Let me take this opportunity to put on record that the aid workers who have been attacked in South Sudan are very much in our thoughts. Aid workers should never be a target, and I am sure that the whole House will want to send our good wishes to them and their families at this difficult time.
I want to update the House on the United Kingdom’s support for the people of Syria. I am keenly aware that Members are deeply concerned about the level of suffering experienced by millions of Syrians. The United Kingdom has shown, and will continue to show, leadership in the international humanitarian response.
In the eighth year of the conflict, the plight of the Syrian people remains grave. The Syrian regime appears to have no intention of ending the suffering of its own people, although the opposition have placed no conditions on peace negotiations. The barbaric attack in Douma on innocent civilians, including young children, was yet another example of the regime’s disregard for its responsibility to protect civilians. Some may seek to cast doubt over the attack and who was responsible for it, but intelligence and first-hand accounts from non-governmental organisations and aid workers are clear. The World Health Organisation received reports that hundreds of patients had arrived at Syrian heath facilities on the night of 7 April with
“signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals.”
Regime helicopters were seen over Douma on that evening, and the opposition do not operate helicopters or use barrel bombs.
Assad and his backers—Russia and Iran—will attempt to block every diplomatic effort to hold the regime accountable for these reprehensible and illegal tactics. That was why the United Kingdom, together with our United States and French allies, took co-ordinated, limited and targeted action against the regime’s chemical weapons capabilities to alleviate humanitarian suffering. Britain is clear: we will defend the global rules-based system that keeps us all safe. I welcome the support that we have received from Members and from the international community. We will work with the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to create a new independent mechanism to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons attacks. We will work with France on the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons, and we will work with the EU to establish a new sanctions regime against those responsible for chemical weapons use.
In wielding its UN veto 12 times, Russia has given a green light to Assad to perpetrate human rights atrocities against his own people. This is a regime that has used nearly 70,000 barrel bombs on civilian targets; a regime that tries to starve its people into submission, although the UN Security Council has called for unhindered humanitarian access; a regime that has continued to obstruct aid to eastern Ghouta and removes medical supplies from the rare aid convoys that do get in; a regime that deploys rape as a weapon of war, with nearly eight out of 10 people detained by it reported to have suffered sexual violence; and a regime that deliberately bombs schools and hospitals, and targets aid workers and emergency responders as they race to the scene to help.
We must support the innocent victims of these atrocities. All warring parties must comply with the Geneva conventions on the protected status of civilians and other non-combatants. There must be an immediate ceasefire, and safe access for aid workers and medical staff to do their jobs.
We also want to adapt what we do to the new reality of this war. That is why I have announced the new creating hope in conflict fund with USAID, to work with the private sector to find new technology to save lives in conflict zones. Britain will establish a humanitarian innovation hub to develop new capabilities to hinder regimes that appear determined to slay innocent men, women and children.
Our aid has made a difference. Despite the horrific violence meted out by Assad, we have been able to prevent mass starvation and large-scale outbreaks of disease. When we are able to reach the people who need our help, our aid works. We are the second largest bilateral donor to the humanitarian response in Syria. Since 2012, our support has provided over 22 million monthly food rations, almost 10 million medical consultations and over 9 million relief packages. But the suffering continues. Some 13.1 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance. Over half of Syria’s population has been displaced by violence, with nearly 6 million seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. In north-west Syria, an intensification of hostilities and the arrival of an additional 60,000 people from eastern Ghouta is stretching scarce resources. Today, 65% of the population of Idlib—over 1.2 million people—have been forced from their homes.
At last week’s conference, I announced that the UK will provide at least £450 million this year, and £300 million next year, to alleviate extreme suffering in Syria and to provide vital support in neighbouring countries. This will be in addition to our support for the second EU facility for refugees in Turkey. We have now committed £2.71 billion since 2012, our largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis.
Our pledge will help to keep medical facilities open to save lives. We will deploy protective equipment to keep medics and rescue workers safe. We will deploy antidote stocks to treat any further victims of chemical weapons. We will train doctors and nurses to treat trauma wounds. We will focus on education, making sure that every child in the region has access to quality education even in the most trying circumstances, on steps to protect civilians and on ensuring that those responsible for attacks face justice.
