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Volume 748: debated on Wednesday 30 October 2013

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to address the humanitarian crisis caused by the ongoing conflict in Syria.

My Lords, despite the admirable diplomatic activity of recent weeks, the humanitarian costs of the ongoing conflict in Syria show no sign of abatement. As violence expands exponentially and cruelty abounds, no one can fail to be moved by the scale of the crisis, which is nothing short of a catastrophe.

This debate seeks neither to underestimate the efforts of Her Majesty’s Government to rise to the challenge of humanitarian support, nor to question their resolve to work towards a political resolution of the civil war. Rather, I hope that it will give an opportunity for your Lordships’ House to focus its expert attention on the humanitarian costs of the conflict and the humanitarian imperative of bringing the conflict to an end, and, in so doing, of checking that every stone is being turned in the cause of compassion and the pursuit of peace.

I am honoured that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, whose personal commitment to these issues is an inspiration to your Lordships’ House, will be replying on behalf of the Government. The Government are to be applauded for orchestrating the UK’s largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis. The United Kingdom is at the forefront of the humanitarian battle, leading others in the provision of strategic, targeted humanitarian aid. Such decisive, compassionate action is an important step towards healing the wounds of history that many of our past interventions in the Middle East have caused, which were powerfully explained by the noble Lord, Lord Bates, in a previous debate.

However, are we content that the humanitarian battle is being fought with the ferocity, skill, determination, sense of urgency and application of resource that are necessary in order to win this war on human suffering? I ask the Minister, therefore, for his views on how other Governments can be most effectively pressed to commit to the pledging conference that the United Nations Secretary-General has called in January 2014, and then to fully and speedily honour their commitments. Syria needs more than the current 50% return. The cost of the humanitarian aid to which we are committed is high, but it is a great deal lower than the cost of military intervention would have been.

Does the noble Lord agree that without more international generosity and a greater commitment to honour their promises of support, countries neighbouring Syria will be less inclined to keep their borders open? Indeed, I would welcome the noble Lord’s thoughts on what consideration has been given to the UK hosting or resettling a fair percentage of refugees to ease the pressure on Syria’s neighbouring countries, as requested by the UNHCR.

Returning to the January pledging conference, do Her Majesty’s Government accept that as well as increasing their funding commitments, donors must show greater flexibility and impose minimal bureaucratic restrictions on aid agencies, given the complexity of humanitarian operations inside Syria?

If you had one word for the British Government, what would it be? I put that question to a Lebanese humanitarian worker among Syrian refugees recently. His response was an impassioned call to invest—a word he used advisedly—our aid through locally based bodies whose scale and agility give them immediate access to need on the ground that makes them highly cost effective. It is a plea that I have heard from other agencies, several of them faith-based, which are doing remarkable work in Syria and surrounding countries.

I should like to pay tribute to those agencies that remain on the ground in Syria. I have just attended a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights which was addressed by members of the International Committee of the Red Cross. They spoke movingly about all sorts of subjects, including the kidnapping of three of their aid workers and the recent killing of more than 20 Red Crescent workers. Yet they are committed to remaining on the ground, engaged and seeking local solutions. It would be good to learn from the noble Lord what percentage of UK effort is directed to meeting emergency needs, and what percentage is earmarked for long-term humanitarian assistance.

The other impassioned word from the Lebanese humanitarian worker was that, without a comprehensive solution to the humanitarian situation in Syria, and to the conflict itself, the wider region will continue to deteriorate. The United Nations Security Council endorsement of Resolution 2118 of the Geneva Communiqué and the backing for a follow-up conference provides a much-needed consensus among the P5. Such impetus for a political solution is necessary to prevent the fossilisation of systems of aid into semi-permanent structures. We know, from that same region, that this can happen.

In the light of recent announcements from some elements of the Syrian opposition, it would be helpful to hear the views of the noble Lord on how the will for peace, upon which the success of Geneva II depends, can be engendered in the country itself. Securing a sustained and monitored cessation of hostilities in Syria, as set out in paragraph 5 of the original Geneva Communiqué, will not be easy. However, a ceasefire is essential to improve the humanitarian situation and to allow, at the very least, a short humanitarian pause in hostilities. Furthermore, surely a complete and immediate halt to arms and ammunition to Syria, as set out in paragraph 12 of the Geneva Communiqué, is another necessary component in the cause of peace. I would welcome the noble Lord’s reflections on steps that are being taken to halt the flow of arms into Syria.

The noble Lord is all too well aware that paragraph 5 of the Geneva Communiqué was given a renewed lease of life by the recent UN Security Council Presidential Statement. Parties to the conflict are still failing to uphold the basic obligation, under international humanitarian law, to facilitate the safe, unhindered passage of humanitarian convoys in areas under their control. In the light of the penetrating comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, in her United Nations capacity to the Security Council, it would be good to know the noble Lord’s views on progress towards implementing this provision and how it might be benchmarked.

At the meeting I have just come from, there was a very moving account from a British doctor who has just returned from Aleppo. He spoke about how access for humanitarian aid is absolutely critical. He asked: if it could be done for a weapons’ inspector, why could it not be done for an ambulance?

One issue sadly missing from the guiding principles of the Geneva Communiqué is any consideration of the wider refugee crisis and how the right of return will be provided for. This appears to be a glaring omission. Those displaced by the conflict need to be given a stake in Syria’s future. Perhaps the noble Lord will provide some insight into how this issue might be resolved.

In conclusion, if the existing humanitarian costs of this conflict are shamefully terrifying, the humanitarian costs of not reaching a political settlement at Geneva II would surely be intolerable for the moral conscience of the world. Even with a political solution, the scars of this conflict will take many generations to heal. It will require the continued generosity of the international community in a sustained and strategic humanitarian commitment. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will continue to take a courageous lead and make this not the last business of a long day but the priority of every morning until the holy land of Syria is healed.

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for introducing this debate so ably and movingly. Like other debates on similar topics, I cannot help feeling slightly uncomfortable as we, so comfortably ensconced on these red Benches, appear to wring our hands and feel helpless in the face of the injustices being perpetrated on the innocent victims of this terrible war. How can we have any idea of what they are suffering and going through? How can we begin to put ourselves in their shoes? But, in the end, one of the privileges of being a Member of this House is to keep the topic both in our own minds and those of others who care about the tragedy unfolding in Syria, and I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for providing us with the opportunity to do so.

