Skip to main content


Volume 652: debated on Wednesday 9 January 2019

The United Kingdom is at the forefront of the humanitarian response and has been providing life-saving support to millions of people across Syria from the start of the conflict. To date, we have committed £2.71 billion, our largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis. This includes the provision of more than 27 million food rations and 10 million relief packages since 2012.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Just before Christmas, I had the rather humbling honour of meeting two Syrian families who fled the horror of that country to find sanctuary in Shaftesbury in my constituency, where they are making their new home. The pictures that they showed me and the stories that they told were indeed horrible. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that, notwithstanding everything else that is going on, Her Majesty’s Government has not forgotten Syria and the underlying and ever pressing need for peace?

I can assure my hon. Friend that no one in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the Department for International Development has forgotten Syria. We are all shocked and moved by the plight of those who have suffered so much, and I am familiar with some of the pictures that my hon. Friend describes. We are engaged diplomatically and in humanitarian terms every day in relation to Syria.

Although Daesh is significantly weakened in Syria, a US departure could leave a vacuum that could cause more misery. Does the Minister expect the focus of humanitarian assistance in Syria to change as a result of the withdrawal of US troops?

The full details of the impact of the US withdrawal have yet to be worked through. Our focus on humanitarian aid will not be changed, and we continue to monitor the situation closely as it develops. Our focus on providing humanitarian assistance to millions of people displaced both externally and internally will remain.

The possibility of a US withdrawal raises serious concerns about civilian protection. Will the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to work with agencies on the ground to ensure that, particularly in the Kurdish-controlled areas and in Idlib, as much as possible is done to protect civilians?

Yes indeed. To reassure the hon. Gentleman, who is the Chair of the Select Committee, we are very concerned about the potential implications, particularly on the Turkish-Syrian border. We are in constant contact with our partners in relation to this and with humanitarian agencies, which are fully abreast of the consequences of actions that have not yet happened. Everything is being done to try to encourage a peaceful resolution of the political conflicts there.

Are any plans in place to deal with what will be, I suspect, the increasing humanitarian needs of Syrian Kurds in particular, especially if they are attacked by the Turkish military?

As I indicated to the Chair of the Select Committee, we are all extremely concerned about the potential implications of US withdrawal and what it might mean on the Turkish border in relation to Kurdish areas. Humanitarian agencies are very alert to this, but politically we are doing what we can with partners to minimise any risk of confrontation there.

What assessment is it possible to make of the number of lives that have been saved in Syria as a result of the historic financial contribution to the aid effort by the United Kingdom?

It is difficult to put full figures on this, to be honest. We believe, as I indicated earlier, that we have provided 27 million food rations, 40 million medical consultations, 10 million relief packages, and 10 million vaccines. If we look at all those whose lives have been protected—the 3.5 million in Turkey, the 1.5 million in Lebanon and the 1 million in Jordan— we can see that United Kingdom aid has played a significant part in that.

Last year the UK Government cut funding to aid programmes in rebel-held Syria, instead shifting focus to this valuable humanitarian work in the region. None-the-less, groups such as the Free Syrian police, whom we supported throughout the conflict, continue to face a number of threats from the regime as they continue their valuable work. Will the Secretary of State assure me that her Department has not simply abandoned these people and that their ongoing protection is still a matter of serious concern for the UK Government?

DFID’s aid has always been focused on humanitarian need, regardless of who has been in control of territory. Provided we can be assured that aid and support are not diverted for terrorist or extremist purposes but get through to those who are in need, that is the guiding principle on which we work, and will continue to be the principle on which DFID will provide humanitarian aid.