We will help to support the millions of Syrian refugees sheltering in neighbouring countries. Our friends in the region—Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey in particular—continue to demonstrate extraordinary generosity by opening their doors to millions fleeing the conflict in Syria. We must continue to offer them our fullest support. Last week, I also announced that the UK will host an international conference with Jordan in London later this year. It will showcase Jordan’s economic reform plans and aspiration to build a thriving private sector, and mobilise international investment.
There are refugees who cannot be supported in the region: people requiring urgent medical treatment, survivors of violence and torture, and women and children at risk of exploitation. We will work closely with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to identify those most at risk and bring them to the UK. We are helping but, with Russia’s support, Assad continues to bomb his own people, and that is why so many continue to die and so many have fled their homes.
There can be no military solution to the Syrian civil war. As UN special representative Staffan de Mistura said in Brussels last week, the Assad regime risks a pyrrhic victory unless it and its backers engage in a genuine political process. Only this can deliver reconciliation and the restoration of Syria as a prosperous, secure and stable state. The UK will continue to support the efforts of the UN, under the Geneva process, to this end.
The obstacles remain serious. The regime has shown no inclination to engage seriously so far, and the Security Council remains divided. But the international community cannot, and should not, resign itself to failure. The costs for Syria, for the region and for the wider international rules-based system are too great. The Foreign Secretary was in Paris last Thursday to discuss with key partners how we should intensify our efforts to bring this conflict, and its causes, to an end. While we actively work to find a political solution, the UK will continue to stand alongside the people of Syria and the region to do what we can to alleviate human suffering and to demand immediate access for aid workers to all those who need our help. I commend this statement to the House.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, and I thank her for giving me advance sight of it. Let me join her in expressing my anger at the attacks on aid workers in South Sudan. Let me also congratulate her on her appointment today as Minister for Women and Equalities.
The war in Syria has gone on for more than eight years, and 100,000 civilians have died, 1 million have been injured and 12 million displaced. For all our differences, I believe that we in this House are united in our desire to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Syrian people and, as fellow humans, to help to bring an end to their suffering.
Turning first to money, I welcome the fact that last week the UK pledged £250 million more in new funding to help Syria. That can sound like a lot, but the truth is that last week’s pledging conference in Brussels raised less than half the $9 billion needed. It also raised less than was raised at a similar conference this time last year. Indeed, Mark Lowcock, the UN’s emergency relief co-ordinator, has warned that we have a $5 billion shortfall and that the UN will now have to make hard choices. The Prime Minister of Lebanon, where 25% of the population are refugees, has warned that his country remains “a big refugee camp”. Without enough funding, tensions are rising in Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan, so will the Secretary of State say more about how the UK intends to help to fill that remaining shortfall and about what plans exist to increase our own contribution? Given that delays have been reported in the United States’ pledge and that pledges from the Gulf states have so far been less than was hoped, what assurances can she give the House that she is putting extra pressure on those others also to come to the table?
It is not all about the money, however—it is not enough just to get the chequebook out. Without a political solution, our aid budget will only ever have a limited impact, so what are the Government doing to show political leadership in securing a ceasefire? After they ignored the UN and joined US airstrikes, will the Government now recommit to a joint multilateral solution to peace through the UN, even if that seems difficult? Let us remember that, a fortnight ago, this House debated the decision by the Prime Minister to bomb Syria without even coming to this House for a vote. We were told then that the action was intended to alleviate human suffering. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether her Department ever carried out an assessment of the likely humanitarian impact of the airstrikes before they were authorised by the Prime Minister?
Opening the chequebook overseas counts for nothing unless we also live up to our responsibilities to Syrian refugees here in the UK. The Government promised to take 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020, yet the UK is taking just 4% of the number of refugees received by Germany, and the numbers across European countries are dwarfed by those in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. We are not even able to hit the Dubs amendment target of 3,000 children, and that is pitiful.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) also reported recently that his constituents were unable to host and help Syrian refugees because of the logistical and bureaucratic hurdles set up by the Home Office. That pattern is being replicated up and down the country. If the Government can prioritise targets to remove people from this country, why are we not able to hit a simple target to let in a handful of refugee children from countries such as Syria? Will the Secretary of State please sit down with the new Home Secretary and urge him to remove these barriers straight away so that we can, at the very least, hit the UK’s very modest targets for resettling Syrian refugees and children?