As a trustee of UNICEF UK, I have of course been briefed on a regular basis about its activities on the ground and I, too, pay tribute to it and to the other NGOs and agencies providing humanitarian aid in almost impossible circumstances. Operating any form of assistance in Syria is increasingly challenging, dangerous and highly complex. There is no security for aid workers and rising numbers of armed groups across the country will do little to improve stability or safety. Thousands of aid workers are risking their lives daily to reach those who are most in need. The pace of change in the conflict and the vast array of armed groups all threaten agencies attempting to provide aid. The safety of aid workers must be guaranteed if we are to effectively provide assistance to the people of Syria. The right reverend Prelate pointed out in his speech that we can take pride in the fact that Britain is leading the way in providing aid and assistance. We are the second largest bilateral donor and the £500 million earmarked by DfID for Syria will go a long way to alleviating the suffering of those on the ground, once effective aid routes are implemented and sufficiently protected.

There is so much suffering throughout Syria and in the neighbouring countries, but in the short time available, I wish to focus my remarks on the plight of women and the sexual violence, both in Syria and in the camps, which has tragically become a part of their daily lives. In January, an International Rescue Committee report surveyed Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan and identified rape,

“as the primary reason their families fled the country”.

As Erika Feller, the Assistant High Commissioner at the UNHCR, asserted:

“Syria is increasingly marked by rape and sexual violence employed as a weapon of war”,

to destroy,

“identity, dignity, and the social fabrics of families and communities”.

Alma is one woman who has dared to speak out about the horrors inflicted on women in Syria. She was a battalion commander in the Free Syrian Army from Damascus and was arrested by the Assad regime after attempting to intervene in an incident where a soldier was beating a 16 year-old boy. During her 38-day imprisonment Alma was whipped with a wire, strung up by her wrists and feet, and injected twice a day with a drug that made her feel high. She was gang-raped daily. The things she recalls the men saying as they allegedly raped her multiple times were so filthy that she is loath to repeat them, although she remembers them saying, “Here is the freedom you wanted”, which is a phrase similar to ones other women have reported hearing while being raped in Syria. She has recently received news that her husband, disgusted by the rape, has married a new wife, and her children have remained with him. Speaking out has been a decision she has made after many months of being told to stay quiet. “We have to share this with the entire world to show that women are fighters”, she says.

The reality is that the victims of sexual abuse have much to lose and little to gain from speaking out. It takes a lot of courage and strength for a victim to speak up and they may be on their own with little support as they do it. In addition to the shame and isolation a victim may feel, they now are living in an insecure environment due to the war. They may be in a large refugee camp with no privacy, surrounded by people they do not know or trust. If they tell someone, to whom and where does that information go? It may be hard to put their trust in a stranger when, time and again, there has been little justice for the victims of wartime rape. Added to that must be the physical, psychological and emotional trauma that victims are already suffering from the war and displacement. It is not surprising that they are reluctant to come forward.

However, there are others whose stories are beginning to come out. Now at a safe house in Turkey near the Syrian border, a 25 year-old Sunni woman spoke of how she was detained for more than eight months. Her first days in detention were largely spent without sleep and being relentlessly interrogated for information. She could hear the screams of fellow prisoners being beaten and was continually threatened with sexual violence. She was taken to a cell full of male prisoners in their underwear. Leering, the jailers told her that they would leave her alone with the prisoners, “to take care of her”. To a conservative young Sunni woman, this was unthinkable. She began to scream for them to let her out of the jail. “I thought I was being given to these men for them to rape me”, she said. “I think I screamed for three hours. They wanted to break me, and it worked. Finally I said, ‘Okay, I will tell you the truth’”. When speaking of the degradations she had experienced, she would not use the word “rape”. However, an NGO worker who had been looking after her confirmed that she had been subject to sexual abuse. “But she needs to rebuild her life, and you can imagine what rape means in Syria. She has said that she feels more than violated; she feels ruined”.

A recent UN Commission of Inquiry report on Syria cites five instances of women who committed suicide after being raped, so intense is the shame associated with the crime. The sheer misery of women who have been forced to flee their homes is difficult to convey, and once they have reached supposed safety across the border, the nightmare does not end. Along with the risk of maltreatment and food shortages, there are accusations that Turkish security forces have abused refugee girls and women. According to some Turkish media and news networks, since August 2012 some 400 Syrian women have been raped, with 250 of those rape cases resulting in pregnancy. Increasing numbers of women living as refugees report that they would rather return to their homes, under horrendous conditions, than remain at the risk of rape and sexual abuse in the camps. It is heartbreaking that these women flee their homes with their families seeking safety, only to exchange one place of violence for another.

I am proud that the UK, and our Foreign Secretary in particular, are leading the way in the global campaign against rape as a weapon of war. We should also be glad that so many countries have responded positively. In April in London, the G8 made a historic commitment to address this issue, and in June the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution bolstering the UN’s capabilities, but we need more than words.

Every one of the stories which I have used, and thousands I have not, is a human tragedy. I welcome the commitment by the Secretary of State for DfID to ensuring that vulnerable girls and women in refugee camps have safe access to facilities such as toilets and washing areas, and her commitment to helping tens of thousands of survivors of sexual violence across the region with clinical care and case management, mental health services and financial support. However, we need other donor countries to join us in stepping up and co-ordinating support for refugees. The terrible experiences of these women underline the need to find a political solution to bring this conflict to an end.

My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin of Kennington, for that quite remarkable speech. She vividly brought the plight of women in Syria to our attention. I also join her in thanking the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry for introducing the debate with such clarity, and indeed such conviction.

The conflict in Syria has obviously had a huge impact on the politics of the whole of the Middle East region, and of course it has divided opinion across the world. The deepening sectarian divisions in Syria and the countries around it, the role of Iran in supporting the Assad regime, and the respective roles of Russia and the United States in attempting to find a way forward to stop the fighting and the use of chemical weapons are issues all very well known to us.

The outlook is grim. Only this week United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was told by Bashar al-Assad that the civil war in Syria would end only if foreign powers ended their support for those trying to overthrow him. Yesterday brought the depressing news of the sacking of the Syrian Deputy Prime Minister, who had been among those pressing for reform in Syria. He had been liaising with Russian and American officials about peace talks which it was hoped would end the tragic civil war. Qadri Jamil has now been dismissed for allegedly spending too much time outside Syria, neglecting his duties and holding meetings without co-ordinating with the Government.

