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Syria: Refugees

Volume 788: debated on Tuesday 16 January 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what help they are giving refugees and internally displaced persons in the countries bordering Syria who have been displaced by fighting and the actions of Daesh.

My Lords, the UK is at the forefront of the international humanitarian response to the Syria crisis. We are providing life-saving and life-changing support to millions of people displaced inside Syria, and to millions of Syrian refugees living in neighbouring countries as a result of Daesh and the ongoing conflict.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for his Answer. Last September, I went to Kurdistan to observe its referendum and while in Irbil, I visited St Joseph’s Cathedral. There, the church is helping Christian refugees and internally displaced people who, I was told, are not able to go to the UN refugee camps as they are not safe there. I understand that this is the case in Jordan too. Is DfID aware of this situation and what are Her Majesty’s Government going to do to investigate these claims? Please can they take it up with the UNHCR and UNICEF to ensure that everyone, regardless of their religion, is able to get the help and protection to which they are entitled? Would my noble friend be willing to meet me and others who are interested in this, so that I can raise these matters further?

I would certainly be willing to meet my noble friend. In fact just this morning, I met the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief and earlier I met with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lady Nicholson. I believe there is repeated evidence that there is no fair treatment in the refugee camps. That is deeply worrying because the UN Convention on Refugees advocates against any discrimination at all. Her Majesty’s ambassador in Amman, Jordan, is hosting a roundtable on 23 January with faith leaders and the UNHCR so that they can present their findings and the evidence they have received, so as to seek to remedy any discrimination against people fleeing the terrible actions of Daesh and other organisations.

My Lords, I think we can all agree that the best investment for refugees and internally displaced people is education, giving an opportunity for children who have been displaced across borders or within states to have a better future as time moves on. What are the Government doing to support education for refugees and internally displaced people not just in Iraq and Syria but elsewhere too?

The noble Lord is absolutely right; this is a priority. There are good campaigns on this: Education Cannot Wait and No Child Left Behind. These initiatives are very important and we fully support them. Our efforts in Lebanon have provided education places for some 300,000 Syrian children and for about the same number in Jordan. The noble Lord is absolutely right that these protracted crises disrupt the future generation on which any peace will be built.

My Lords, the ethnic and religious minorities in Syria who have been hunted down in a campaign of genocide are now caught in a vicious circle after not daring, as the noble Baroness said, to enter the camps because their lives will be at risk there too, and then they are excluded from the vulnerable persons resettlement programme. I welcome what the Minister has told the House, but how does he respond to official figures that show that in the third quarter of last year fewer than 1% of Syrian refugees resettled under that programme came from those hunted minorities—just 13 out of 1,583 refugees accepted in the UK—despite the fact that those minority groups made up some 10% of the Syrian population before the war began in 2011?

Part of this is about collecting the data— that is very important—and the other part is to be very clear about what is going on. The special rapporteur on minorities in Iraq reported to the UN General Assembly:

“Overwhelming evidence supports claims of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide that must be fully investigated and appropriately addressed by the Government and the international community”.

That is why we support the investigation of Daesh crimes and the collection of evidence as requested by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2379 in September.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a generational challenge here? When one visits Kurdistan, in particular, the older generation of those who have been internally displaced or who are refugees still have a conception of home to which they might wish to return. The younger generation, whoever you talk to, do not see that home as existing. They want to be somewhere else. Are the long-term implications of this, particularly in relation to the education of children, being taken seriously by Her Majesty’s Government?

They are being taken seriously. They are also being taken seriously by the UNDP which has the funding facility for stabilisation in Iraq. It is working with the federal Government in Iraq and also the regional government in Kurdistan based in Irbil. It is looking at these plans. One aspect of hope that I was encouraged by is that more than half the people who were displaced as a result of the fighting and the conflict in Iraq have now returned home. The reason why many do not return home is fear over security. That is one of the issues that needs to be addressed.

My Lords, Palestinian refugees who fled from Syria are in a particularly vulnerable situation given their uncertain legal status. What are the Government doing to ensure that Palestinian refugees receive the same level of support as Syrian refugees and are not discriminated against simply because they have had to move home twice?

That is a very good point. It is certainly something that I should look into further and I will write to the noble Baroness with an update.

My Lords, I welcome my noble friend’s acceptance of evidence and cases in relation to the treatment of religious minorities that affect aid. However, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, this also affects the resettlement programme. Is it not now time that the UK asked the United Nations to hold an independent investigation into these claims, so that we can know the truth as to whether or not the millions of pounds of aid that has been sent by the UK taxpayer has actually reached the people who most need it?

We discussed that issue this morning. As I said at that meeting, I will look at the readout and the feedback from the meeting taking place on the investigation into the claims in Amman next week, on 23 January, to see whether we need to take further action with the UN to ensure that it upholds its own convention in not exercising any discrimination whatever on the basis of religious belief or identity.

My Lords, the huge pressures on the host nations neighbouring Syria, particularly Lebanon and Jordan, are obviously of concern. Can the Minister update us on exactly what support we are giving to ensure that the host communities are not put at a disadvantage and to make sure that we do not end up with a conflict situation as a consequence of this terrible refugee crisis?

That is a very good point. Turkey of course has the largest number of refugees—some 3 million—and there are 1.5 million in Lebanon and 660,000 in Jordan. We have given some £543 million to Lebanon and £429 million to Jordan. Perhaps more important for the long term are these compacts that we now have with Jordan and Lebanon, where we are providing not only for education but also for livelihoods, so that people can actually rebuild their lives while waiting to return home. That is very important.