Syria (Humanitarian Response)

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Communities and Local Government – in the House of Commons at 4:10 pm on 4th February 2013.

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development 4:10 pm, 4th February 2013

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the United Kingdom’s response to the humanitarian crisis in the Syrian region. On 30 January, I attended the UN high level humanitarian pledging conference on Syria in Kuwait. The conference was co-hosted by the Emir of Kuwait and the United Nations Secretary-General, and had two objectives. The first was to raise the international profile of the deepening humanitarian crisis unfolding across the Syrian region. The second was to secure $1.5 billion of urgently needed funding requested by the UN to meet the humanitarian needs it has seen until June 2013—that represents the largest ever short-term appeal by the UN.

The pledging conference took place at a critical point in the Syria crisis. The humanitarian needs across the region are immense and show no signs of decreasing while the fighting continues. I would like to set out some of the numbers for the House, which illustrate the severity of the situation: 743,000—nearly three quarters of a million—is the number of Syrians who have had to seek refuge outside their country; 4 million is the number of people still in need in Syria; 2 million is the number of people displaced in Syria; 60,000 is the number of Syrians killed in the conflict so far; and 26 is the number of aid workers who have been killed in Syria while helping those in desperate need.

During my visit to Jordan just over a week ago, I was able to meet some of the people affected by the crisis. Walking through the Za’atari refugee camp and meeting families who had welcomed refugees into their homes, I was heartened by the scope of the humanitarian response, and by the resilience of mind and spirit shown by the people I met. The people of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and now Egypt are showing tremendous generosity, supporting the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled the violence. It is essential that the Governments of those countries receive adequate support for their efforts from the international community.

I also commend the UN for its strong leadership of the international humanitarian response and the partnerships it has built. Its efforts have kept thousands of people sheltered and fed every month in contested, Government and opposition-held areas in Syria, and more than a million children protected against life-threatening diseases such as measles and polio. Those achievements are a reminder of the UN’s capacity and reach, if given adequate political and financial support, and demonstrate that the UK’s confidence in the multilateral aid system has not been misplaced.

At the Kuwait conference, I announced another £50 million of new UK aid towards the UN appeals. That was in addition to the £21 million that I announced on 26 January during my visit to Jordan—£10 million of which was specifically for Jordan— and brings the UK’s total humanitarian support for the response to the Syria crisis to £139.5 million. I am very pleased to report the successful outcome of the conference. As well as the UK, more than 60 countries participated in the pledging conference and raised over $1.5 billion, exceeding the UN’s target. I welcome the generosity that was shown by donors, particularly those from the Gulf region; Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab

Emirates together pledged $900 million. I should take this opportunity to again thank the Emir of Kuwait for hosting such an important conference.

I also commend my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for the support provided by his Department in lobbying donor countries to attend and pledge funds at the Kuwait conference. The next priority for my Department is to see that those pledges are turned into tangible commitments so that the humanitarian agencies can scale up their activities and provide the food, shelter, health and medical care that are so urgently needed by the millions of men, women and children affected by the crisis. However, although the Kuwait conference was a success, we must be realistic. The more than $1.5 billion raised, although a great sum, will support the humanitarian response only until June. The Syrian people will still need help long after that, and the shocking level of human suffering inside and outside Syria will keep rising while the conflict continues.

A political settlement is sorely needed. The UK remains steadfast in our support for the joint UN and Arab League special representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, in his work towards a political settlement and transition process. It is also vital that the UN-led humanitarian response be given agreement for increased access to all areas of the country, including the ability to reach people in need across conflict lines and from neighbouring countries if necessary. Until this happens, pockets of need will persist despite the UN’s best efforts. The dire humanitarian situation deserves the continued attention and support of this Government, and I commit my Department to that effort. I commend the statement to the House.