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Humanitarian Situation: Idlib

Volume 646: debated on Thursday 13 September 2018

The Syrian regime’s systematic and blatant disregard for international humanitarian and human rights law during the eight years long civil war has resulted in the worst humanitarian catastrophe of this century so far. An estimated 400,000 people have been killed, 13 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, 6.2 million have been internally displaced and 5.6 million refugees have fled to neighbouring countries.

The UK remains extremely concerned over escalating military action in the north-west of Syria by the Syrian regime and its international backers, putting at risk almost 3 million people, many of whom have fled to the region to seek shelter. The last few days has seen dozens of Russian and regime airstrikes against areas of Idlib. Last weekend, we received reports of three hospitals, two White Helmets offices and three ambulances being attacked and put out of service, leaving thousands with no access to medical care. Last month alone there were over 100 civilian fatalities, and since the start the start of this month, already 30,500 people have been displaced.

A disaster in Idlib is still avoidable. It is not too late for the Syrian regime and Russia to change tack. The British Government continue to call on them to work with Turkey, the UN Security Council and the rest of the international community to find a negotiated way forward to avoid the needless loss of human life. If they were genuinely concerned about the presence of terrorist groups, this is what they would do. Sadly, the experience of Aleppo, eastern Ghouta and elsewhere is that this is just a pretext, and that their real intention is to reimpose regime control through brutal military means regardless of the cost.

So, in addition to our diplomatic efforts, we are working with the UN, Turkey, humanitarian agencies and our international partners to undertake contingency planning in case the regime and Russia indeed launch a full-scale offensive against Idlib in the coming days and weeks. Our aim is to ensure that the lives of innocent Syrian civilians are saved.

For this reason today I announce that the UK will provide additional aid funding of up to £32 million for north-west Syria. This money will help to provide shelter, clean water and sanitation, mental health services, and support heath workers and facilities. This is our second uplift of emergency funding for northern Syria in recent weeks. On 17 August I announced a £10 million package of support, including the provision of emergency assistance and vital support for medical centres and mobile medical clinics.

Sadly, north-west Syria is just the latest target for the regime in eight years of devastating civil war. Over that time the UK has been at the forefront of the international response, providing life-saving and life-changing support for millions of people in places like Idlib, Aleppo, eastern Ghouta and most recently south-west Syria. We are the second largest bilateral donor and have pledged £2.71 billion to date, our largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis. Last year our support in Idlib governorate provided approximately 653,000 people with access to clean drinking water, immunised 1,335,000 children under five, helped 321,000 children access education and provided 398,000 medical consultations.

But money alone is not enough. We are working with the UN to ensure robust planning and preparation for north-west Syria. With our international partners, the UK continues to use our position in the UN Security Council and the International Syria Support Group to advocate above all else for the protection of civilians, and calls on all parties to allow humanitarian agencies unfettered access to deliver aid to those most in need.

Regardless of what happens in Idlib, this sadly will not be the end of the suffering of the Syrian people. To achieve that requires a political solution, leading to an inclusive, non-sectarian Government which can unite the country and protect the rights of all Syrians. That is why we continue to support the UN-led Geneva process aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement.