UN Syrian Refugees Programme

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities and Local Government – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 20th January 2014.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary 3:33 pm, 20th January 2014

(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if he will make a statement on the UN settlement programme for vulnerable Syrian refugees.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

More than half the Syrian population of 9.3 million is in need of humanitarian assistance, and 2.3 million people have been displaced from Syria to neighbouring countries. This is a crisis of international proportions and needs a commensurate response from the international community. The Government are proud to be playing their part in that response, and share the view of the UN Secretary-General that the priorities must be to

“assist the Syrian parties in ending the violence and achieving a comprehensive agreement for a political settlement”, and ending the suffering of the Syrian people. No one should underestimate the difficulties ahead, but we are determined to strive for a peaceful settlement through the Geneva II process, which starts later this week and is working towards the establishment of a transitional governing body for Syria.

The Government continue to believe that the best way to address the suffering of the Syrian people should be to provide humanitarian assistance to displaced people, in partnership with neighbouring countries and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Before last week, the Government had provided £500 million for the Syrian relief effort, of which more than £480 million had been allocated to partners in Syria and the region. That has helped more than 1 million people. Almost 320,000 people are being provided with food assistance each month in Syria and neighbouring countries, and more than 244,000 people in Syria have been offered medical help. The Government continually press for better access and protection for humanitarian convoys inside Syria so that aid can get to the millions in need inside the country. That represents the UK’s largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis.

We are leading the way in helping the Syrians suffering from the humanitarian crisis as the second largest donor, behind the US, helping refugees, and through consideration of Syrian asylum claims under our normal rules. In the year to last September, we had already recognised more than 1,100 Syrian nationals as refugees.

We are very aware that some, including the UNHCR, would like to see a more proactive programme of resettlement of refugees who are currently hosted by countries neighbouring Syria. We have considered those options very carefully and respect the views of those countries who favour a resettlement programme, but we think that our priority should continue to be to provide humanitarian assistance to displaced people in the region, in partnership with neighbouring countries, the UNHCR and other UN and non-governmental partners. Most of those who are displaced want to return home as soon as it is safe to do so, and protection in the region affords them that hope.

Beyond immediate humanitarian assistance, our priority must be to help neighbouring countries to provide sustainable protection in the region. That should be our focus, rather than resettlement or providing humanitarian admission to Syrians—initiatives that can provide only very limited relief and have only a token impact on the huge numbers of refugees.

The UK can be proud of its contribution but there is still more to do. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development pledged a further £100 million in aid at the pledging conference in Kuwait, taking our contribution to £600 million.

I recognise that this is a highly emotive issue and one that continues to require real action through high levels of international co-operation, both in the region and more widely. The UK has a proud tradition of providing protection to those in need, and this Government are committed to continuing to playing our full part in the international response to the humanitarian crisis Syria. Our response to date is one of which we can be proud.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary

I am sorry the Home Secretary has not come to the House for this question.

When the House opposed military intervention in Syria, both sides were adamant that we had an even greater moral obligation to provide humanitarian support in that dreadful conflict. The position is now desperate. Two million refugees have fled their country, more than half of whom are children.

Most of the support is rightly being provided in the region, particularly by Syria’s neighbours. Britain has led the way, through Government aid and the generosity of the British people, in providing outside help, but we have also been asked by the UN to join its programme for the most vulnerable refugees. I spoke to the UN this morning. The programme is for those whom the UN believes will find it hardest to survive in the camps in the region, such as abandoned children who have no other protection or support; torture victims, who may be suffering immense physical and mental distress; those who need urgent medical help; mothers of young children who have lost their husbands and relatives and are vulnerable; and those who have been abused in the camps. They are not asylum seekers. They cannot travel here or elsewhere to apply for asylum. They are already UN-certified refugees.

Other countries—France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Norway, Sweden Finland, even Luxemburg and Moldova, and Australia, Canada and the USA—have agreed to help. Those countries have offered places, taking the UN well on its way towards its target. Britain is being asked to provide only limited help as part of the wider programme, but the Government have refused. The Minister described such help as “token”, but it is not token for a child who is given a home. He dismissed the UN programme in favour of regional support, but it is not an either/or question. As every other major western country understands, some vulnerable refugees need a different kind of help. This is not about border control or immigration policy, but about our long tradition of sanctuary. How can we ask Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon to keep their borders open or to keep helping millions of people if Britain will not do its bit for a few hundred of the most vulnerable, or if we will not even take in those with British relatives who are desperate to help? Charities like Oxfam and Save the Children are urging us to join this programme. It would be shameful for Britain to refuse.

