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Syria: Provision of Equipment

Volume 624: debated on Wednesday 26 April 2017

The situation in Syria remains extremely fragile. An estimated 400,000 people have been killed since the war began six years ago, many of them innocent civilians. The Assad regime continues to use the most barbaric military methods and tactics available, including the use of indiscriminate artillery fire, chemical weapons and barrel bombs. The UK remains committed to doing all it can to promote a political settlement to end the conflict, to alleviate the humanitarian suffering, and to protect UK national security through countering terrorist and extremist threats.

In June 2016, my predecessor, the right hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond), issued written statements setting out our plans to give equipment to Syria Civil Defence and the Free Syrian Police teams operating in opposition-controlled areas of Syria. The UK subsequently distributed the equipment to both teams along with comprehensive training packages. Syria Civil Defence teams have now saved over 70,000 lives by rescuing civilians trapped in damaged buildings, fighting fires and providing emergency first aid. The Free Syrian Police continues its valuable work to prevent looting and to support the distribution of humanitarian aid. Other international donors have contributed to both initiatives.

The UK intends to continue its support to these programmes by increasing their communications capability and mobility of the teams, providing more targeted operational equipment—whether for search and rescue, or tracing explosives—as well as building up the capacity of these organisations to deliver on the ground. We intend to give £2 million in equipment to Syria Civil Defence and £4 million in equipment to the Free Syrian Police. For Syria Civil Defence, the list of equipment includes cutting and rescue tools; personal protective gear including helmets; uniforms; communications equipment; medical supplies; equipment for the disposal of unexploded ordinance; office supplies; vehicles; and fire-fighting equipment. For the Free Syrian Police, the list of equipment includes vehicles; communications kit; traffic signs and cones; uniforms; and generators. We expect to spend £19 million this financial year on both programmes of support.

The use of these funds to cover the costs of the equipment has been approved by members of the middle east and north Africa conflict, stability and security fund (CSSF) regional board. The list of equipment has been scrutinised to ensure that the provision of this equipment is consistent with export controls and complies with our international obligations. Recipients have been carefully selected to prevent equipment being given to those involved in extremist activities or human rights abuses. All equipment transfers are approved by HMG immediately before delivery. All our assistance is carefully calibrated and legal, is aimed at alleviating human suffering and supporting moderate groups and is regularly monitored and evaluated. We monitor the situation on the ground carefully.