I thank the hon. Lady for her warm words at the start of her response. We are doing many things to ensure that we and the international community have the funding we need to alleviate the immense suffering being endured by the Syrian people. The first part of our contribution is obviously asking others to lean in, so my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East and I have been asking other nations to do that. We obviously heavily co-ordinate our efforts with UN agencies and with their asks. We are also leading the charge on reforming the humanitarian system. We lose about $1 billion a year globally because the system does not work efficiently, so if we can get it to work better, we will have more money to deploy where we need it.
We are also helping in other areas. To give one example, I was recently in Jordan looking at the costs of healthcare; particular prices must be paid for vaccines for refugees. We are looking at the specific cost issues for the countries that are shouldering an immense burden and at what we can do to try to alleviate those costs or to get more sensible pricing systems in place.
We are also working with the multilateral system; as the hon. Lady will know, the capital replenishment of the World Bank was a huge success for the UK’s development goals. That formed part of our desire to ensure that the countries that are shouldering burdens, specifically Jordan and Lebanon, have their contributions taken into account when decisions are being made. I am pleased to be working with the president of the World Bank and Bill Gates on being human capital champions and on ensuring that all multilaterals are making decisions about which nations are stepping up and not only funding their own people, but supporting refugees from other nations.
The hon. Lady mentioned the UN, and we all know about the problems we have with the Security Council and Russia’s veto. We must find other ways of working and to encourage people to come to the table, and we have to put pressure on Russia and Iran to play their parts in getting the situation resolved.
As for the air strikes, their purpose was to degrade and deter the use of chemical weapons, as the hon. Lady knows. The vast majority of Members across the House recognise why they were a good thing for the people of Syria, for our own safety and for trying to ensure international norms. One reason why we are not able to share information with the House in advance of such strikes is that we can only make the judgment to which she referred when we know what the targets are. We can only make a judgment about whether a strike will be legal, effective in its objective and compliant with our targeting policies if we know what the targets are, and we cannot share that information with the House for understandable reasons.
We have chosen to support millions in the region. We are taking a number of refugees into the UK, but we are supporting millions of individuals not just with the basics of life, but by trying to ensure that they have some kind of future, particularly with our investment in education. Since I became Secretary of State, I have set up several new groups with the Home Office, both recently and last year, to consider issues in which there is Home Office interest, including the administration of the situation of refugees. For example, if people caught up in the Rohingya crisis have relatives here, we are trying to be proactive and to ensure that we are doing everything we can to get sensible things to happen.
I must express disappointment that, while rightly damning the monsters in the Syrian Government, my right hon. Friend still has nothing to say about the maniacs—the jihadists—who lead most of the armed opposition. Can she tell us whether this aid will be supplied only to displaced Syrians outside Syria or, if it will be supplied to Syrians within Syrian territory, whether it will be supplied to Assad-controlled territory, to territory controlled by the armed jihadist opposition or to territory controlled by the only people we have ever been able to support militarily—the Kurdish-led Syrian democratic forces? Those forces are currently under attack from Turkey, which she has just described as one of our friends in the region.
Turkey is a key NATO ally—I hope my right hon. Friend would want me to describe it as such—and it is supporting an enormous number of refugees. I very much understand his concern on this issue. The way we distribute aid is based on need, and we obviously have protections to ensure it is distributed as it should be. The main obstacle to that happening is access to particular areas, but aid is not being given to terrorist groups and it is not being abused in that way.
Most of the armed opposition are now dead. Back when we had the vote on the Floor of the House in 2013, there were 12 groups that nobody could describe as extremists or terrorists, and they were the best hope for a peaceful and good outcome to this situation. We are now faced with a situation in which Assad will continue his campaign, despite no restrictions being put on negotiations by the opposition groups. The only peaceful outcome in Syria will be with the consent of all parties, which I am afraid does not point to Assad remaining there.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement. I wish her well with her new ministerial responsibilities, and I associate the Scottish National party with her words on the aid workers in South Sudan.
The Syrian conflict is making the Schleswig-Holstein question look positively simple by comparison, but there are a number of questions that I hope the Secretary of State will be able to help me with this evening. Can she tell us a bit more about the new sanctions she has announced? Will they target the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre and the network of shady bank accounts connected to it? Will she seek to address the large imbalance between the number of UK and EU sanctions and the number of sanctions brought in by the US Treasury? The US Treasury has almost 300 sanctions, but I understand there are fewer than 30 from the United Kingdom.
Can the Secretary of State tell us how she plans to strengthen the chemical weapons convention and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons? Isopropyl alcohol and hexamine are required to make sarin gas, but neither of those two components is covered by the chemical weapons convention. Are there plans to address that? Can she tell us a bit more about the US aid imitative she mentioned in her statement and how much new money will go to it?