Today we are not debating the politics of the situation but the impact of the failure of politics and the political process on people in Syria and its neighbours. More than 2 million people have fled Syria, according to the Red Cross. One million of those people are children. It is the worst refugee crisis in 20 years, and we have seen nothing like it since Rwanda in 1994. Every day another 4,000 people cross over into other countries to seek safety elsewhere. They are often women with their children, without their husbands or fathers who have been left to fight. They are escaping brutality and violence which, as the noble Baroness said a moment ago, are almost unimaginable to us. Yet I am bound to say that the appalling pictures that we see in our newspapers of dead and mutilated people, and the unimaginable horror of public summary executions, which sometimes take place in front of very young children, bring home to us the reality of what is happening on an almost daily basis.

Can the Minister please tell us whether and how our humanitarian aid is now being dispersed in Syria? The websites of all the aid organisations are clear that aid workers are hugely at risk. Twenty-two Red Crescent volunteers lost their lives trying to get aid through to those who need it most. Of course, mercifully for us, thousands of volunteers still try to reach those who are in need of their help.

I shall focus for one moment on one individual, Archbishop Yohanna of Aleppo, who disappeared on 23 April this year. I thank Ministers for the updates that I have received on this. The archbishop is a man hugely respected by people of all faiths in the region. I ask the Minister to assure us that the Government will do everything that they can to continue to try to find out where he is and to work for his release.

I concentrate the rest of my remarks on the impact of this humanitarian crisis on Syria’s neighbour, Jordan. There are now more than 600,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, representing an increase in Jordan’s population of around 10%. That is like us having 6 million more people in this country. Since Jordan opened the Za’atari refugee camp 14 months ago, it has become a place where there are 145,000 Syrians, and it is now the fourth largest city in Jordan. The country has often dealt with the arrival of refugees in the past; what makes this influx so different is that the Syrians arriving in Jordan have little or no money, are living alongside their hosts and put a huge strain on Jordan’s limited resources and job opportunities.

Those of us who know Jordan well know that it is a terrific country; it is beautiful, has wonderful historic sites and vibrant and articulate people. But it has no natural energy source and little water. It has nothing like enough jobs for its own young people. Education, health and water infrastructure and the job market are under enormous strain. To accommodate the 78,000 Syrian children in the education system, schools are now working on double shift in Jordan. Health services are deteriorating, particularly in the northern governorates, and medicines and vaccinations are becoming heavily depleted.

The job market in Jordan is at breaking point. The International Labour Organisation estimates that 160,000 Syrians are now working in Jordan in construction, agriculture and service sectors, while unemployment among Jordanians is now running at something approaching 16%. This is a recipe for real tension between a host community and the refugees whom they are attempting to host.

Water and sewerage pose appalling difficulties in the refugee camps, both at Za’atari and Al-Azraq. The water is now being drawn into those refugee camps and away from established urban populations. The water bill for refugees has increased by more than $40 million in the past year or so. As a result of being good hosts to their neighbours, Jordanian communities are really suffering. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to assist not only Syrian refugees in Jordan but Jordanian people in need? They, too, are part of this humanitarian crisis. The estimated additional costs continue to rise in hosting the more than 600,000 Syrians, and now stand at $1.68 million.

Jordan is, and has been, a very good friend to the United Kingdom. It has been a positive force for moderate politics in the region in relation to Israel and Palestine and in the councils of the Arab League. If the stability of Jordan comes under severe threat because of the internal strains that have been created by the huge influx of Syrian refugees, we shall all be the poorer. The security of all of us will be undermined. Wringing our hands about the humanitarian crisis is not enough; active and committed support is needed, and it is needed now.

My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry, whose name has a special resonance in this field of human rights and humanitarian aid.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, mentioned, we see our most experienced negotiator, Lakhdar Brahimi, revisiting President Assad, representing both the UN and the Arab League. Let us not forget that he was the Arab League’s special envoy to Lebanon when he brokered the agreement of 1989, which gradually ended the 15-year civil war there. He was also the UN representative in Iraq in 2004, following the American invasion when, as we now know, his proposals for Iraq were ignored by the Americans and ourselves, with tragic results. The war in Syria has to end sometime, and there is no one better qualified than he is, at least to start the process.

However, our hopes cannot be set too high. The regional powers will first have to come to some understanding. The diplomatic wheel is turning all the time, and it now seems that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are even aligning themselves with Israel in an attempt to prevent US rapprochement with Iran. I believe that some member states of the EU could take a much firmer stand to resist that process, because Iran is surely one of the powers influencing and financing the civil war. As long as there are proxy combatants inside Syria, the war and the suffering will continue.

Turkey, having so warmly welcomed the refugees, is usually seen as aligned with the opposition in Syria, but it also accommodates a substantial Shia Alawite minority in Istanbul. Only last week, a prominent Turkish socialist MP visiting Westminster criticised his Government for their open-door policy. It is obvious that Turkey is allowing arms and al-Qaeda fighters, among other jihadis, through the border with Syria, but it is also extremely wary of more Kurdish autonomy on its doorstep. That is another dimension.

I understand that Mr Brahimi has angered the Syrian opposition by advocating Iran’s presence at the negotiating table in Geneva. Of course, Iran is financing fighters, just like the Saudis, the Qataris and others. That is the whole point. I hope that the Minister will accept that all those engaged in those proxy wars should be invited to the talks, and Iran has already declared its willingness to attend. Meanwhile, as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, said, Jordan is under severe pressure to look after a huge refugee population, which may now be equivalent to more than 20% of its own population. One can compare that situation to that of UNWRA with the Palestinian refugees in 1948 and 1967. Although Palestinians now have their own services through the United Nations, in Jordan, 90% of the Syrian refugees are not in camps but have had to be absorbed into already stretched urban areas. As has been said, that makes increasing demands on education, health and, especially, water resources.

One could suggest that a comprehensive agency like UNRWA be set up for Syrian refugees, but that would be a public admission that this could be a very long-term issue. Something has to be done. The enormous strain on limited resources is causing stress and increasing resentment among Jordanians. Those refugees must be helped, if only to save Jordanian society from stress and possible friction.

