Opposition Day — [19th Allotted Day] — UNHCR Syrian Refugees Programme

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:51 pm on 29th January 2014.

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development 3:51 pm, 29th January 2014

I was going to refer to the hon. Gentleman’s earlier remarks. He is right to highlight the pressures that the influx of refugees is having not just on countries as a whole, but on so-called host communities. Many have seen their populations literally double, and that is having the sort of effect we can all imagine. It is stretching health care, hospitals, schools—I will come on to talk about some of the work we are doing to support children—water, sanitation and sewerage systems. The UK was instrumental in working with the World Bank to set up a trust fund, focused in that case on helping Jordan, to invest in basic services. We want to ensure that not only are refugees taken care of, but the people in host communities who have been very generous in accepting refugees and have been hugely affected by doing so. Another example, which is part of our work to support children in Lebanon, is that we have recently provided more than 300,000 packs of textbooks for children in public schools. Most of the children receiving those textbooks will be Lebanese and about 80,000 will be Syrian. It is important that we reflect and recognise the support needed by host communities.

Millions of Syrians are facing the harshest winter of their lives. For many, it is the third winter they are facing as refugees. I was in Bekaa valley in Lebanon earlier this month. The UK has provided about £90 million for so-called “winterisation”: winter tents, warm clothing, heating, food, blankets and shelter kits. I pay tribute, as Mr Clarke did, to the non-governmental organisations. They are often the organisations that provide this support on the ground. The whole House should pay tribute to their dedication and efforts in what are incredibly challenging and often dangerous situations.

We are deeply concerned about sexual violence. The UK is funding specialist programmes that prioritise the protection of women and girls who have been affected by the crisis, both inside Syria and in the region. We held an international summit, which was a call to action on the overall issue of protecting girls and women in humanitarian crisis situations so that they are not victims of sexual violence. The hon. Member for Wirral South was right to highlight some of the health issues faced by women, in particular, in these circumstances.

Inevitably, it is the most vulnerable groups who find themselves most at risk. Last September, when I was in Zaatari camp, I met a number of women who were living there. It was interesting to hear the views of my hon. Friend Sarah Teather, who has also been to that camp. Many of the women are stoic about the situation in which they find themselves, but once they begin to talk one hears more about the traumatic experiences they have been through. The thing they worry about most, whether they are men or women, is the impact of the crisis—[Interruption.]