United Kingdom. We will, of course, look at past experience. When the scheme was introduced by the right hon. Gentleman there was no limit on numbers, so it was not a quota system. The circumstances in Syria are slightly different from those in Bosnia in terms of the scale of the numbers involved. That is why the focus must continue to be on helping the maximum number of people by aid being given within region, which, as I have said, is where the UK has a very proud record.

I thank the Home Secretary for the statement. It is unquestionably right that we should offer refuge to the most vulnerable refugees, and I particularly welcome the focus on survivors of torture and sexual violence, many of whom remain at risk even in refugee settlements. But the effectiveness of this scheme will depend on early identification and access to the right package of specialist support in the UK. How will she ensure a seamless transition between identification in country and access to those specialist services in the UK?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. This will depend very much on the relationship that we have built up and will be exercising with the UNHCR in terms of identifying those cases that it believes it is appropriate for the UK to take, and in doing so to work with it to ensure that we understand the nature of the case and the particular needs of the individual. The transition will depend on that relationship and us working with UNHCR.

I, too, warmly welcome what the Home Secretary has done. She has done absolutely the right thing. On the question of resettlement, will she ensure that she involves the British-Arab diaspora? There are 10,000 Syrians living in this country. I do not know what the formal structure will be— it will certainly not be as big as the resettlement of the Gurkhas—but their involvement could be helpful for those who are vulnerable.

There is £90 million sitting in bank accounts in London that has been frozen that belongs to the Syrian Government. Will she speak to the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to whether we can access some of those funds, as other EU countries have done, to help with our humanitarian efforts.

The right hon. Gentleman makes two very good points. On the first issue, as I have said, we have some existing relationships with local authorities, for example, which we work with in resettling through existing resettlement programmes. He makes an important point that refugees coming into this country being able to be welcomed into an environment by people with a similar background can make that transition easier, particularly for someone who is vulnerable. We will be looking carefully, on a case-by-case basis, at how we deal with individuals.

I am certainly willing to talk to the Chancellor about the right hon. Gentleman’s second point. My understanding was that there are strict rules about these frozen accounts and whether it was possible to access money within them. If there is an opportunity to do so, I will certainly be talking to my right hon. Friend.

I very much welcome this thoughtful and tailored extension of what the UK is already doing in relation to Syrian refugees, not least in relation to the situation of women, who will need special care bearing in mind the circumstances from which they come and the impact upon them. In view of the need for us to stay close to the UN, for whom no country could have done more than ourselves, will my right hon. Friend confirm that this does have its endorsement as the right thing for the UK to do, and that her approach will remain flexible should circumstances require it?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. He has long been promoting the needs of Syrian refugees, particularly women and children who are at risk. I can confirm that the UNHCR has endorsed and welcomed the scheme. The UNHCR’s representative to the UK, Roland Schilling, said:

“We welcome the announcement of the UK government to provide refuge to some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees, in cooperation with UNHCR. This decision will help to provide much needed solutions for vulnerable Syrian refugees…Today’s decision is an encouraging and important step, reaffirming the UK’s commitment and contribution to international relief efforts in support of more than 2.3 million Syrian refugees and the countries hosting them. UNHCR also recognises the UK’s generous contribution towards massive humanitarian needs in the region.”

What about the 560,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria, marooned by a conflict that is not their conflict and with no homes to go to? In the Al Yarmouk camp, they are dying of starvation and their food consists of grass and animal food. What precisely and specifically is being done for the Palestinian refugees?

We are, as a country, helping Palestinian refugees who have been able to leave Syria. But the problem with helping those who are in Syria is the lack of access to them, which is the result of the action taken by and the attitude of the Syrian Government. Obviously, some recent steps have been indicated in terms of possible humanitarian access in Syria. We all want to ensure that we can have access to be able to provide support to those people who are suffering inside Syria as a result of this conflict.

