The whole House shares deep concern about the continuing situation in Syria, the suffering and hardship it is causing for millions of refugees, and the enormous strain it is placing on the region. With 3.2 million people displaced into Syria’s neighbouring countries and millions more in need within Syria itself, this Government believe it is right to focus efforts on substantial aid to help the large numbers of people who remain. This is a crisis of international proportions. Alleviating the suffering and seeking an end to the conflict are the best ways to ensure that the UK’s help has the greatest impact for the majority of Syrian refugees and their host countries. Ending the war, defeating extremism and ending the humanitarian crisis require both military pressure and a political settlement that replaces the Assad regime with a Government who can represent all Syrians.
The UK has committed £700 million in response to the humanitarian crisis. This significant contribution makes us the second largest bilateral donor after the United States. The UK’s support is helping hundreds of thousands of refugees across the region to access vital food, water, medical care and essential supplies that are so desperately needed. UK aid has provided water for up to 1.5 million people per month and supported over 600,000 medical consultations. Last year, we funded 5.2 million monthly food rations.
Compared with aid, resettlement can only ever help a minority. We do, however, recognise that there are some particularly vulnerable people who cannot be supported effectively in the region, which was why earlier this year we launched the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme to provide sanctuary for those displaced Syrians who are most at risk. The VPR scheme is the first resettlement programme run by the UK to target support for refugees specifically on the basis of their vulnerability. It is prioritising women and children at risk, people in need of medical care, and the survivors of torture and violence.
It is right that our resettlement efforts focus on the most vulnerable refugees, rather than our operating any form of crude quota system. Arrivals under the scheme so far have included a number of children and adults with very severe medical needs who could not access the treatment they needed in the region. The Government have committed to helping several hundred people over three years, and that is exactly what we are doing. Between March and September, 90 people were granted humanitarian protection in the UK under the scheme. We continue to work closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to identify the most vulnerable cases displaced by the conflict in Syria and to relocate them to the UK. This is, of course, in addition to the many other Syrian asylum claims that we consider under our normal rules. Since the crisis began in 2011, we have granted asylum or other forms of leave to more than 3,400 Syrian nationals.
Resettlement can make a real difference to the lives of refugees who can be supported effectively only outside the region. I am delighted to see those arriving under the scheme settling into their new homes and receiving the care that they need, but we must not lose sight of the millions of Syrians who remain in the region. Our primary focus was and still is the provision of humanitarian assistance and aid to displaced people both within Syria and in its neighbouring countries. Continuing our efforts to help them through aid must remain our highest priority.
The British Government have, rightly, committed £700 million to help those affected by the Syrian conflict, and the UK’s largest ever humanitarian crisis response reflects the values of the British people. I applaud the Government’s efforts, but the scale of the response is also a reflection of the horrific nature of this war. Ten million people need help and thousands are displaced every day. This is a war seemingly without end and with no limits to its inhumanity.
More than 3.2 million Syrians have become refugees in the surrounding region—in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Those countries are providing an immense amount of support and shelter. Everyone agrees that the vast majority of people affected want to go home and should stay in the region. Yesterday, however, the United Nations asked at a conference in Geneva for countries across the globe to increase support for its limited programme that helps the most vulnerable refugees who struggle to survive or cope in the region: orphaned children, women who have been sexually abused, victims of torture and those needing treatment or support. What did Britain do when asked for more help yesterday? Nothing. Why?
This is the worst refugee crisis since the second world war. It took weeks of pressure from the House before the Home Secretary set up the vulnerable persons relocation scheme in January. Even then, she still refused to be part of the United Nations programme. She did say that she would help several hundred people, but a year later only 90 of those vulnerable refugees have been helped. That is not good enough.
As part of the UN programme, Finland has provided 500 places, Ireland 310 places, Norway 1,000 places, France 500 places—as well as further humanitarian visas—Switzerland 500 places and Sweden 1,200 places. Other countries, including Germany and Austria, have chosen to offer thousands of places each. The UN scheme is flexible. It is not a quota. It is not about every refugee, but about each country doing its bit and what it can alongside others.
I have three questions for the Government. First, will they accept that their parallel programme is not working and sign up to the United Nations programme instead? Secondly, will they take refugees out of the net migration target immediately? The Government are under pressure over immigration, where stronger controls are needed, but asylum is different from immigration. They must not allow the debate about immigration to cloud their conscience over helping refugees.
Thirdly, will the Government now agree to do more to help? Will they rapidly accelerate the programme to meet the promises made in January and also convene an urgent meeting with local councils across the country? Kingston-upon-Thames has agreed to help 50 Syrian refugees and other councils have said they could do more if they got the right support from the Government. Will the Minister convene a meeting to ask local councils how many vulnerable refugees in total we can offer to support?
When we raised the issue a year ago, the Home Secretary sent a Minister to say no. I hope that the Government will not do the same again. The violence of the Syrian conflict is unimaginable for us sitting here. Once, we were proud as a country to offer safe haven—from the Kindertransport to those helped from the Rwandan genocide. It would be shameful, but also against our history and our values as a country, if we were to turn our backs when asked for more help now. I urge Ministers to think again.
The shadow Home Secretary is right to underline the significance of the issues faced in Syria and of the millions of people displaced by that horrific conflict. As I said, it is right that we focus our efforts on seeking to bring an end to the conflict as well as on providing direct assistance in the most effective way to those who have been affected and displaced. That is precisely what the Government are doing and the UK can be proud of our record in seeking to provide that direct assistance to those most in need as a consequence of the conflict.