Will the Minister tell the Home Secretary not to turn her back on vulnerable refugees? Will he tell her to look urgently at how many places Britain can provide? The Prime Minister said:

“We should encourage other countries to step up to the plate” and that we must

“fulfil our moral obligations to those people who will suffer.”—[Hansard, 18 December 2013; Vol. 572, c. 744.]

He is exactly right. This is a moral obligation. How can we encourage others if we do not act?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

Listening to the shadow Secretary of State’s response, I do not think that she could have listened to a word that I said. On the scale of help and support the United Kingdom is giving to the region, our level of aid support dwarfs that of most other European countries. Some countries are willing to take very small numbers—sometimes just two figures, by which I mean 10 or 20—and they are not providing financial support. We are the second largest donor: we are helping not hundreds but hundreds of thousands of people in the region by providing water, food and medical supplies. That has to be the right way. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has been one of the leading players working with UNICEF on a programme to help about 15,000 vulnerable children in Syria and the neighbouring countries. That has to be the right solution, rather than offering to take token numbers of people compared with the millions of people in need and the hundreds of thousands of people we are helping in the region.

We are stepping up and doing our part, not just on aid but in the work we are doing on the diplomatic front to help to bring the Geneva II talks, which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been leading, to a successful conclusion. That has to be the long-term solution. It has to be in the region, making sure that those people can return home when the country is safe for them to do so. I am sorry that Yvette Cooper did not acknowledge the work that we are doing, with our European partners, to lead that approach.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Liberal Democrat, North East Fife

There is no dispute that the Government have led the way in the provision of financial aid; nor is there any dispute that the Government have helped to lead the way in relation to a political settlement, but the children of Syria have suffered grievously. Are we really saying that we cannot take a few hundred of those who have suffered most, or are we now so intimidated by UKIP that we have abandoned our humanity?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that children are among those most at risk. One example of what we are doing for children in particular is our work with UNICEF in Syria and the region to provide help not to a few hundred children, but to 15,000. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has been leading this initiative with UNICEF. In terms of the numbers we can help, it is better to help tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people in the region than the frankly relatively small numbers that some European countries are talking about. They are taking very small numbers of people and they are not providing aid. This country is playing a leading role and we can be proud of that.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour, Ilford South

May I declare an interest? I visited the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan in November, where I saw facilities for the protection of children, because of some issues that arise in huge refugee camps. Will the Minister explain why he believes his Government should have a policy that is to the right of UKIP?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

I do not understand the hon. Gentleman’s obsession with other political parties. We are taking this view because we think it is the right way to get the maximum help to the largest number of people. The £600 million we are spending—not everyone agrees with our significant international aid commitments, but we have met our 0.7% aid target and are proud of the help we can give to those most vulnerable—is helping hundreds of thousands, not hundreds, of people in the region with food, water and medical attention. That is the right priority.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

The Government can indeed be extremely proud of what they have done in financial terms, and the tens and hundreds of thousands of people the Minister mentions of course have a great deal to thank us for, but does he not accept that what the UNHCR has asked for—that a small number of extremely vulnerable children be helped by coming to this country—we could do at a very limited cost to ourselves, and not as an alternative to the things he is talking about, but as well as?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

We have taken the view that the best way to help people is in the region. Most of the Syrian refugees do not want to come to another country; they want to return to Syria when it is safe, and by supporting them in the region, we enable them to do so. That is the right way to help significant numbers of people. Our support is helping not hundreds but hundreds of thousands of people, which is the right thing to do.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Labour, Manchester, Gorton

While in no way setting aside the overall disaster of the refugee situation caused by the Syrian conflict, I ask the Government to pay specific attention to the plight of the Palestinian refugees in the al-Yarmouk camp, who are being slaughtered and dealt terrible blows as a result of this conflict, which is not their conflict. The Minister says that of course one of our objectives is that the refugees should be able to go home, but the Palestinian refugees have no home to go to, and their plight must be given special attention in the overall tragedy. Will he give that specific commitment to the House?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

