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Syria

Volume 582: debated on Wednesday 18 June 2014

May I start by offering the apologies of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, who is unable to attend questions today as he is overseas on departmental business?

The UK’s total funding for Syria and the region is now £600 million. To date, the Department for International Development has allocated just under £250 million to partners working in Syria, which has helped hundreds of thousands in dire need of assistance. A significant element of UK aid inside Syria is now being delivered by non-governmental organisations directly from neighbouring countries across Syria’s borders.

The Minister will recognise that the UK is making a significant contribution to the Syrian crisis, yet UN and other agencies estimate that there is still a shortfall of around $5 billion in required investment. What steps can she take to encourage partner agencies and other countries to step up to the plate and contribute as well?

The right hon. Gentleman is right. We can be proud of the Government’s role; we are the second largest country donor providing assistance. He is right that we need to see more countries in the region and internationally stepping up to the plate and putting their hands in their pockets to help to provide assistance to those in the region who are in such dire need.

What support is being given to British nationals, as well as their families, who have been injured in Syria in support of relief action?

There is always consular assistance for those who have been injured overseas. I am not aware of any British nationals being injured, but my hon. Friend is right to point out that a number of humanitarian workers have been injured and—I think I am right in saying—more than 40 killed while delivering aid to people inside Syria.

I am grateful for the letter that the Secretary of State sent to me on the subject of Syria. She referred to the demands of the Security Council to grant rapid, safe and unhindered access to those in need inside Syria and to the continued use of siege and starvation tactics as a weapon of war. What exactly are we doing at the Security Council to try to resolve this impasse? I know her Department is doing various other things, but we really ought to be pushing the Security Council hard.

The right hon. Lady is right. I discussed this matter with Baroness Amos, who heads up the UN agency tackling humanitarian assistance. It has now presented its third report to the UN Security Council, outlining grave concerns about the Syrian regime’s defiance, in many respects, of the resolution on allowing humanitarian access. Our role is to continue to push and to look at ways we can remove some of the barriers that the regime is putting in place as excuses to stop aid getting through.

As the conflict in Syria spills over into Iraq, the Red Crescent estimates that up to 500,000 additional people may have been displaced from their homes. What are the Government doing to anticipate and resource the emerging humanitarian needs in the region?

The hon. Lady is quite right, and nearly 250,000 Syrian refugees have crossed the border into Iraq, to which we were already providing some support. She may be aware that I have announced an initial £3 million of humanitarian support. In addition, I am proud that a DFID team was one of the first on the ground, having been sent out last Thursday to assess need and work directly with UN agencies setting up the camps that are now required.

The Syrian conflict is in its fourth year, and we have seen the re-emergence of polio, the use of chemical weapons and the slaughter of innocents, with entire cities under siege. With the world’s focus rightly on neighbouring Iraq, this is a conflict that still demands our attention. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of proposals from the normally recalcitrant Russians to open four border crossings to help the vast numbers of people in need of humanitarian aid?

We have to ensure that the Syrian crisis does not become a forgotten crisis and that the refugees and those affected in Syria are not forgotten in the midst of the crisis now emerging in Iraq. In response to the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), I alluded to independent monitors checking aid in cross-border areas, which is one of the issues on which we are looking to work with the Russians. One of the issues raised by the Syrian Government is that they do not always believe that cross-border aid is inappropriate—in fact, they do not agree with it. We have to push for cross-border aid, because there is no other way of getting to the people in need inside Syria.

Some people who fled the Syrian conflict into Iraq are, heartbreakingly, now fleeing the Iraq crisis back into Syria. Some 200,000 Syrians have fled into Kurdish Iraq and now 300,000 internally displaced persons have fled the ISIS advance into Iraqi Kurdistan, so what assessment has the Secretary of State and her Department made of the additional humanitarian support now required by the Kurdish authorities to deal with this double crisis that they now face?

Around 95% of the Syrian refugees who had fled into Iraq are themselves Kurdish in origin. In total over recent weeks, around 1 million people have been displaced within Iraq itself. As I set out earlier, a three-person team went out last Thursday: two of them are working directly with the Government of Kurdistan to discover what we can do to help that regional Government to respond; the other is working with the UN to help set up the camps. As with the refugees from the crisis in Syria, most displaced people are staying in host communities rather than in camps, which are very limited in the facilities they can provide.