I warmly welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement today. Saving the life of even one woman or child or person who has been tortured or starved in Syria is well worth doing. Does she agree that these people will not necessarily come here for ever? Many of them will come for treatment of one sort or another or for rehabilitation, and we look forward to the time when they may be able to return to their homeland at some stage in the future.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The vast majority of Syrian refugees want to be able to return to their homes and live in peace. Under the scheme, we will be offering a temporary residence here in the UK, but we will consider each individual case as the situation in Syria evolves.

Will the Home Secretary kindly confirm that asylum seeker status and refugee status are entirely different things in international law? Will she also confirm that she will liaise closely with the Welsh Government on resettlement?

I am very happy to liaise closely with the Welsh Government, and any opportunities or support that they can give on the relocation of individuals who come to the UK as a result of this scheme will be welcomed. There are different types of status for individuals. We will consider the matter further, but we currently propose that these individuals will be given temporary residence here, but with access to the labour market and other benefits in the same way as refugees would have.

As someone who was critical of the Government’s position on this, I congratulate the Home Secretary on this announcement. Will she confirm that, when looking at the criteria, children will not be separated from parents?

I welcome what the Home Secretary has announced today, but I do not quite understand why we are not working hand in hand with the UNHCR resettlement scheme. Is it because under that scheme Germany has committed to taking at least 10,000 refugees? Will we be able to match that figure?

We are working hand in hand with the UNHCR, but we are doing so with very particular priorities and with a degree of flexibility that we feel being part of the programme to which the hon. Lady refers would not give us.

Having visited Jordan and seen the conditions in which Syrian refugees are living, I am absolutely delighted that the Home Secretary has made this statement—I hope that it gives her heart to think that doing the humane thing for refugees is often popular and not always unpopular. I am a little disappointed that we are not signed up to the UNHCR’s scheme, but so long as we are working hand in hand with it to identify the vulnerable people, that is what is most important. I ask her to keep under review the priorities she has set as the crisis unfolds, because the people who are the most vulnerable may well change over time. If we are to have our own programme, rather than the UNHCR scheme, that might be important.

I take the hon. Lady’s point about continuing to look at the priorities we have set. As I have said, those priorities tie in with other work we are doing in the region. I think that it is important to have that degree of flexibility, which is what having our own scheme gives us. However, I reiterate the point I made in answer to the previous question: we are working alongside and hand in hand with the UNHCR.

While I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and share her pride in the way this country has acted so positively in furnishing humanitarian aid to the refugees, will she clarify who will be responsible for defining what constitutes the most vulnerable? I welcome her earlier response that children will not be separated from their parents, but will she also ensure that they are not separated from their siblings?

The intention is that responsibility for determining that will be with the UK and the UNHCR, working together. The UNHCR will identify cases and we will work with it to identify whether the UK could provide the necessary support in those cases and therefore take them on board. The intention is not to separate families. Obviously there might be children with particular needs, such as particular medical needs, but the intention is not to separate families.

The organisation that goes into the greatest danger and is often best placed to identify victims of torture and sexual misconduct is the International Committee of the Red Cross, which in my view is often much better than the UNHCR. What is its involvement with the UNHCR in deciding who should come to this country?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have made it clear that we will be looking at the issue primarily with the UNHCR, which I think is appropriate, because it is on the ground and identifying vulnerable individuals, but I hope that the International Committee of the Red Cross will work with it to ensure—

I hear what my hon. Friend says and recognise his experience when it comes to people who are displaced and vulnerable as a result of conflict. We will of course look to ensure that the Red Cross and the UNHCR work together to identify the cases that are appropriate for the UK.

I welcome the decision that the Home Secretary has taken today, but surely she recognises that we also have a proud record of championing multilateral responses to international crises. If every country demanded the flexibility to set up parallel and unilateral schemes, the entire effort would be undermined to some degree. Does she not at least recognise that? Why is the flexibility she is asking for so important? It undermines our ability to be part of the multilateral effort to help those refugees.