I am pleased to tell the right hon. Gentleman that actually we are helping. UK funding is supporting the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in its work with Palestinian refugees, providing support for more than 350,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. I am pleased to give him the reassurance he asks for.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Commission, Chair, Public Accounts Commission

France has been mentioned. Just how many refugees is it taking? Are we not spending 15 times more than France on humanitarian aid? Our Parliament refused to bomb

Syria; France wanted to bomb it. Which approach is more likely to produce peace and light—our approach or the French approach?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

In my initial response, I deliberately did not set out details of our European partners, but my hon. Friend has specifically asked me to. Yes, France has offered to take a few hundred refugees, but it is only prepared to put in £25 million—a significantly smaller amount than us and several other smaller European countries. We are stepping up and doing what is necessary. I think that some other European countries need to reflect on their contribution—if they did, they might look to do a little more.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Shadow Minister (Education)

Everyone agrees that Britain’s international aid effort is significant, but the Minister is missing the point about refugees. If Britain does not step up, other countries already threatening to shut their borders will see no reason to continue. The population of Lebanon, which I recently visited with World Vision, has grown by a third because of the refugee flows. We need to lead by example, and that is essentially the point of today’s question, which I hope he will take seriously, instead of referring to this as tokenistic. It is too important for that. We need to step up.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

If I may say so, I think the hon. Lady is missing the point. Neighbouring countries have significant numbers of refugees because they are neighbouring countries, and of course there are family connections. Ultimately, the refugees want to return home. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development was in Lebanon only last week. Part of the point of our huge financial effort is to support Lebanon and Jordan to help them deal with the refugees. That is the whole purpose of our funding. We are not leaving those countries to give the support themselves; we are putting our shoulder to the wheel and assisting them in providing it in the region.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Conservative, North West Norfolk

Given that the cost of resettlement is a significant amount of money per person, surely that money is better spent on the ground, where it can immediately save lives. Given that other countries have not lived up to their donor responsibilities, what more can be done to persuade them to do so?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend makes exactly the right point. Looking at how best to deploy our financial resources to help the largest number of people, we need to recognise that there is a difference between taking in refugees in the United Kingdom, as some are calling for us to do, and what we are doing through providing funding for the region. I think that helping hundreds of thousands of people in the region is the right priority, one of which we can be proud.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Will the Minister think again? Many of us welcome the amount of money the British Government have provided to assist refugees—we have no problem with that and fully understand the need. Syria as a whole, however, has hosted a very large number of refugees in the past, particularly Palestinians coming from Iraq, and as my right hon. Friend Sir Gerald Kaufman pointed out, they are being bombed in al-Yarmouk refugee camp. Will the Minister think again and join in a UN programme to give safety to the most vulnerable refugees who, should they remain in place, will be killed for political or social purposes?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

The hon. Gentleman talks about refugees who previously lived in Syria. Of course, the help we are providing is not just to the neighbouring countries; a lot of it is for people who are internally displaced in Syria. We are working very hard with our diplomatic partners to secure humanitarian access in Syria, as well as supporting neighbouring countries. I hope the hon. Gentleman will welcome that too.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Liberal Democrat, Brent Central

Before Christmas, I visited Jordan and the Zaatari refugee camp, as well as a number of organisations providing help for refugees living in host communities. I was particularly concerned about the plight of disabled children and children who have managed to travel on their own. The Minister is of course correct to say that most refugees just want to go back to Syria and do not want to come to Britain, but we are not asking for most refugees to come to Britain; we are asking only for those in exceptional need whom we could help to come to Britain. We should continue to make the arguments for Jordan and Lebanon to keep their borders open; otherwise, we really will have a catastrophe.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

As I think I said in response to Sir Menzies Campbell, we are working closely with UNICEF in Syria and the region on providing support services and protection for 15,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian children and their carers, as well as for refugee children in neighbouring countries. We are providing that support, and we are able to help a significantly larger number of people than the numbers the hon. Lady talks about.