The UN Security Council is tasked with underpinning global security, and it worries us all that it is now effectively an entirely broken instrument. Although, like the Secretary of State, I hold no candle for the Russian veto, if the veto is dead for Moscow, it is dead for every permanent member of the Security Council. Given that with the airstrikes the UK Government have essentially acted, whether we like it or not, outwith the norms she says the Government have acted to defend, what is the long-term plan to bring back some decorum, some decency and some order to the UN Security Council?
It is always in the interest of our proceedings that they should be entirely intelligible to those who attend or who watch on television. If memory serves me correctly, only three people knew the answer to the Schleswig-Holstein question: one died, a second went mad and the third forgot the answer.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I hope to do rather better in my reply to the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald).
Whether through financial levers or through having other options in our humanitarian toolbox, we need to be able to do more in future. When I was a Defence Minister, I was fed up of coming to the House to say why we could not do airdrops; as Secretary of State for International Development, I am fed up of coming to the House to say why we cannot protect people better. We are a smart nation. We have great brains in our armed forces and in our civil contingencies, and we work very closely with our US allies. We have to come up with some better capabilities, and I am determined that we will do so.
We also want to focus on financial levers, and we are working with the EU and other international partners to develop them. I cannot give details on that today, but it is in train. I will update the House at a later date.
The US aid initiative is a joint partnership with the UK. Initially, we are each putting in £5 million to invite competition. We are asking people to come in with ideas, and we will then look at and develop those ideas, which could be about protecting civilians, getting power or water supplies back up or getting aid to individual people.
Additionally, we will set up a humanitarian innovation hub in the UK. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East will lead on that, and it will use the best brains from across many sectors to come up with solutions that we can use and that may help our defence and civil contingency capabilities.
On the UN, huge efforts are being made by our dedicated team in New York. I have spent time with them and I have visited them, and they are making a sterling effort. We need to keep pressure on Russia and Iran, which is the only way we will get things back to how we want them to work. In the meantime, we have to find other ways of making sure that we adhere to international norms. We will all be safer if that is the case.
Expenditure from that fund has already been put into Idlib in particular. I am looking to do more with DFID’s funding in Idlib and in other areas that are next in the firing line. We still have some access to four such areas, and I can write to let my hon. Friend know exactly what expenditure has come out of the CSSF.
I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. I associate myself with her comments about South Sudan, and I put on the record my deep concern about today’s situation in Kabul, where we have seen significant loss of life, including journalists and others.
The Secretary of State talks about the importance of humanitarian access. Given the issues we have seen with Turkey’s operations in and around Afrin and Turkey’s role in controlling many of the crucial border points around Idlib where, unfortunately, we expect there to be significant military action in the near future, what conversations have she and her ministerial colleagues had with the Turkish Government at the highest levels to ensure that those border posts are open for humanitarian access?
My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East has spoken to the Turkish Government and to a number of individuals at the UN. We want this situation to de-escalate. It is, at the very least, a distraction in the fight against Daesh, as I reported to the House in the quarterly counter-Daesh update a few weeks ago. We remain concerned, and we will continue our diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the situation.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that, by helping refugees closer to Syria, rather than inviting them here, we can help many, many more people? As those refugees will obviously want, in due course, to return to their country, is there any news on possible progress on a diplomatic solution?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are able to help millions of individuals, and it is not just about providing a safe haven; it is also about providing them with education and skills training to ensure that when they are able to return to their homes—and we hope that will be sooner rather than later—they are equipped to pick up their lives as swiftly as possible.
The last chapter of the history of Syria’s destruction has already been written: it is the complete annihilation of Idlib by barrel bombs delivered by Assad’s murderous forces, backed up by the equally murderous Russians. What can the UK Government do to try to avoid tens of thousands of additional deaths in Idlib? Will the Government expand the family reunion scheme and increase the number of Syrian refugees who are able to come to the UK, to protect more vulnerable people?
The right hon. Gentleman is right, in that we think Idlib and some other areas are going to be next hit. We have done a tremendous amount to forward deploy equipment to protect individuals—everything from sandbags to personal protection equipment. He will understand that in some areas access is extremely difficult and there are enormous numbers of people. Our priority is to protect those individuals who can protect others—the civilian defence workers and medics in those areas. Of course, we urge those who are in control of those events, who do not have to bomb their own people, to desist from doing so and to come to the negotiating table.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her appointment as Minister for Women and Equalities, in addition to her current job, and I know she feels passionately about that. An estimated 478 health facilities have either been destroyed or attacked since the conflict began. What is she doing to make sure that vital medical care can be given?