In these conflicts, it is of course the dead and the wounded who claim attention from aid workers and the media. The figure of 100,000 dead, which includes many civilians, is bad enough, but the media can rarely show the number of displaced. To the total number of refugees of 2.2 million must be added the number of people displaced or trapped in conflict areas—up to 7 million or 8 million. Those are the figures that really bring home the scale of the crisis. They are victims such as those described by the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin. They tell a desperate tale of a vicious civil war which we cannot imagine here and have not known since the time of Cromwell.

As a long-standing supporter of Christian Aid and Save the Children, I have a particular interest in the role of NGOs in conflict and peacemaking. Like others, I must mention the Red Cross and Red Crescent workers, who have been constantly on the front line in Syria—many as volunteers—and without whom there would be many more casualties. Another NGO is less well known: the Mines Advisory Group, or MAG. It is helping thousands of Syrians flocking into areas of northern Iraq, potentially riddled with landmines and unexploded ordnance. Christian Aid’s partner, called REACH, helped to respond to a sudden arrival of more than 46,000 refugees in northern Iraq in August over a period of only 11 days.

Can the Minister confirm not only that civil society and faith leaders will be invited to Geneva but that their voices will be heard? In the aid community, there are some very experienced NGOs with expertise in peace-building and conflict resolution. Sometimes, as the right reverend Prelate said, and as we saw on the news yesterday, there is a need for a local ceasefire, or at least an interval to allow humanitarian access or trapped communities to escape. These ceasefires are almost always brokered by NGOs and the community leaders who are able to contact commanders on the ground. They need to happen more regularly.

I know of NGOs providing this added value in conflict resolution in South Sudan, Nepal, Mozambique and elsewhere, ensuring that civilian leaders are always capable of sitting down with those who are still carrying weapons. We can be sure that although we are not told their names, some of our own NGOs and churches, Christian Aid among them, are already engaged with partners like the Orthodox Churches inside Syria, helping every day to ensure proper access and to negotiate free passage for humanitarian assistance. It is on these organisations that soldiers, politicians and diplomats should in the end be able to build a lasting peace.

Finally, there is the issue of cross-border assistance. Save the Children is asking whether UNOCHA, the UN agency responsible for humanitarian access, can do any more to reduce the obstacles to cross-border aid delivery when and where it is appropriate. The right reverend Prelate mentioned this, too. Will Her Majesty’s Government or DfID encourage OCHA, if possible with new resources, to develop a plan to monitor the border more effectively to ensure that people are more easily reached from neighbouring countries?

This is not a new problem. The Institute of Mechanical Engineers recently published a good report recommending greater preparedness and prepositioning in disasters and conflict. I can remember these arguments 30 years ago and as a world leader in this field, we still have to take them more seriously.

My Lords, like other speakers I congratulate the right reverend Prelate on securing this debate. Unlike many speakers, I do not have a particular expertise in this area, but I was motivated to speak by my frustration at what I see as a long-term policy of western Governments towards the Middle East which has been failing for many years. At the time of the Arab spring, and when the trouble began in Syria, we had leaders saying Assad was finished and that he would be going within a few weeks. The implication, and the encouragement that this was giving, led many of the opposition to believe that if they took up arms against the Government of Syria at that time, that Government could be overthrown. That reminded me of the rhetoric directed at the Marsh Arabs in Iraq. They were encouraged to stand up and fight for their freedom against Saddam Hussein. They were led to believe that the first Bush Administration would ride to the rescue. No such thing occurred and the Marsh Arabs were slaughtered.

The West does not do the Middle East well. We do not understand it. We arrogantly assume that our particular model of governance is the sort of governance that they should have. It is not; it just does not fit.

Secondly, if Governments were prepared to act militarily in that conflict, the time to have done it was 18 months ago. At that stage, anti-aircraft capability could have been provided to the rebels. It has largely been the air force that has allowed Assad to prosecute the war. However, did we do anything? No. Therefore, I do not understand the point of the rhetoric that encourages the opposition but is then not followed through, and we wonder why people are being slaughtered. If we are not prepared to put up, we should shut up.

I echo the concerns that other speakers have raised about Jordan, which is almost a refugee country and has been for many years. It is being overwhelmed, and indeed Lebanon is being destabilised, having just begun to get settled. If anyone thinks that people are going to leave these camps and walk back to some kind of Valhalla in Syria, they are gravely mistaken. I think that these refugees will be there for years; I deeply regret that, but I feel that they will.

The right reverend Prelate raised the issue of a right of return. We have been talking about a right of return in the Middle East for years but it has not happened. Indeed, for some people there is not even any physical opportunity to return, as their dwellings and properties have been concreted over and taken by others, so I fear that. I also fear the long-term traumatic consequences for individuals. Coming from a minor conflict zone by comparison, I know that 20 or 30 years down the road there will be vast numbers of people who will have been traumatised. What is happening to the children in this conflict is on such a scale that it is almost unimaginable.

While I am very pleased at the contribution that our Government are making, the fact is that vast amounts of money were about to be committed militarily. I wonder if the same people who have been supplying and were prepared to supply the materials for that war are prepared to sit at the table and put their hands in their pockets.

What are the Russians doing? They were quite happy to supply materials to the Assad regime, but are they prepared to do anything either to secure humanitarian aid or to influence the Assad regime by insisting that it has corridors so that people can get aid through securely? Let us face it, there is no more influential Government on the Syrian regime than the Russians. They have large resources of their own, and they ought to deploy some of those resources to help these people, who are facing a second winter under canvas while many parts of their country have been bombed back to the Stone Age.

When we started out by taking a particular side in this conflict, which was perfectly understandable, if we were not prepared to follow that through to its logical conclusion, we would have done better to stay out of it altogether. The debate that we held here in August, when there were 60 or 70 speakers, showed that the ghosts of Iraq were still walking these corridors. The question that I pose is: have we learnt our lesson? I think the jury remains out.

My Lords, a polio outbreak in north-east Syria was the latest headline this morning on the “Today” programme. I am sure that your Lordships, like me, long for the day when nothing newsworthy is happening in that country. I, too, thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry for securing this debate, and of course, with Coventry’s long association with peace and reconciliation, it was apt for him to do so.

I pay tribute to the Governments of surrounding nations such as Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, who have kept their borders open and welcomed unprecedented numbers of refugees. I hope that if this country were ever in a similar situation, it would have the same response. On the figures that I have seen, the UN has now registered nearly 700,000 refugees in Lebanon and nearly 550,000 in Jordan. The level of the crisis is heartbreaking and the finances needed for the humanitarian response of £3 billion are eye-watering.