Photo of Geoffrey Robinson Geoffrey Robinson Labour, Coventry North West

Is this not about trying to create a false set of alternatives? These strategies are not mutually exclusive. We recognise, welcome and acknowledge—this has been made clear by Opposition Members—the Government’s good record on total aid programmes and specifically their excellent record so far on providing aid to Syria. However, the Minister is belittling and undermining that effort by his stubborn and incomprehensible refusal to take part in a United Nations-backed programme targeted on those in most urgent need in Syria—primarily children—for no good reason that we Opposition Members can understand. Will he not reconsider?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

I could turn it around and say to the hon. Gentleman that we are providing support for those people in the region. We are helping hundreds of thousands by providing food, water and medical aid—[Interruption.] Mr Skinner says that it is the sixth time I have said that, but that is because it is true. It is the right policy, and I do not mind repeating it as many times as necessary. If I look at what some of our European neighbours are providing, I find that they are taking very small numbers of people and not providing any support. We are helping hundreds of thousands more people than most other European countries, and I think we can be very proud of that response.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

There is no doubt that all colleagues mean well, but the enormity of this humanitarian crisis means it is imperative for the Government to continue to help as many people as possible—and help the many rather than the few in this case rather than using helping the few as an excuse. Other agencies are helping, like the Lady Fatemah Trust in my constituency—a small charitable organisation that takes no administrative fees whatever—so what can the Government do to help support those charities? This one has already distributed 103 tonnes of food to Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for drawing attention to the work of that excellent organisation in her constituency. We are working with various organisations, including partner organisations, but the Secretary of State for International Development is present, and will have heard the details about this charity. I am sure that she will discuss with my right hon. Friend whether we can do more to support its work in helping people in the region.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Culture and Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution)

Like most people in Scotland, I am appalled that this Government, unlike Governments in other small European nations, will not take refugee children. I know that they are terrified of UKIP, but even Nigel Farage recognises that there is a difference between a refugee and an immigrant. Why can the Minister not recognise that as well?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

The hon. Gentleman seems to be obsessed in a way that we are not. [Laughter.] I have made very clear what our policy is when it comes to assisting the largest possible number of people in the region, and I think that that is the right approach. It enables us to help hundreds of thousands of people by providing water, medical resources and food. We are supporting the neighbouring countries and helping them to do the right thing, and I think that we can be very proud of that support.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

I am proud of the fact that our Government is the largest donor to Syria. Of course we need a permanent and a political solution, and of course we cannot take every refugee. However, with the greatest respect, I disagree with the Minister. Surely there is room for more children in this country, particularly vulnerable children such as orphans and those who have been most severely disabled as a result of the conflict. We are not talking about taking everyone, but surely we can take some more, as well as helping on the ground.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

As I said in my statement, we granted refugee status to 1,100 Syrians in the year to last September, and we will continue to grant such status if we receive asylum applications. We should consider how we can help the largest possible number of people, including those who are vulnerable. As I said in answer to questions from Liberal Democrat Members, one of the programmes that we have been supporting is the UNICEF programme, which has been championed by my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary and which has helped 15,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian children, and I think that that is the right thing to do.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

This is rapidly becoming one of the largest humanitarian crises of the last 50 years, and it is producing a phenomenal problem politically in that very complex country, Lebanon. Surely the answer in every country must be “both…and”, not “either…or”. Would we not have much more moral authority if we argued to the French that we are doing “both…and”, not “either…or”, and would it not therefore be a good idea for us to start taking more of these children?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

There are 2.4 million refugees in neighbouring countries, and about 6.5 million displaced people in Syria. Arguing about helping a few hundred people misses the point. [Interruption.] We have put £600 million into the region—the hon. Gentleman is right: this is the biggest humanitarian crisis, which is why our response is the biggest humanitarian response that this country has ever mounted—in order to help hundreds of thousands of people there. That is the right thing to do, and we are helping an enormously larger number of people than any of our European partners.

Photo of Brooks Newmark Brooks Newmark Conservative, Braintree

I congratulate the Government on all that they have done for refugees outside the country. I recently visited the Nizip refugee camp, which is on the Syrian border in Turkey. The Turks do a tremendous job in delivering support, and it is far more cost-effective for the Government to provide for those refugees—particularly the most vulnerable—in situ, in a refugee camp or nearby. Does my hon. Friend not agree, however, that it is the tragedy within Syria that is greatest, and would he support an initiative at Geneva II to ensure that there are safe corridors inside the country so that we can maximise the safety of the majority of Syrians?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question, and the fact that it is informed by his recent visit to the region where he was able to see practically what our colleagues in Turkey—one of the neighbouring countries—are doing to help on the ground. In answer to his specific question, he is right: we have been pushing for better access within Syria and we need to continue to do so, so that we and the aid agencies can get access to the 6.5 million internally displaced people and provide the help they need, as well as providing help to those in the neighbouring countries.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister is absolutely right to praise the Department for International Development for the work it has done, but it is his Department that has been called to the Dispatch Box today, not DFID, and he has undermined his own argument. He said that what is being asked of the Government is simply nugatory—that it is insignificant, that it is a token. If it is so small, why do the Government not do it? Is it because it will contribute to the Minister’s net migration figures? Is that what he is afraid of?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