I take a slightly different view from the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think that countries that take a separate route, working with the UNHCR to identify vulnerable cases, undermine the international community’s ability to provide support, aid and help to those who are vulnerable as a result of the Syrian conflict. I think that what we are doing is absolutely appropriate. We will be working with the UNHCR, as I have said, but we have identified a bespoke scheme that will allow us to focus on particular groups of people, such as victims of sexual violence and women and children who are at risk or in need of medical assistance. We will be able to prioritise those groups within the scheme in a way that would not have been fully possible under another scheme.

I certainly support the Home Secretary’s statement. I visited a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey only recently, and they were very thankful for the support Britain is providing, but I have to tell her that in three days not a single refugee told me that they wanted to relocate to Britain, or indeed any other country; they wanted to go home and to be free from a murderous regime. I think that we need to keep that in mind when prioritising our resources.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I commend him and the other Members of the House who visited the refugee camp in Turkey, led by my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown). They not only talked with the refugees there, but did some constructive work to support them. He is absolutely right that the vast majority of refugees want to be able to return home to a Syria that is not in conflict. That is why our first priority must be to try to ensure that there is a political resolution and a smooth transition in the government of Syria. Our second priority must be to help those who are “in region”, which means that they will be able to return home when the time comes.

I thank the right hon. Lady for her statement and welcome the Government’s decision to receive the most vulnerable refugees from Syria. It is also vital that the humanitarian aid that we are sending reaches those most in need. However, on the point that the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) made, is it not most important that the Government strengthen their efforts to bring about a negotiated settlement that will finally end the nightmare that is happening in Syria and meet the needs of the people of Syria?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that our first focus must be on trying to ensure that we see that political transition taking place so that the refugees can return home and Syria can return to peace. That is why the efforts being made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary are so important. He has been one of the leading figures in the international community trying to secure the Geneva II negotiations and ensure that we get positive results from them.

Order. A large number of colleagues wish to participate, but there is also a debate on this very subject to follow. Therefore, my normal practice of calling everybody might not apply today. What is required is brevity, and I think that the textbook on succinctness can be written by Dr Julian Lewis.

I was afraid that you would choose me for that, Mr Speaker.

Like hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, I strongly endorse any help that can be given to vulnerable victims of war, but with regard to the second category that the Home Secretary mentioned—people who have received political asylum—can she assure the House that they are being properly screened so that we do not store up trouble for the future for our security services, as we are already worried about jihadists of our own going out to Syria and coming back?

I commend the Secretary of State for International Development for her regular updates to MPs. I ask the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary to work together so that we get regular updates on what is happening, including the total number of refugees and the progress of the scheme so that hon. Members who are concerned about what is happening can be kept up to date regularly.

I am happy to ensure that regular updates are available for Members, working with not only the Foreign Secretary, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, who should be commended not only for her updates to the House, but for the leading role she has played in providing humanitarian aid in the region.

I of course very much welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. There is a good history of orphans from war-torn countries growing up to be much-valued citizens in their adopted countries. Will she consider prioritising Syrian orphans and perhaps increasing the number that Britain will take? Such a policy would be both morally right and of great benefit to this country’s future.

I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but I say to him that we will work with the UNHCR, which will identify the cases that are most vulnerable and most appropriate in terms of the support that the UK can provide.

Non-governmental organisations, such as the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development and Christian Aid, very much welcome the Government’s humanitarian contribution to these awful problems and will no doubt welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. However, they are puzzled, as I am, that the Government have not thus far associated themselves with the UNHCR’s programme, and therefore with 18 important countries. That lack of solidarity seems to be a wee bit intransigent and hardly fits in with the rest of the Government’s approach. Have I missed an obvious explanation?

I see that the right hon. Gentleman has put in to speak in the debate as well. We are grateful to him. He will have made two speeches by the end of it.

I refer the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke) to the quote I gave earlier from the UNHCR’s representative to the UK, who has welcomed our announcement. He said that it

“will help to provide much needed solutions for vulnerable Syrian refugees”,

and that it reaffirms

“the UK’s commitment and contribution to international relief efforts”.

I think that what matters is whether we are providing help and support for vulnerable refugees in Syria. We are showing solidarity through the humanitarian aid effort that we are providing. As I have said, we are providing the second largest contribution in the humanitarian aid effort in the world, after the United States, which is a very big step in showing solidarity.