I, too, am proud of the generosity of Her Majesty’s Government on behalf of the UK taxpayer with their contribution of half a billion pounds worth of aid. I believe this is the largest ever UK response to a single humanitarian crisis. Of course, in addition to the DfID funds, funds have been raised by many UK charities. Again, I was impressed by the generosity of support for the Tearfund appeal for Syria, which raised more than £1 million. The UK has not been found wanting with the depth of its response. However, there have been disappointing responses from fellow G20 members, notably France, South Korea, Japan, China and, as already mentioned, Russia. I hope my noble friend the Minister can update the House on the progress in ensuring that the UN response is properly financed and can perhaps explain the reasons for the reluctance from other nations.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, outlined, there are more than 2 million refugees—75% are women and children, and half of them are children. They are traumatised and already very vulnerable and can be easy prey for trafficking gangs. We should not underestimate the tactics of those who run the second largest illegal trade in the world, that of people. There are already anecdotal reports of girls being sold and of labour exploitation. Can my noble friend confirm that, although this can be a chaotic situation, there are now proper child protection and security measures in place in the refugee camps? Has my noble friend any independent confirmation of the reports that men who are looking to purchase young women are seeking out Syrian refugees and that criminal gangs are being paid to traffic people including, apparently, to the UK? As the Syrian uprising and conflict has been going on now for two and a half years one can understand the desperation of people trying to escape this intractable situation, but we need to try to protect them from making dangerous crisis-driven decisions.

The difficulties in ensuring that aid is reaching those still in Syria was discussed in your Lordships’ House only last week. I was particularly struck by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, that the UN inspectors looking for chemical weapons are gaining access to areas of Syria that aid convoys are not allowed to get to. In the past 24 hours, Reuters has been reporting that starvation of the civilian population is being used as a weapon of war. The UN states that 1 million people in Syria still cannot access aid. Can my noble friend the Minister outline whether the trajectory of aid reaching those in need is improving or deteriorating? Only a political solution will end this war but are Her Majesty’s Government looking at proposing at Geneva II a temporary ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into these areas of Syria?

Only an hour ago, it was covered on Al-Jazeera Twitter that a temporary ceasefire had been brokered by the Red Cross in one of the suburbs of Damascus, which allowed a number of people to flee. Is there not perhaps an appropriate Muslim holiday such as the Day of Ashura on 24 November which, if honoured by the Syrian Government and opposition, would bring some brief respite to the fighting?

Although matters are obviously still desperate for so many refugees I want to look forward to peace in Syria for a moment when a political settlement has been achieved. Whether all its communities can return will depend on what that new Syria looks like. In this vein, on 15 October Margaret Ritchie MP asked whether Her Majesty’s Government will be establishing a resettlement programme in the UK for Syrian refugees. In response, Her Majesty’s Government said they have no plans to do so, but there are reports in the Lebanese press that Germany, through the International Organization for Migration, has accepted 5,000 refugees. Can my noble friend please outline what discussions we are having with our EU partners about responses to this refugee crisis and why the UK is not able to accommodate some refugees as Germany has?

I had the pleasure of hearing the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III on his recent trip to the UK when he was appealing for reconciliation. He estimates that about 450,000 of the pre-war Syrian population of 1.75 million Christians have either fled Syria or are internally displaced. The patriarch was resolute in his view that the church in Syria would survive but the plight of religious minorities in any future Syria is uncertain. It is clear from the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, that the region may not be able to accommodate all of these people. Are discussions being held at EU and UN level about an appropriate response if, at the end of the war, it is not safe for some communities—whether Shia, Alawite, Muslim or Christian—to return home? Surely it is better to be prepared for this eventuality than being caught on the hop and seeing people fleeing into boats across the Mediterranean Sea or being vulnerable prey for the people-traffickers I have already mentioned.

In any event, there will need to be a huge process of reconciliation, akin to that which was undertaken in Rwanda. Just under a tenth of Syria’s pre-war population are in neighbouring countries and many, of course, are accommodated by the UNHCR. I have never visited a refugee camp, but I have looked closely at the images on the internet. One can see that there are satellite dishes and TV aerials on some of the tents and containers in which people are living. Arab culture is oral, which is one reason why TV is so popular even when people have barely enough to live on. Is this small opportunity being taken by the UN to ensure that the programming into these camps includes messages on reconciliation, on remembering the Syria where Sunni, Alawite and Christians lived side by side, and on how to forgive your neighbour? I know that some will consider this a premature drop in the ocean. However, it is never too soon to try to bring about reconciliation.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former director of Oxfam. I warmly thank the right reverend Prelate for giving the House a further opportunity to review the huge humanitarian challenge that faces us. I also pay tribute—and am sure that other noble Lords would like to do so—to the humanitarian workers from across the world who are serving in this situation. Their courage and resilience has been of a special order.

I acknowledge that, in preparing for this debate, the briefs from the UK NGOs actively engaged in the front-line activities have been impressive and most helpful; I am thinking particularly of Christian Aid, Save the Children and Oxfam. HMG have won the support of all these NGOs and, I believe, of all parts of this House, for the good lead they are giving on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom.

It is important to recognise that, as we have been reminded, the UN estimates that 6.8 million Syrians are trapped in conflict areas and are in immediate need of assistance. A joint NGO assessment carried out in May 2013 found that, in fact, the need may be much greater, with 10.5 million people not getting enough essential supplies and seven northern governorates alone in special need. Moreover, at least 4 million Syrians, half of them children, are in need of emergency food assistance. Save the Children’s latest report, Hunger in a War Zone, shows how food is getting dangerously scarce, expensive and risky to access in Syria, and how efforts to address this are falling dangerously short.

The Syrian Government have permitted assistance provided from Damascus across conflict lines, but administrative, logistical and security constraints continue to prevent this being provided on anything like the scale required. The UN and its partners have faced major difficulties providing aid in this way. Between January and July 2013 only 21 UN convoys crossed the conflict lines.

Many parts of Syria can only, or can more easily, be reached by cross-border operations from neighbouring countries. Agencies have not been permitted by the Syrian authorities to do this; nor have neighbouring countries given their formal approval. The fast-changing dynamics of the conflict, coupled with frequent shelling and the multiplicity of armed groups also threaten the security of agencies delivering cross-border aid.