First, Ministers speak at this Dispatch Box for the Government and set out the Government’s policy. We do not have different policies in different Departments. The hon. Gentleman ought to go away and have a look at that, because we have a collectively agreed policy and I am setting out the Government’s response to the question asked by Yvette Cooper. The reason why I do not want to agree to the proposition the hon. Gentleman puts is that the Government do not think it is the right solution. We think that the solution we have set out, which is to provide the UK’s largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis, will be more effective in helping in the region, and I think that is the right thing to do.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry The Second Church Estates Commissioner, The Second Church Estates Commissioner

Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to have some policy coherence here? It is not coherent policy to call for the United Kingdom to admit refugees from Syria if one is not also simultaneously going to be calling for the UK to admit refugees from Darfur, South Sudan, Central African Republic and other jurisdictions. One cannot pray in aid just one country and say that the UK should admit refugees from that country. That simply is not a coherent position.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. Our usual asylum rules are in place, and as I have said we have already granted asylum, in the year to last September, to 1,100 Syrian refugees and will continue granting asylum where someone has a claim that meets the rules on providing international protection. My right hon. Friend makes a very good point about the various crises around the world where we apply our normal asylum rules. In this case, I think we have more than stepped up to the plate. Chris Bryant said this was an enormous humanitarian crisis: it is, and that is why we have delivered our biggest ever humanitarian response.

Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Opposition Whip (Commons)

A few months ago the Prime Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and suggested that Britain was leading the world in the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis. Why does that leadership not extend to doing the most human thing of all: giving a home to vulnerable children who have suffered horrendous atrocities at the hands of President Assad?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

I do not think anybody can say that this Government are not playing our full role on the diplomatic front. The Foreign Secretary has been leading efforts in trying to get a diplomatic solution and I am very pleased that those Geneva II talks will take place and start this week. They are, of course, a process, not a single point in time. I think we are leading. We are the second largest donor in the world and the largest donor in the European Union. Until very recently when the Germans stepped up, we had donated more money than the rest of the EU combined.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Conservative, Canterbury

Going back to the question of Lebanon, does my hon. Friend agree that that frail state desperately needs two things: first, the splendid programme of aid we have, and, secondly, much greater assistance for the very brave, but very small and poorly equipped, Lebanese army, which is trying to hold the border and the ring within the country?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend is right. As well as the support we are providing in Lebanon to the Syrian refugees, we are of course making sure that we are providing support to it in order to promote stability. We are also providing help to make sure it can deliver the support it is having to deliver because of its location as a neighbour of Syria. I therefore think we are both helping refugees in Syria and providing the necessary support to Lebanon so that it can step up and do what it is required to do in the region.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Does the hon. Gentleman, whose views I respect, acknowledge that operating a blanket ban and excluding the most vulnerable few from admission to the UK is undermining the authority with which he speaks from the Front Bench? Will he listen to the mood of the House, which is clear for all to hear, and go away and change this policy?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman; we do not operate a ban. As I have said, 1,100 Syrian refugees have been granted asylum in the United Kingdom under our normal rules in which people make a case for international protection. That is more than most European countries have done, and we are providing the largest ever humanitarian response—more than all our European partners combined. I think that is a record of which we can be proud.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

Seventy-five years ago, through the Kindertransport, this country saved some 10,000 children from what was happening in Europe. That was not the complete answer to the problems of the holocaust and its terrors, but it made a difference and saved many thousands of lives. The Government are right to be proud of the money they are now putting in, but in much the same way, they could now take further action and save the lives of thousands of children. With Holocaust memorial day coming up, will the Minister reflect on this matter and talk to the Home Secretary to see whether some progress can be made?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

It is sometimes a mistake just to talk about the money we are providing, which is why I have tried to set out some of the help that that money is providing in region. It is helping hundreds of thousands of people there, including tens of thousands of children and some of the most vulnerable people. That is enormously more valuable than what I am being asked to do by the Opposition.