I warmly welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. Following on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), I do not think that the word “orphans” was mentioned by her in the statement or, indeed, by the shadow Home Secretary. Is it not right that, by definition, vulnerable children and children at risk must include orphans?

As I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), we will look at this case by case. We have said that children at risk are obviously one of the categories that we will prioritise. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has reminded me that our work on orphans is not just what will happen as a result of this scheme, because we are doing very specific work to support them in the region.

I still do not understand why we cannot be part of the UNHCR programme, which seems the obvious thing to do? May I take the Home Secretary back to the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman)? Many of the Palestinian refugees in Syria are themselves refugees from Iraq or, before that, other countries in the region. I hope that she will look very carefully and sympathetically at the plight of people driven from pillar to post by the travails and history of the whole region, and at least give them a place of safety here.

The hon. Gentleman is correct in his identification of the particular problem for many individuals who have been displaced not just once, but many times. That is why we have done specific work with Palestinian refugees who, as I understand it, are in the refugee camps. As I said in response to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), the problem about working with people inside Syria is of course the lack of access for humanitarian aid efforts in Syria.

This is a good announcement and an appropriate way to mark the 75 years since the Kindertransport, when this country saved 10,000 children from the horrors of the holocaust.

I note that the Home Secretary said that the Government do not intend to subscribe to a quota scheme. Will she therefore confirm that there are no targets or limits on how many people can be taken, and that the number can be expanded if necessary?

We have not set a target or quota for the number of people who will be taken. The Deputy Prime Minister indicated earlier today that, as I have confirmed, we are probably looking at several hundred people, but we have not set a target.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, which follows this country’s honourable tradition of supporting refugees. Will she consider giving support to effective charities, such as Asylum Link, to enable them to play their part, too?

I understand the hon. Lady’s point. As I have said, we are obviously looking at a number of asylum cases. The UK has taken the fourth highest number of asylum seekers of those taken into countries in the European Union. We of course look at every one of those cases on the right and proper basis of the need presented.

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), the refugees we spoke to told us some horrendous stories about how they got there. Will my right hon. Friend say exactly who will decide, and on what criteria, that one heart-rending case is given refuge here over another heart-rending case? Perhaps that should be done according to the specific medical skills that we can offer.

There will be a combination of factors: the UNHCR will identify individuals who are particularly vulnerable or at risk, but we will have to consider whether the UK can provide the particular support that they need. That will be discussed with the UNHCR, but it will initially identify the most vulnerable cases.

Like the UK, Germany is among the largest bilateral humanitarian aid donors in Syria, but Angela Merkel’s Government have announced that they are prepared to take 10,000 refugees. The Government’s statement about hundreds of vulnerable people receiving refuge in the UK is welcome, but how does the Home Secretary account for the difference in the scale of ambition between the UK and Germany?

All countries look at how they are best able to give the support that they feel is right. As a country, we have put a particular focus on the amount of money and support that we give to people in the region. As several of my hon. Friends have said, most of the refugees in the camps want to be able to return to Syria. We believe that it is right to focus on humanitarian aid to support those in the refugee camps. It is also right to welcome some particularly vulnerable people to the United Kingdom, and I have set out that scheme today.

Does my right hon. Friend share my pride that only one country, whose economy is six times the size of ours, is giving more help to Syria than Britain?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The United Kingdom can be very proud of its record on the humanitarian aid that it is giving refugees from the Syrian conflict. As he says, it is the second highest amount in the world—second only to the United States—so we can hold our heads high and recognise the tremendous support that we are giving to Syrian refugees.

When does the Home Secretary expect the first people to arrive in this country under the scheme, and has she already had discussions about that, particularly with NHS trusts that will have to provide the capacity to deal with them?

I cannot give the hon. Lady a date for when the first people will arrive. We obviously have to ensure that we can provide individuals with appropriate accommodation and support. That process can be done generically at the start, but individuals will then have to be considered case by case.

