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Volume 621: debated on Wednesday 22 February 2017

The situation in Syria is devastating and appalling. The UN estimates that 13.5 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance, and 1.5 million are living in siege-like conditions. There are 4.9 million refugees in the region. The UK, as my hon. Friend will know, has been at the forefront of the international effort in providing support to the region and to Syria directly.

I commend that leading effort. Can the Secretary of State assure me that our aid is reaching Christian refugees who face jeopardy because, sometimes, they avoid the official camps for fear of persecution? Those who end up in those camps face further persecution because of their faith.

My hon. Friend is right to raise that matter. It is a really important issue given the movement of migrants and refugees. Ensuring the safety of refugees and protecting them from persecution is absolutely at the heart of the UK’s involvement, especially with regard to the aid and support that we provide in Syria and the wider region. I can assure him that all the agencies and partners with which we work pay particular attention to monitoring the welfare and safety of minorities, including those of Christians.

I recently had a very helpful meeting with one of the DFID Ministers about the situation in the berm—an area of no man’s land between Jordan and Syria. I am aware of how much the Government are doing with aid, but will the Secretary of State please update us on the humanitarian situation in the berm and what else is being done and could be done to help those refugees?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising the appalling situation in the berm; it is a devastating situation. She asked about what we are doing. Obviously, work has taken place through our agencies and partners, and more directly with the Jordanian Government. We are working with them in a very difficult, hostile terrain and territory in order to ensure that people and children are being protected and that they are getting access to food and water, which, frankly, is a major priority in the berm.

Last week, I met a number of Syrian refugees along with the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan); we were guests of Oxfam in Jordan. The Secretary of State was also in Jordan not that long ago. Will she tell us what plans she and the Government have to continue to support Jordan in its magnificent efforts—a country of 9 million people that has taken in and housed 1.5 million Syrian refugees? What more can we do to help Jordan?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. She has seen at first hand the incredible and remarkable work in Jordan—a host country and a host community. It is under great strain and pressure, particularly economically, but also in providing the vital support that is needed. What more are we going to do? Post the London conference is the Brussels conference. I have been clear—this is exactly why I was in Jordan—about the additional support that we will give to Jordan, not just as the UK but through the international community, with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and through many of the reforms taking place in Jordan itself.

9. At DFID questions on 11 January, the Secretary of State told my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) that her Department was actively pursuing the possible use of drones to drop emergency aid in Syria. Will she update the House on what progress has been made since then? (908738)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. In besieged areas inside Syria, there are enormous problems of access to humanitarian aid and things of that nature. On drones, we are examining all options for getting aid into besieged areas in Syria. That includes the possibility of using drones to deliver aid directly.

The Government should be congratulated on being the second biggest donor in the area—second only to the United States. We can look after more people closer to home than we can in this country. What is the Secretary of State doing to encourage other European countries to match our level of support for the region?

My hon. Friend raises a really important point. We are constantly calling on other donor countries to step up and effectively pull their fingers out by putting more money into the international system. The Government are leading reform of the international system: we are challenging donor countries to be much more efficient and effective in how we distribute aid and get resources directly to people in the country and in the region.

Like the Secretary of State, I met thousands of children in the camps of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey who had fled Syria; I saw etched on their faces the fear they had experienced while in Syria. As others have done, I welcome the work in those host countries, but is the Secretary of State not embarrassed that the Government have turned their back on our obligation to take 3,000 unaccompanied children who have fled Syria and are in Europe?

I, too, have met and spoken to hundreds of such children and seen and heard from them directly the trauma that they have experienced in travelling from Syria into the neighbouring countries. The hon. Gentleman cannot justify saying that we are not helping those children: we take the welfare of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children more than seriously. We have made very clear commitments to those children and that is what we are doing. We have committed to resettling 20,000 Syrian nationals through the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme and 3,000 of the most vulnerable children. That is on top of being the second largest bilateral donor to Syria and inside the region.

I thank the Secretary of State for all the work she is doing in Syria, but I draw her attention to the humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad region, where around 450,000 children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition. Can she assure me that the Government’s response to this crisis is purely humanitarian, and does she think the UK is acting in good time?

I am sure that the hon. Lady meant also to refer to Syria—it was probably a slip of the tongue—as that is the question on the Order Paper. She probably did, but I did not hear it.

I thank the hon. Lady for speaking about the humanitarian crises in Syria and in the Lake Chad region; she is right to mention the awful situation there. UK aid is clearly directed and focused on providing food, water and shelter to give protection to the most vulnerable people who need that life-saving support at this very difficult time.