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change)

Often when we discuss foreign or defence policy, we rightly talk about the need to uphold Britain’s standing in the world. Surely that applies to this situation too. Aid and sanctuary are not opposing policies, and the Minister can clearly hear the will of the House on this matter. Many countries are doing both; why cannot we do the same?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

The hon. Gentleman says that many countries are doing more, but I do not know who he could mean. We are providing more support to the neighbouring countries in the region than any other country except the United States of America. Of the 28 member states of the European Union, we were until very recently providing more financial support than the rest of the EU combined. That is a record of which we can be proud, and on which we lead.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

I totally support the Government in the amount of humanitarian aid that they are providing, but let us be quite clear that the key to sorting this problem out is to stop the war. That will happen when one side or the other wins, but there is now a stalemate within Syria. Probably the only way ahead will be through a United Nations Security Council resolution. How are we going to get such a resolution, which would be the first step towards stopping what is happening in that very sad country?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

You can be assured, Mr Speaker, that I shall not go much wider than what I have already said. My hon. Friend will know the challenges involved in getting a United Nations Security Council resolution. We have welcomed the announcement of the Geneva II process, which starts this week, as well as the positive news at the weekend that the national coalition has taken the difficult decision to involve itself in the process. That will be the best—and probably the only—solution to getting a sensible, peaceful settlement in Syria, so that those refugees can do as they want to do and return home to rebuild their country.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

I do not want the hon. Gentleman to think that I normally have to take a deep breath before I hear him speak. I am delighted to hear what he has to say, even though I do not yet know what it is. I am sure that he does, however; or at least, I hope so.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I do not blame you for taking a deep breath before I speak, Mr Speaker. The purpose of these urgent questions is for the Minister, first, to outline what work the Government are doing and, secondly, to listen to the will of the House. May I urge him, once again, to listen to the voices in all parts of this House that are saying that it is not a binary choice between the excellent humanitarian aid the UK Government and UK people are currently gifting to the region, and receiving here in this country a few of the most vulnerable children? We should be doing both, and the Minister should listen to the voices from these Houses of Parliament.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

I am sure that your intake of breath was because you were spoilt for choice by the excellent number of colleagues on both sides of the House who are waiting to ask a question. Let me respond directly to the hon. Gentleman. The question for the Government is: with the resources at our disposal, how can we help the largest number and deliver the best support we can? Our judgment is that we can deliver that help and support best in the region, by providing the support we have—we are the second largest donor in the world. We are helping not hundreds but hundreds of thousands of people. We think that is the right solution, but we have also already accepted, under our normal terms, more than 1,000 refugees from Syria in the year to last September.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

I very much welcome the Minister’s statement. On resettlement in the region, have further discussions taken place with countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates? Those three countries are the ones pushing for change in Syria by supporting the opposition, so are they taking their fair share of refugees?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend will of course know that we continue to talk to our partners in the Gulf on this issue, as on many others, and they and we keep this matter under review. I know that they are providing help and support where they can as well.

Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Labour, Bridgend

We know that al-Qaeda and the Syrian Government have been targeting medical personnel, including British medical personnel who have gone to provide assistance. Given that there are problems with accessing medical aid in Syria and in the neighbouring countries that are providing asylum to refugees, is it not right that the UK offers humanitarian admission—not refugee status—to this country for those needing medical aid, including children, disabled children and those who have been tortured? Is it not our moral responsibility to act in that way?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

What the hon. Lady says about medical support for people who require it—critically injured or sick people—is very important, which is why the work we are doing with the World Health Organisation has supported, across Syria and in neighbouring countries, nearly a quarter of a million people. That is a significant number, and it is far more than anyone is talking about providing for in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Margot James Margot James Conservative, Stourbridge

We can indeed be rightly proud of the humanitarian assistance that this country has provided, which is second only to that provided by the United States. However, I urge the Minister to consider how much more we should be doing, despite the lack of action on the part of some neighbouring European Union countries. We are now being asked by the UN to take on some special cases, and that would not necessarily be a tokenistic response if we could combine that with the sheer number of special cases that other countries might be prepared to take. Will he at least not rule out our participation in such a programme in the future?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

We always keep these matters under review, but we judge that helping the largest number of people is best achieved in the region. As I said, we have accepted more than 1,000 asylum seekers in the United Kingdom, but we think that the help we are providing—not only food and water, but medical support, including to the most vulnerable and to children—is best provided in the region, working with our partners.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