In addition to the protection for those individuals I have just mentioned, part of our funding will be going to train thousands of medics in advanced trauma care. It is vital that we keep health services running, provide medical consultations and keep pushing for access for medical supplies. I am afraid that my hon. Friend is right to say that hospitals, medical facilities and aid convoys containing medical equipment have been targeted by the regime.
I congratulate the right hon. Lady on her new responsibilities. May I use this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of St Bernadette’s parish in my constituency, which is developing resources to enable it to host a Syrian refugee family? In the context of the debate about the Windrush scandal and a “hostile environment”, many people reasonably ask why, following the Dubs amendment in the House of Lords, this country is not fulfilling its moral responsibility to Syrian child refugees. How many Syrian child refugees have we taken and what are her plans for the future?
On the resettlement of vulnerable individuals, we have taken about half our commitment to date—just over 10,000 individuals. I fully appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s urging us to do all we can to ensure people are safe. We have chosen to prioritise those who are extremely vulnerable and in need of a particular health treatment, or those who are vulnerable for some other reason, but we are supporting millions of refugees. We are the major contributor to that, taking care not just of people’s basic needs, but of education. I recently visited some of the education facilities in countries in the region, and Britain should be very proud of what we are doing to assist people. I visited a school that is particularly focused on children who have disabilities and have been injured in the shelling in Syria. UK aid is doing great work. We are helping not just a few thousand individuals in the UK but millions in the region.
In her opening statement, my right hon. Friend referred to the “barbaric attack in Douma on innocent civilians, including young children”. Last week, in the margins of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Mr Slutsky, who is Mr Putin’s spokesman on earth, whined that the Russians only faced obligations, not rights. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Russian Federation has absolutely no right either to use or promote the use of chemical weapons and that if the Russians want to be accepted in the civilised world, they should join the UK and others in seeking a political solution, rather than exacerbating the suffering?
I could not agree more. There is a very good reason why these weapons have been outlawed: they cause immense suffering. This regime is choosing not only to bomb its own people, but to exterminate them in the most cruel ways imaginable. Any nation that facilitates that should be ashamed of itself. I do not think the Russian people would approve of that kind of behaviour, and the Russian Government should look to their conscience and to the security of their own people, because by breaking these international norms they are putting their own people in danger, too.
The statement is welcome, and I hope it will be followed by further regular and frequent updates. The Secretary of State knows that many of us are pushing for far stronger actions than sanctions to deal with the full spectrum of Assad’s atrocities, but when she talks about “A new sanctions regime against those responsible for chemical weapons use”, do we firmly put Iran and Syria among those “responsible”? Will she consider a wider sanctions regime, covering siege, starvation and deliberate targeting of civilians, as well as chemical weapons use?
Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. He will understand why we do not want to make announcements until we are ready to act on these matters, but we are looking closely at what we think would be effective and what will deter future action. He is right to say that chemical weapons are against international norms, but barrel bombing children is against international norms, too.
Given that we had an opportunity in 2013 to make a real difference but it was opportunistically rejected, may I say to my right hon. Friend that she should not take any advice from the Labour party? To ask her a specific question, some 500 medical centre and general practice buildings have been destroyed; what is her Department doing—is there anything it can do—to restore medical aid in Syria?
My hon. Friend will know that the most appalling things have happened. Even when co-ordinates have been given over with a view to ensuring that strikes avoid medical centres, they have been used to attack those sites. We saw the report of the surgeon David Nott, who was conducting an operation on an injured Syrian child down the line from London and who found that the signal he was using to perform that operation was used to target a hospital. This is why we have launched these new challenges, calling on people who have expertise, technical know-how and great ideas to enable us to be ahead of individuals who choose to unleash this barbaric behaviour on their own people. We want to do better. We want to have more options in the future to protect people.
Last week, members of the Foreign Affairs Committee were in New York for discussions with the United Nations Secretary-General, members of the Security Council and other UN member states. It is clear that far from ignoring the UN, our ambassador Karen Pierce and her colleagues are making prodigious efforts to get progress on Syria. The Secretary of State referred to the 12 Russian vetoes. Given that there will continue to be Russian vetoes, what are we going to do when Assad carries out mass murder of civilians in Idlib? Are we going to walk by on the other side or will we have another effort, with our coalition partners, France and the United States and others, to stop these atrocities?