I appreciate the Home Secretary’s measured response to this dreadful tragedy, for which the United Kingdom has absolutely no responsibility whatsoever, but may I invite her to consider seeing it in the context of the overall impact of migration to this country in recent years? While Germany and France have population densities of 235 and 119 people per square kilometre, England and Wales have 374 people per square kilometre. I therefore suggest two things: first, that we should limit the scheme to hundreds and not thousands; and, secondly, that as a Christian country, we should prioritise Christians who are being persecuted in Syria. Does she agree?

I say to my hon. Friend that I am often very happy to debate and discuss immigration matters with him, but today our focus must be on the help that we are providing to the most vulnerable Syrian refugees. I have indicated the categories of vulnerability that we will prioritise, but I repeat that they are survivors of torture and violence, women and children at risk and those in need of medical care.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s emphasis on those who have faced sexual violence. Is she aware of the work of Human Rights Watch in respect of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Syrian refugees? Will such refugees have access to the programme?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the comment that he has made. In putting the priorities together, I decided that although we will have a focus on women and children at risk, the survivors of torture and violence will include not only women and children, but people of both genders. It is therefore quite possible that individuals who have been subject to the sort of violence that he raises will qualify within that category.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. Emphasis has correctly been placed on helping people who have been subjected to the worst abuses of the Syrian conflict, including sexual violence and being detained in regime detention centres. Will she confirm that when people are brought to this country, the evidence collection will not end? It is vital that when people are taken away from the refugee camps, the UK Government continue to co-operate with the evidence collection so that the perpetrators of crimes can be prosecuted.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As I said earlier, this country is helping with the process of evidence collection by training Syrians to collect evidence. It is important that in bringing people to the UK, we do not lose the possibility that evidence can be collected and break that chain. I entirely accept the point that he has made.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and particularly her focus on vulnerable groups. I want to return to the question that was raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg). LGBT groups have experienced particular victimisation, stigmatisation, violence and so forth. I urge her, in looking at vulnerable groups with the UN, to focus on LGBT communities. She said that it was “quite possible” that such people would qualify. That was not as reassuring as I had hoped.

I hoped in my answer to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby to make the point that the first category will be the survivors of torture and violence, and that we have a particular concern about those who have been subjected to sexual violence. I did not intend to suggest that this was only a “might possibly”. We will work with the UNHCR and it will make the initial identification of the most vulnerable cases and identify those for whom the support that is available in the UK would be most appropriate.

I trust that the appetite of the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) was satisfied by one question. I know that there is an instinctive element to rising to ask questions and that people often do so automatically.

The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) has said that we need to learn the lessons from Kosovo. Has the Secretary of State seen the comments that were made by the then Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short? She said that Britain refused to take a quota:

“We are not working on numbers. We are working on vulnerability and need”.

She went on to say:

“We believe that the refugees should be cared for in the region”.

Does the Secretary of State agree that our approach is very similar to that of the previous Government to the refugees in Kosovo?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point and he is absolutely right. The important thing is that the United Kingdom asks what is the most appropriate way to support refugees who have been displaced by conflict, as in Syria. First and foremost, it is humanitarian aid in the region that is needed, but it is also right for us to take vulnerable cases and we have set no quota.

The Home Secretary will have been aware of the widespread unease across the House earlier in the week about the Government’s position on this issue. I therefore congratulate her, as others have, on the change of tone and spirit in her statement today, which has largely dispelled that unease. However, it is puzzling that Britain—a founding and permanent member of the Security Council—is running parallel with the UN on this matter. If we are working so closely with the UNHCR on this matter, surely we could take a leading role as we have on all other issues.

We are taking a leading role in providing aid and support to refugees from Syria in a variety of ways. We just do not happen to be signing up to a particular programme of the UNHCR. We are not working in parallel with the UN, but are working hand in hand with the UNHCR on a parallel scheme.

I appreciate the understanding of colleagues. The debate on this matter will follow relatively shortly and I am sure that there will be opportunities not only for speeches, but for interventions if Members still feel inclined to make them.