As we have been reminded, on 2 October, the UN Security Council adopted a presidential statement on humanitarian access to Syria. This called on the Syrian Government to allow cross-border aid deliveries where appropriate and called on all parties to the conflict to agree on humanitarian pauses in the fighting, including along key routes for relief convoys. It called on Damascus to take immediate steps to facilitate the expansion of humanitarian regional relief operations and to lift bureaucratic impediments and other obstacles. Obviously, the UN presidential statement must be urgently implemented. Four weeks after it was adopted, it would be helpful if the Minister could tell us just how much progress has really been made.

What are the Government able to do to urge states with influence over the parties to the conflict to implement the presidential statement? What are they able to do to encourage the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Security Council itself and all donors, both bilateral and multilateral, to expand relief operations and to vigorously pursue the removal of obstacles to cross-border aid delivery? The figure of more than 100,000 deaths is terrible enough, but there are also wider human costs about which we have been hearing in this debate.

Seven million men, women and children have been compelled to leave home. Two million have sought refuge in neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. One million have gone to Lebanon alone and, as we have been reminded, others to Jordan, added to the Palestinian refugees already there. The number of refugees has now reached more than a quarter of the total population. Goodness knows what it will become in the future. We have to face up to the incredible hospitality being provided by neighbouring countries, which puts a huge moral responsibility on us to respond and to ensure that those countries get the support they deserve in infrastructure, education and all that is being done. If the Minister can reassure us of this, it would be very helpful.

I want to say a word about the children. The trauma and the disruption of their education will have long-term effects right into the future, hindering development and the rest. Then there are the horrific experiences of too many women and girls. Women and girls face a nightmare. The needs and opportunities of women must be a priority in all aspects of the response. Clinical care and counselling for victims of sexual assault and gender-based violence is another priority. Physical security, adequate water and sanitation, adequate cultural and gender-specific hygiene and dignity kits, adequate access to healthcare, facilities in camps and host communities—all these should be receiving our focused attention. We cannot neglect equal access for women to income-generating projects and to relief supplies in general. Can the Minister tell us that enough is being done?

We all yearn for peace, but I remind the House, in conclusion, of the wise words of Christian Aid:

“A key concern is that an over-reaching and hasty push for peace without a clearly planned process of moving towards ceasefires could generate an intensification of the conflict as the sides seek to establish facts on the grounds and gain territorial advantage. Initial areas of focus should concentrate on creating openings for looking at reinforcing locally defined ceasefires (of which there are several) into creating opportunities for wider ceasefires and humanitarian pauses. Geneva II should seek to establish a process of negotiation and efforts towards building the foundations of peace through … inclusive talks; civil society engagement, and establishing conditions for ceasefire”—

of which, as I say, there are already a number of examples.

My Lords, I, too, welcome this debate and commend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry for raising this critical issue.

Yesterday was the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the International Red Cross. I take this opportunity to salute the work of the Red Cross, whose efforts are as indispensible today in Syria as they were on the battlefields of Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. As other noble Lords have noted, no fewer than 22 of its Syrian volunteers have died in the course of their work. However, not just the ICRC is involved; the whole international humanitarian community has been mobilised by the crisis in Syria, and increasingly in the region. Alongside the Red Cross, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and UNICEF, many British NGOs such as Oxfam, Save the Children and others have risen to meet the horrors of the Syrian situation, just as they did in earlier humanitarian emergencies. I also pay tribute to the work of the Government and of DfID in particular for the immense contribution that they are making in so many ways. I am especially pleased that the department is doing its best to help vulnerable groups such as children and women, as well as the many victims of trauma.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to contain the Syrian conflict and the humanitarian crisis. Neighbours such as Turkey and Jordan have long been affected, but above all Lebanon, a tiny country where I was in charge of UN operations at the onset of this crisis in 2010, is in grave danger. Last week alone—in one week —13,000 new Syrian refugees were registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Lebanon, bringing the total number there to over 800,000. That is more than two and a half times the population of the city of Coventry and more than the population of some of our largest cities such as Liverpool or Newcastle. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, referred to the terrible burdens on Jordan, but those on Lebanon are even greater. By way of comparison, the equivalent of Lebanon’s acceptance of 800,000 refugees would be equivalent to the UK taking more than 10 million refugees over a period of less than three years. The conflict in Syria, a country linked by historical, economic and social ties with Lebanon, is severely and negatively impacting that country.

Inevitably, this puts great strains on Lebanon, its people and its economy. Lebanese schools, hospitals and homes have been opened to refugees in the spirit of generosity for which that country is renowned. However, given the country’s weak public finances the inevitably large costs are unsustainable. Furthermore, the Syrian conflict has challenged the already delicate balance between Lebanon’s myriad communities of Christians, Sunni and Shia Muslims. In order to help Syria in its hour of deep crisis more must be done to stabilise Lebanon lest the Levant as a whole is drawn into a vortex of deep sectarian violence. Already in recent weeks the situation in Lebanon’s second city, Tripoli, has deteriorated markedly, with sectarian violence between Sunni and Alawite communities. In Syria itself the situation continues to deteriorate. On the BBC’s “Today” programme this morning its intrepid foreign correspondent Lyse Doucet reported that thousands of civilians are trapped in three besieged suburbs of Damascus, especially the suburb of Muadhamiya.

In looking to the future we must be mindful that winter is fast approaching in the Levant, and especially in the mountains that will be particularly harsh. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, and other noble Lords referred to the recent Security Council meeting on 2 October, when a presidential statement was issued. A presidential statement is the lowest level of action that the Security Council can take. The Government, with partners, should strive to urge the council to adopt a resolution on the humanitarian situation itself.

Thirdly, more countries need to support the emergency humanitarian appeal of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Britain and European countries have done so generously. So have the United States and Canada, and also Russia. Only two Asian countries, Japan and South Korea, have responded, and only one Arab country, Kuwait, has so far answered this appeal. That may be because some Arab countries are taking action unilaterally, but they should be encouraged to do more within the context of the UN appeal than they are doing now.