The hon. Gentleman will know that one reason why we took action against the use of chemical weapons a few weeks ago—as well as to degrade Assad’s capability—was to deter that kind of action in future. The hon. Gentleman’s support and strong stance on humanitarian issues have strengthened that message. The fact that Members from all parties have condemned not only the chemical weapons attacks but the use of conventional weapons against civilians, and have expressed our resolve that those things should not happen, will have helped that message. The hon. Gentleman will understand why I cannot talk today about specific future action that we or our allies might take, but Assad and his backers should be under no illusions: we will not tolerate such breaches of international norms.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and congratulate her on her new ministerial responsibilities. What assessment has she made of the recent levels of religious persecution in Syria? What steps is she taking to ensure that persecuted religious minorities have access to humanitarian aid?
That is an important issue. In the new development offer that I unveiled a couple of weeks ago, I included new programming specifically in respect of the protection of civilians being persecuted for their religious beliefs. A great deal of protection can be afforded to people who are being persecuted—whether it is for their religious beliefs or they are women and children, who are particularly vulnerable—by having good reporting mechanisms in the way we deliver aid. If the recipients of aid know who to go to when, for example, aid is being withheld, we will be able to stop these things much quicker, so we are looking into that.
I supported the action against the use of chemical weapons the other week, and I consider any failure to take action to be appeasement in the face of the atrocities committed by the Assad regime and the increasing levels of aggression from the Russian state. My question relates to the White Helmets, who have played a significant part in saving tens of thousands of lives in Syria. What support will the Government continue to give to the White Helmets, and in what form?
First, I thank the hon. Lady for the stance that she took. The sentiments I expressed in my response to the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) also apply to her and to many other Opposition Members. The White Helmets have done a phenomenal job, and I very much regret some of the false propaganda that has been put around about their work. We are supplying them with financial assistance, and as I said, we are looking to forward deploy as much protective equipment as we can. It is people like that, along with medical teams, who we really need to ensure are protected in the four areas that I think will be targeted next.
Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to Syria’s neighbours that have taken in refugees? Will she set out what support she is offering to those countries to undertake what must be an enormous humanitarian task?
In addition to the aid that we are supplying and, as I mentioned, the other things we are trying to do to help those countries with the costs that they are having to bear, we need to help them in other ways. That is why we have announced the conference with Jordan—an amazing country with a huge amount to offer. We want to help Jordan to grow its economy, as well as to enable it to continue the tremendous generosity and hospitality that it is showing to refugees.
I thank the Secretary of State for her statement and for highlighting so very well the suffering of millions of Syrians. The Syrian Christian population is estimated by Open Doors to have halved since 2011, down from 2 million to 1 million, and the number of displaced in Syria stands at 6.7 million. Will the Secretary of State confirm that DFID aid has been delivered to where the Christian minorities are now located? Has it reached large numbers of the displaced?
As I have said, we are completely reliant on what access we can get to certain areas. We cannot get aid convoys into some areas into which we wish to get them. I assure the hon. Gentleman that in the mechanisms and partners with which we work to deliver aid on the ground, we are very conscious of these issues and we are strengthening those systems all the time. I have met individuals who are particularly concerned about protecting those who may be being persecuted for their religious beliefs. As I said, I am announcing some new programming to give us more options on that front.
Last week, like my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), I was at the Council of Europe, where I spoke about Jordan’s effort to educate so many Syrian refugees. What is the Secretary of State going to do to help with the crisis in early years education in that country?
We are doing a range of things. As a general principle, I am keen that, whether in respect of humanitarian or more traditional forms of economic development, we join up the different programmes that we run—that we join up our maternal health provision with our early years provision and our education provision—and that we build systems as we go. There are many things that we can do to strengthen the healthcare and education systems of those countries in the region that are hosting refugees. I hope that one day we will be able to make similar contributions and give similar technical advice to Syria.
As a Government, we should resettle the people who are most vulnerable and those with the most complex needs, but the fact is that to go beyond that risks diverting resources from literally thousands of individuals and driving people towards the human traffickers and the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the strategy to support those in the region will allow Syrian refugees to go home safely when it is safe for them to do so?