The House has made it clear that this is not seen as a question of, “Either aid or refugees.” The Minister has belittled the number of refugees taken by some other countries in Europe. Does he not accept that if we took a number even proportional to the number Moldova has taken, we would be making a significant difference to the lives of hundreds of the most vulnerable children?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

When the hon. Gentleman talks about making a difference to the lives of hundreds of children, he should understand—I have set it out many times—that we are helping not hundreds of children but hundreds of thousands of children in Syria and the neighbouring countries, and that is the best way of helping. We are helping enormous numbers of people in incredibly important ways, such as by providing food, water, medical attention and shelter. We are also supporting the neighbouring countries that are doing so much to help. That is the right thing to do and something of which we can be proud.

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

The Minister talked earlier about how poor some countries have been at pledging in this crisis. Does he think that Britain can be proud of its Ministers and the work that they have done to get other countries to pledge, culminating last week in the Kuwait conference where $2.4 billion was pledged, $1 billion more than last year?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend makes a good point. We have been leading on that approach. We have carried weight because of our own very significant donations. He rightly draws attention to the pledging conference. As I have said, up until last week, we had pledged £500 million, most of which has already been distributed, and is providing help to the region. Last week, the Secretary of State was able to increase that by a further £100 million, demonstrating that we put our money where our mouth is.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

This debate has been typified by whether we should be doing either/or. In many ways, I congratulate the Government on doing both. By that I mean accepting the 1,100 refugees and also focusing on the other 2.3 million. On reflection, it is the right thing to spend the money in the camps, but could we have a differentiated response for that 2.3 million? We should look at helping categories of individuals, such as children, and use UK expertise effectively and efficiently in-country to help the maximum number. Rather than taking out just one or two—or 500 in this case—and bringing them back to the United Kingdom, we could help far more of them in their own country.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

I think my hon. Friend is right. Some of the work we are doing with UNICEF in Syria and in the region includes providing support services and child protection for 15,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian children and their carers, as well as for refugee children in neighbouring countries. That is a significant amount of help to many, many thousands of children.

Photo of Stephen Metcalfe Stephen Metcalfe Conservative, South Basildon and East Thurrock

I, too, have recently visited Turkey and the Nizip refugee camp, which is receiving support from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. I have seen first hand the scale of the human tragedy that is unfolding there. It is hard not to be moved by the plight of the 2.4 million Syrians who have been displaced. However, on talking to them, it is obvious that their desire is not to come to the UK but to go home. The Government are doing the right thing in providing support on the ground to the most vulnerable people in the camps and in the communities, and we have to work tirelessly to allow all those people to go back to their own home country.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, which was informed by his recent personal experience. He answered rather better than I did the earlier question about the support the Gulf countries are providing to Turkey. He is exactly right. We are providing diplomatic support to the Geneva II process, which is the best solution to a settlement in Syria, and we are providing help to the 2.4 million refugees and the 6.5 million internally displaced people in Syria, and that is the right thing to do.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Having visited Syrian refugee families in Lebanon, I find it staggering that this country should be accused of being uncaring towards Syrian children. We are the first country in the world to pledge 0.7% of our economy every year in international aid. As the second biggest donor to the Syrian refugee crisis, will the Minister confirm that we are helping the second largest number of Syrian children?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

I thank my hon. Friend for that question as he draws attention not only to the help that we are providing in Syria but to the help that we are able to provide across the world with our international development spending, which, although not universally popular, makes sense from both a humanitarian and a security perspective. He has put his finger on the help we are providing. By being the second largest global donor, it follows that we are almost certainly helping the second largest number of people after the United States of America.

Photo of John Leech John Leech Liberal Democrat, Manchester, Withington

The sizeable Syrian community in Greater Manchester makes a valuable contribution to that city and the wider area, so places such as Manchester are therefore best equipped to support Syrian children who have faced unmentionable suffering. Surely the Minister needs to think again.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration

As I said, we are providing help and support to tens of thousands of Syrian children, including some of the most vulnerable, working with our international partners. The work we are doing in the region, is more effective than some of the solutions proposed by hon. Members. I know that the hon. Gentleman does not agree, but I think that the Government’s policy is the right one and it is one that we will stick to.