Finally, next month my friend and former colleague Lakhdar Brahimi will chair a reconvened Geneva conference. The obstacles and difficulties are immense for perhaps the most skilled negotiator in the Arab world. The United Kingdom must do its best to support his efforts, and a conference as inclusive as possible in its representation. Given the problems that lie ahead, thought should be given to establishing a durable mechanism, such as a standing conference, to avoid the threat of early failure in Geneva. Tragically, there will be no easy or straightforward end to this conflict.

My Lords, I, too, thank the right reverend Prelate for initiating the debate. The scale and horror of this crisis are difficult to comprehend, but as the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, said, it is vital that we keep reminding people of precisely what is going on. Almost one third of the population have fled their homes due to violence, insecurity or a lack of basic services. It is extremely difficult to access water, food, medical and other supplies; 60% of all hospitals are affected by the conflict, with nearly 40% completely out of service. A further 2.1 million people have fled to neighbouring countries—an eightfold increase from 12 months ago, when there were 230,000 refugees. Over 100,000 people have been killed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Amos, in her UN capacity, said last month:

“Inside Syria, protecting civilians is paramount ... The rise in the level of sectarian and sexual violence and ongoing human rights abuses are a major concern”.

Families are being torn apart, and mothers and young children are being separated. Justin Forsyth of Save the Children, who recently returned from Lebanon and Jordan, described his shock at the,

“targeted and systematic violence against children”.

He said that the children he met had been,

“shot at, tortured, detained and separated from their families”.

Oxfam recently produced a report called Shifting Sands, which highlights the fact that many refugee women and girls no longer have access to the resources and services they used to have in Syria before the conflict began, which enabled them to fulfil their traditional gender roles. What assessment and action are the Government undertaking to understand and tailor policies to the impact of the crisis on the women affected, including, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, reminded us, by the increasing violence against women and girl refugees?

Syria’s neighbours have stepped up to the plate to provide support to refugees fleeing conflict, but as we have heard tonight, they cannot cope with the scale of the challenge. Approximately 1 million people have fled to Lebanon, and now represent a quarter of the population. As my noble friend Lady Symons said, officials in Jordan have estimated that the country needs a $6 billion investment in infrastructure as it struggles to cope with such a huge increase in its population—11% or even, as we have heard tonight, more—owing to the influx of Syrian refugees.

As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, in Lebanon and Jordan the majority of refugees are living in towns and cities rather than camps, and basic services such as health, education, water and sanitation have reached their capacity. Will the Minister tell the House what the Government are doing to help the host communities not just to address the needs of the refugee population but to mitigate the impact on public services and the local economy, as we were so ably reminded by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons? Like everyone who has spoken in the debate, I pay tribute to the Government for the generous assistance provided by the UK, but despite this the humanitarian appeal for Syria is still only some 40% funded.

As many noble Lords have said, the UK Government must continue to urge the international community to fulfil their pledges of support for refugees and their host countries. Without more funding the Syrian Arab Red Crescent warned that 150,000 people might have to go without food in October. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, acknowledged earlier this month that the Government would clearly have to work extremely hard to make sure that the pledges to which countries have committed themselves are delivered. While she expressed pleasure that the figure had reached the £1 billion mark, she also acknowledged that aid to Syria is a question not only of funding but of humanitarian access and respect for international humanitarian law. NGOs have repeatedly raised concerns about support reaching all areas of the country in both government and rebel controlled zones. As the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, said, my noble friend Lady Kinnock referred in the same debate to the MSF view that the Syrian people are now presented with the absurd situation of chemical weapons inspectors driving freely through areas of desperate need while ambulances, food and drug supplies are blocked.

Despite Security Council agreement on access for humanitarian aid, there has been little progress. With most aid being channelled through regime controlled Damascus there is a huge risk that relief is not being provided impartially on the basis of need. As my noble friend Lady Symons said, humanitarian access from Damascus is also being impeded by bureaucratic procedures imposed by the Government of Syria, including delays in issuing visas and lengthy customs procedures, multiple checkpoints on the road and fighting and insecurity which put many brave aid workers at risk, as we have heard. Will the Minister indicate what further action the Government are considering, in concert with the international community, to encourage the Syrian Government to grant those rights of passage for humanitarian reasons?

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, also referred to the efforts being taken to bring forward the peace process with talks planned in November, as we have heard tonight, with the UK Government focusing efforts on bringing the opposition coalition to the talks. It is vital that these talks are carefully constructed to navigate the most likely path to peace. As we have heard, many NGOs are concerned that without a clearly planned process of moving towards ceasefires the conflict could intensify as the sides seek to establish or gain territorial advantage. Initial areas of focus should concentrate on creating openings for looking at reinforcing locally defined ceasefires, as so ably expressed by the right reverend Prelate, and creating opportunities for wider ceasefires and humanitarian causes. As the right reverend Prelate said, Geneva II should seek to establish a process of negotiation and efforts towards building the foundations of peace through inclusive talks, civil society engagement and establishing conditions for ceasefires in a much broader context.

Of course, a political solution is urgently needed to stop the fighting and to bring an end to the humanitarian crisis. However, until agreement is reached we cannot afford to stand idly by as the tremendous suffering of men, women and children continues.

My Lords, I am pleased to answer this Question for Short Debate, and would like to thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry for raising this very important issue and giving the House a timely opportunity to view what is currently being done and what needs to be done. In his introduction he used the term “catastrophe”, which pretty well sums up our view of what is happening there.

If noble Lords will bear with me I should like to update the House briefly on what Her Majesty’s Government are doing on the ground and then devote the vast majority of time to responding to as many of the questions as possible that have been raised by noble Lords. The Government are gravely concerned about the situation in Syria and across the region, and the UK has rightly been at the forefront of the humanitarian response. I would like to highlight three aspects in particular: our comprehensive funding approach, our efforts to improve the effectiveness of the international response, and our ground-breaking work to help avert a lost generation of Syrian children.

The UK’s total funding to Syria and the region is now half a billion pounds. Our support has reached hundreds of thousands of people across all 14 governorates of Syria, as well as Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. It is providing food for almost 320,000 people, improved water and sanitation services to more than 1.2 million people, and medical consultations to more than 315,000 people. We are working with partners to ensure that our own and the international response addresses the immediate and longer-term development needs of Syrians and host communities. The UK has taken a leading role on the international stage. Following UK lobbying at the G20 and the UN General Assembly, $1 billion in new funding has been pledged by the international community. The UK also spearheaded efforts to improve the leadership and co-ordination of the humanitarian response and to improve humanitarian access into Syria. It is unacceptable that humanitarian organisations are deliberately prevented from reaching those in need.