Yes, and my hon. Friend enables me to make a further point, which is that many of the refugees who are resident in these host countries are not there passively receiving aid, but are actively contributing to those societies. They are running businesses and engaging in economic activity. We need to ensure that people who have been there for many years and may remain for some time have the best possible future. It is right that we in the UK take in those who need additional protections and additional care and support.
The Syrian civil war is obviously controversial, as is the UK’s international aid budget. What more can the Department do to promote the good aid work that the UK is doing in respect of the Syrian conflict? As the Secretary of State mentioned, we are the second largest bilateral donor, after the United States.
The public are actually very supportive of humanitarian relief; it is something that they support uncontroversially. I know that because I see how much they give voluntarily through Disasters Emergency Committee appeals and so forth. We have to give the public greater confidence in what we do with their money. It is not that people are ungenerous or that they do not believe that the UK has an actual interest in building trading partners for the future; they are just a bit suspicious about how we have been going about it. That is why a couple of weeks ago I set out a new development offer that not only delivers the global goals better, but explicitly explains why that is in the UK’s interests.
What progress has been made on working with smaller partners in Syria, such as the very brave medics supported by the Hands Up Foundation who are working in Idlib at this very minute? Will the Secretary of State join me in reminding Government and Opposition Members that Singing for Syrians is not just for Christmas and that the money donated now can go straight to Idlib?
May I first pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all that she and other colleagues have done through this amazing organisation? I know how keenly she feels the plight of those on the ground when there has been an attack in an area in which some of her team are working. The Department has made good progress with the launch of the small charities scheme, but I would like us to go further. Other Members have mentioned organisations in their own constituencies. We have tremendous organisations up and down the country that contribute a huge amount not just in financial support and aid, but in friendship to those in the developing world.
I welcome the statement by the Secretary of State, not least what she said about the work that we are doing with our allies given the way that, on the one hand, Russia and its apologists across the world have been saying that we should respect the UN, while, on the other, making sure that the UN cannot do anything effective. Can she reassure me and tell me how, in the long term, we can bring to justice some of these people who have committed such appalling crimes, given that Russia is likely to continue to veto any reference to the International Criminal Court?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. One of the sessions that I took part in at the Brussels conference was with civil society and we looked at how we will collect evidence and hold people to account for their actions. Some of our funding will support an international initiative to do just that, and it is vital that we do so. We should do everything in our power to stop the sorts of things that we have seen over the past eight years happening ever again.
I can see that I will have to deploy my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) to make the case for what we do. We do sometimes focus on that number of 0.7%, but we should actually focus on what that money does. If we can explain this better to the British public, who enable us to help people such as Syria’s children, they would be very proud of what the funding does.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on her appointment as the Women and Equalities Minister. Does she agree that protecting women and girls in Syria and in the region should be a priority, and will she set out her Department’s specific action in that regard?
The needs of women and girls are at the heart of our approach to humanitarian efforts. We have enshrined that in a tri-departmental policy with the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. It is vital, particularly in conflict and protracted crises, that we ensure that women and girls are shaping our humanitarian effort and that their needs are absolutely at the centre of what we do, which means that they are at the heart of our doctrine.
Does my right hon. Friend agree with Haian Dukhan, a PhD student at the University of St Andrews, who left Syria in 2012 because of the two evils of President Assad and Daesh and who described our action in Syria as “necessary and legitimate” because Assad had crossed a red line? Does she share my view that our response to the crisis in Syria also confirms that our aid budget is in our strategic national interest?
Clearly, we are involved in a lot of economic development to produce the trading partners for the UK of the future, but what we do on the humanitarian front is the hallmark of a great nation, and we should be very proud of that. I know that the British public are very proud of our humanitarian work.
I recently met the Reverend Dr Grant Barclay of Orchardhill Parish Church in Giffnock and he said that many of his congregation have felt deeply affected by the humanitarian situation in Syria and want to help. How best can church and indeed community groups support the work that the Secretary of State and her Department are doing in response to this conflict?
There are many ways that they can help. Clearly, many community groups raise funds and give aid directly. There is also a lot we can do to show our support, particularly when groups such as the White Helmets are under attack. We can ensure that the truth is out there; we can confront people who decide to peddle falsehoods about what is actually happening on the ground; and we can show our support. Ultimately, though, it is the practical needs that we must address. I hope that, if we can develop the small charities scheme, groups such as my hon. Friend mentioned will be able to benefit from UK aid money.