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UN World Humanitarian Summit

Volume 605: debated on Wednesday 3 February 2016

Our country has bold ambitions for the world humanitarian summit, which comes at a critical time given that there are currently more displaced people globally than at any time since the second world war. We are working with a range of partners, including UN agencies, Governments, non-governmental organisations and the private sector, to ensure that the summit delivers transformative change to crisis response.

Child protection has been desperately underfunded in global humanitarian efforts. One in 10 children now lives in conflict-affected areas, and UNICEF warns that at least 3 million children are caught up in emergencies and need psychosocial help. Will the Prime Minister be part of the UK delegation, and will he commit to making child protection one of the UK’s key priorities at the summit?

We have not finalised the UK delegation yet, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the issue of child protection has been very much at the core of all our humanitarian responses, not least, most recently, in Syria. The UK worked with UNICEF to put in place so-called safe zones in many of the refugee camps to enable children to be reunited with their families if they had got lost.

What discussions does the Secretary of State expect to take place at the summit on support for those fleeing violence and persecution? Will she support efforts at the summit to ensure that lower and middle-income countries hosting refugees and displaced people have long-term, predictable financing, and that refugees themselves have the right to work and contribute to the society and economy to which they move?

The hon. Gentleman asks a very pertinent question. The Syria conference in London tomorrow will look at this very issue of respecting the fact that refugees are, on average, a refugee for 17 years. We need to go beyond providing traditional lifesaving support to meet such broader needs—not just jobs, as he says, but getting children into schools. The Syria conference tomorrow is a key moment not just to respond to that crisis, but, more broadly, to show a new model of responding to protracted humanitarian crises around the world. I hope we can then take that forward at the world humanitarian summit.

Given that many humanitarian crises are caused by conflict, will my right hon. Friend make sure that the UK delegation presses the United Nations at the humanitarian summit to be more effective in conflict resolution and prevention, thus solving a lot of the problems that many women and children in our world are facing?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In fact, when I had the privilege of chairing the UN Security Council last October, the issue we talked about was the need for the international community and the Security Council itself to look at fragile countries before conflict hits and perhaps to have better early warning systems, whether on human rights or any other area, to highlight where we need to do work in advance to keep peace and stability, rather than having the costly after-effects of responding to war.

What work is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that humanitarian aid is joined up with longer-term development aid?

The world humanitarian summit is a key opportunity for us to knit these agendas together clearly. At the moment, I would describe the humanitarian system as a hospital that only has an accident and emergency department. From the start of such crises, we need not only to think ahead about how we can deal with the day-to-day challenges that refugees and people affected face, but to begin to build in long-term solutions so that they can get their lives back on track. That is why the issues of jobs in particular, getting children into schools and helping host communities—the communities that host the refugees—to cope are so important.

Where is Mr Hendry? The fella has just asked a question and has beetled out of the Chamber. We are still having exchanges on that question. I know the hon. Gentleman is a new Member, but he must learn that a Member must not ask a question and then leave. There are continuing exchanges on the matter, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman is at least as interested in the opinions of others as he is in his own. It is quite extraordinary behaviour.

May I press the Secretary of State to advocate a presumption of denial of arms exports to countries of concern as a UK innovation that could help to save lives around the world?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have one of the strictest arms control regimes in the world. We should make sure that those processes are working effectively. My Department provides leadership in ensuring that when crises hit, the UK plays a leading role in making sure that the affected people have the adequate, long-term support they need. That is important because, as the humanitarian high-level panel said, 125 million people in the world now live through humanitarian support. That is the equivalent of a country, but they do not have a Head of State at the UN speaking up for them. That is why the rest of us need to work as hard as we can to make sure not only that they are listened to but that their needs are met.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the biggest humanitarian crisis we face is the refugee crisis. The House respects the work that the Government have done on the Syria conference and investing in the camps, but what about the refugees, particularly child refugees, who are not in the camps? We heard this week that for the first time since the crisis began women and children make up the majority of the refugees who are travelling to Greece. How many child refugees who are not in the camps do the Government propose to take?

On the broader issue, the hon. Lady will know that the UK and UNICEF set up the “No Lost Generation” initiative, which has enabled half the children affected by the Syrian crisis to be in school. More broadly, on the relocation scheme we have put in place, this is the right way to help vulnerable refugees to relocate out of the region if they need to. We are working with UN agencies to identify the most vulnerable people and are talking to them about how that can be extended to unaccompanied children. The good news is that because of the hard work of agencies such as UNICEF, which are funded by the UK, the overwhelming number of children—more than 85%—who arrive in countries such as Jordan and Lebanon unaccompanied are reunited with their families.