The UK also lobbied strongly for the recent UN Security Council presidential statement which aims to secure safe, unhindered access inside Syria. We will continue to work with the UN and others to implement the actions set out in the presidential statement.

The UK has recognised the disproportionate impact that the conflict has had and continues to have on Syria’s children, to which many noble Lords referred. More than 3 million Syrian children have been affected by the fighting and 1 million Syrian children are now refugees. The UK will not stand by while a whole generation is lost to the conflict, which has now been going on for more than two years. That is why we have put in place a new £30 million lost generation initiative to provide education, protection and trauma care to children affected by the crisis. We are working with UNICEF and others on a comprehensive strategy to meet the needs of children in Syria and the region.

I turn to the remarks initially made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry. He raised a number of specific issues and I shall try to respond to as many of them as I can. He referred to the importance of ensuring that people honour the commitments made at the G20 and the UN General Assembly. It is imperative that that happens, but what pressure can we put on them other than leading by example? Many noble Lords referred to the commitment of this Government of $784 million in aid, which is the second largest donation. Several noble Lords asked what other countries were doing in this regard. It may be of interest to the noble Lord, Lord Empey, who mentioned Russia, that it has provided $32.8 million. My noble friend Lady Berridge referred to France, which has provided $69 million. We will come back to the point that much more needs to be done, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said. Although vast sums are being poured in, the need is far greater, and only 40% of the pledged total has been reached so far.

I am sorry to interrupt, but we should perhaps have mentioned the Chinese. I would be very interested to know what they are doing, as they are making plenty of money out of us and everybody else at the moment.

I thank the noble Lord for his comment. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, referred to the importance of Asian countries doing much more in this area. That is absolutely right—not just with aid but in the UN Security Council. The point is well made.

The right reverend Prelate talked about the impact on neighbouring countries. Several noble Lords referred to that and to the special pressure that it puts on those countries. Host Governments and communities have generously welcomed refugees. This has produced huge strains in neighbouring countries on services such as water supplies and education as well as on labour and rental markets. The UK is providing £167 million to meet the needs of refugees and host communities. We are working closely with the UN to support the development of an integrated approach to ensure that neighbouring countries continue to get the support that they need.

The right reverend Prelate and my noble friend Lady Berridge referred to the impact of refugees and asked whether Her Majesty’s Government would consider hosting refugees. The UK currently has no plans to resettle or offer temporary protection to Syrians at this time. The UK believes that the immediate priority should be to provide humanitarian assistance to displaced people in partnership with neighbouring countries and the UNHCR. With more than 2 million people now having been displaced from Syria, regional protection is the only realistic means by which the rights of the vast majority of displaced persons can be safeguarded. Accordingly, that should be our focus.

The right reverend Prelate also talked about the bureaucratic complexity faced on the ground. That is a big challenge. On the one hand, there is a sense of urgency—one wants the aid to get where it is needed as fast as possible—but it is also important to ensure that there is accountability for the funds that are being spent, and that there are robust systems. That is a very difficult balance to maintain but it is one that is certainly being pursued.

Noble Lords asked what percentage of the UK effort is directed to meeting emergency needs. All the UK’s humanitarian assistance at the moment is directed towards alleviating the emergency humanitarian crisis.

The right reverend Prelate asked about the recent comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Amos. We fully support the UN Under-Secretary-General’s call for reinvigorated efforts to find an end to the conflict and all that she is doing to seek to provide safe access. It is right for the House to pay tribute to one of our own—I think we can still say—who is doing such an immensely important job on the world stage at present.

My noble friend Lady Jenkin, who makes a significant contribution in her role as a trustee of UNICEF UK, raised the issue of sexual and gender-based violence. The UK is supporting survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, for example by providing clinical care and case management for 12,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan. We are also providing support to affected households and strengthening confidential support networks for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. We work to ensure that the needs of women and girls are specifically factored into humanitarian programmes and urge others to do so. When we make great policy statements of this nature, my noble friend Lady Jenkin, as she so often does, reduces the macro down to the micro. Her recounting of the story of Alma brought home the horror of this type of violence.

It is important that in the refugee camps there is greater resourcing and training, particularly for the Jordanian police, to enable them to take a greater role in the camps. There are also some fairly simple solutions, such as ensuring that we have proper lighting in the latrine areas and on routes and pathways.

As a distinguished former Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, has a great deal of understanding in these areas. She specifically mentioned Archbishop Yohanna. I know that my honourable friend Alistair Burt, the former Minister, did a lot of work in this area and was in contact regularly. Officials are in contact with the office of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, seeking to negotiate the safe release of Archbishop Yohanna and other clerics, who are now routinely being taken hostage.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to Iran. He asked whether NGOs would be able to attend the Geneva II negotiations. I am afraid that there are no plans for that at the moment. But if the work of Geneva II is to be sustained on the ground, it is vital that it is a partnership.

The noble Lord, Lord Empey, said that the West does not do the Middle East well—to which we might all answer that nobody does the Middle East well. If there is to be a lasting, peaceful solution, it will be for the people of the Middle East, who understand the Middle East, to find it.

My noble friend Lady Berridge mentioned child protection. We are supporting the regional protection programme but UNICEF is in the lead on these matters. Reconciliation seems a long way off at the moment but it is right to keep the focus on it. Before there can be reconciliation, there needs to be truth, as well as justice for those who have perpetrated these crimes against humanity.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to hospitality and asked whether enough was being done. The answer is no, enough is not being done. Much more needs to be done.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, who has immense expertise in this area, talked about the problems that are being faced. I note his endorsement of Special Envoy Brahimi and his potential to offer a breakthrough at the Geneva II negotiations next year.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, gave a moving speech. When he recounted how Justin Forsyth, the head of Save the Children, who must have seen so many horrors around the world, found himself shocked, that brought home to all of us the catastrophe in the region.

In conclusion, the British Government are committed to continuing to support the needs of those affected by the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the region. However, in a country where more people are now displaced than any other, where it costs $30 million a week to meet the food needs of those affected, and in a crisis where the appeals remain chronically underfunded, the international community needs to do much more. That is the message of this debate, which is wholeheartedly echoed by Her Majesty’s Government.

House adjourned at 9.59 pm.