What has happened in Aleppo is a tragedy and underlines the regime’s callous tactics of siege, starvation and indiscriminate bombardment. Through the UK’s humanitarian leadership and diplomatic efforts, we are doing all we can do to support the protection of civilians and, importantly, ensure that they receive the aid they so desperately need.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question on this important issue, which gives me the chance to restate to the House the British Government’s commitment to, and long-standing support for, Syria. We have surpassed that pledge of £510 million made at the Syria conference last year. It is fair to say not only that the UK can be proud of its support, but that we have ensured that there is the right support in terms of humanitarian supplies and the focus for the region, while at the same time using our international convening power to work with others globally to ensure that we do everything we possibly can to support Syria and the region.
At the world humanitarian summit in Istanbul last year, the United Kingdom committed to the centrality of protection as a fundamental principle. How has that guided DFID’s approach to the situation in Aleppo, and what lessons will we learn from the tragedy of Aleppo for future civilian protection?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point in relation to the conference last year and how the humanitarian community can come together and not just learn lessons, but understand ways of working in times of severe crisis and of conflict. There are a number of lessons we can learn, including on agencies working together, the pooling of resources, and making sure that Governments across the world are working together strategically in terms of both resource allocation and, importantly, our convening power—the leverage we all have collectively in the international space to challenge Governments where they are inflicting harm and causing grief and devastation, and to make sure that we stand shoulder to shoulder and are united in how we tackle the challenge.
First, I commend my hon. Friend on her work on, and leadership in, Singing for Syrians; it is an incredible organisation and has been very successful in raising important funds. On making sure that the money is not wasted and goes directly into the region and in-country, we not only support, fund and collaborate with trusted partners, but, importantly, measure the outcomes that we are delivering in these essential humanitarian policies.
The Secretary of State is already talking about Aleppo in the past tense, but the besiegement is still happening right now, and the British Government must do more. What representations has she made to the Foreign Secretary about putting in place more and harder sanctions on Russia?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The situation not only in Aleppo but in Syria full stop is beyond comprehension. She asks about representations. The Foreign Secretary and I work hand in hand on international issues, and the Government are calling for greater collaboration on access to humanitarian routes into besieged areas. This is not a case of one Department versus another; it is the voice of the British Government working together to make public representations and representations behind the scenes.
Before the war, Aleppo had Syria’s largest population of Christians. Now it is estimated that 90% of them have fled. In Parliament today, Open Doors will launch its World Watch List, which shows that religious persecution is one of the key drivers of migration. What can my right hon. Friend’s Department do to help the poor, persecuted Christians of Aleppo?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the plight of persecuted Christians, especially in the context of Aleppo and Syria. She asks what we can do. This is not just a matter for DFID; the whole Government must speak out on the issue and constantly make it clear that the persecution of minorities and religious groups is totally unacceptable. That is the right thing to do. We also need to make that case within the international community and work collaboratively with donor countries and other countries across the world.
Following the announcement during the Christmas recess that DFID would be piloting the use of drones to deliver medical supplies in Tanzania and to map weather damage in Nepal, what discussions has the Secretary of State had with Ministers in the Ministry of Defence about how drone technology could be used to deliver aid or assess humanitarian need in Aleppo and other parts of Syria?
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the fact that we have been innovating and looking at new technology in relation to aid provision via drones. A lot of work is taking place in that space, and we have had a number of debates in the House about other ways of delivering humanitarian assistance, particularly in besieged areas. In the specific context of besieged areas in Syria, work is taking place and there have been discussions. I can assure the House that we are actively pursuing this issue, not just in DFID but across the Government.
The Secretary of State’s heart is very much in the right place, as we all know, but the fact is that the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of modern times is taking place in Aleppo, Raqqa and Mosul today. In contrast to the warm words that we have heard in the exchanges of the past few minutes, should we not now admit that there is precious little that we in the liberal west can do to alleviate the appalling circumstances in Aleppo unless we have the support of the United Nations and Russia?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. In terms of the work that the Government are doing, we must never lose sight of the fact that we are leading in humanitarian assistance and support. People are in desperate need, and we have the right focus on giving them all the necessary support. The other point is diplomacy. It is the job of the Government to carry on putting on the pressure, and we must use all the avenues of international diplomacy to put that pressure on, where it is needed.
I should like to focus on Idlib in north-western Syria, where civilians who have fled Aleppo are the main target of Government strikes. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how DFID is supporting those wounded and displaced civilians?
I thank the hon. Lady for her focus on the humanitarian issue in Syria, which is of course associated with Idlib as well. She asks about the work that is taking place. There are extensive humanitarian efforts in terms of relief, food and shelter in what is a desperate situation. As she and the whole House will know, I have spent a great deal of time working with all the agencies that we are directly supporting and funding to ensure that supplies are getting through, and they are. I would add the caveat that this is taking place in a challenging environment and climate. We are getting supplies through, but it is increasingly difficult to do so.