The right hon. Lady suggested that the vulnerable persons relocation scheme was in some way not working and not fulfilling its intentions, but I entirely reject that. The VPR scheme is already providing direct help for people fleeing persecution and for those most in need of help, medical or otherwise. I congratulate the local authorities that are supporting the scheme and providing such direct assistance. To reflect one of her other points, I would certainly encourage more local authorities to come on board and be part of the scheme to ensure that those arriving in this country are able to receive the support and assistance that they need to be able to settle well and effectively in the UK.
The right hon. Lady made a point that was not worthy of our proceedings when she suggested that our decisions are in some way being clouded by a focus on net migration figures. That is absolutely not the case. Our country can be proud of the work that we are doing in providing this direct assistance under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme which, as I said, has provided asylum to 3,400 people from Syria who have been fleeing the conflict. I therefore entirely reject her assertion.
The right hon. Lady highlighted the need to ensure that support is provided to children and women in need. Through our work via the Department for International Development and our aid programmes, the UK has allocated £82 million to provide protection, trauma care and education for children affected by the crisis in Syria and the wider region, recognising their vulnerability and the need to ensure that assistance is provided directly.
The right hon. Lady referred to the contribution of several countries in seeking to take in refugees from Syria. Each country provides assistance in its own different manner. Given the £700 million that the UK is providing to support millions of people in the region directly and immediately, and the asylum that is being provided to Syrians fleeing persecution through the vulnerable persons relocation scheme, this country should be proud of the role it is playing in providing help and assistance to those most in need. This is an ongoing crisis and tragedy, which is why we are providing direct assistance and aid, and we would certainly encourage others to do so. Focusing on humanitarian assistance and on bringing an end to the conflict will provide the most direct help.
I think that we should deal with this question in context. I have visited Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and seen the immense work that the British Government are doing in looking after refugees. The Minister is right to be proud of it, and Yvette Cooper was right to mention it. In the context of the extraordinary efforts that the United Kingdom is making, it is not correct—it is rather unfair—to suggest that any part of our support can be termed “shameful”. Admitting people through the vulnerable persons relocation scheme is the right thing to do. Will the Minister confirm that it has no quota and that it can be extended, as it is a matter of finding the right people who can most benefit? It would always be nice to find a reason to take in more people, but if we set this scheme in the context of the rest of work that the United Kingdom is doing, it is clear that our contribution, which is over and above that of many of the countries mentioned by the right hon. Lady as taking in more people, means that we can be proud of what we are doing.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments, for the work that he has done in the region and for his continuing focus on these issues. He is absolutely right that there is no quota. We said that the vulnerable persons relocation scheme will provide assistance to several hundred people over a three-year period, and that is precisely what is happening—the scheme remains on track to deliver that. I underline the point about the work of a number of countries in region to solve this humanitarian crisis. I pay tribute to their work and to the direct role that the UK is playing in assisting them.
It is a sad irony that the Home Office published figures today showing that 11,000 foreign national criminals are still in our country, at a cost to the taxpayer of £250 million, yet under this scheme we have allowed in fewer than 100 people. We need to do much more to enable such people to come here. Has the Minister spoken to the European Union’s Migration Commissioner about the difficulties faced by Greece and Italy due to the large number of Syrian refugees making their way into the EU? What support are we giving those countries to help those people arriving in the EU, rather than those who manage to get to Calais?
The Government maintain that because of the number of people involved, the most effective way to provide the most support is in region via humanitarian assistance. The right hon. Gentleman asks about our discussions with EU partners and countries that may experience these flows of people through southern European borders. The week before last, I attended a conference in Rome with European Ministers and Ministers from several African countries. Through the Khartoum process, which is about such linking and joining up, we are taking a number of steps to deal directly with some of the issues that he highlights.
When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made her statement earlier this year, I welcomed it, perhaps more generously than some in the House. However, that has resulted in a far higher degree of disappointment on my part about the implementation of the scheme which, after all, is intended to try to deal with those who have suffered the most as a result of events in Syria. We can be proud of what are spending and of what we are doing in general, but surely that should not exclude the possibility of our doing something particular for those who have suffered most. I regret to say that I hope we are not allowing the shadow of Mr Farage to obscure our humanitarian responsibilities.
No. When the vulnerable persons relocation scheme was launched, we were very clear about its nature and intent: to help, over the course of the next three years, several hundred of those people most in need. The scheme was put in place very quickly and a steady number of people have been coming through month on month. Through the scheme, we are able to provide care, housing and assistance locally to ensure that people’s specific needs, including the significant health needs that many have, are adequately and properly met. The scheme is performing and doing the job that it needs to do.
Ernest Bevin once described a political statement as “clitch, clitch, clitch”, and that—clichés—is what we have had from the Minister today. It is just rubbish to say that we must concentrate on bringing an end to the conflict, because there is nothing whatever that we can do to bring this ghastly conflict to an end. We are talking about simply the worst humanitarian disaster on this planet—and that is saying a lot, considering other such disasters. While I do not in any way deride or dismiss the financial aid that is being applied, it is the human beings whom we ought to be doing something about. The Home Office is failing in that, and it is about time that it had a heart.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for highlighting the scale and extent of the problem, but I am sorry that he has sought to downplay the significant contribution that the Government are making to help millions of people who have been affected by this appalling conflict. It remains absolutely right that we seek to end the war and to defeat extremism, as well as ending the humanitarian crisis, and that is why we must also focus on the political process. Dialogue remains active between the United Nations and the international community, among supporters of the opposition and among Syrians themselves. This Government and this country can be proud of what we are doing through this assistance and our political focus—and, yes, through the vulnerable persons relocation scheme in providing asylum.
I congratulate the Minister on his approach to the problem because he reflects the Government’s sympathy and concern for the plight of the Syrian refugees. Small organisations in this country such as the Lady Fatemah Charitable Trust, which is based in my constituency, do great work in providing food assistance and humanitarian aid in places such as Iraq and Lebanon, as many refugees do not wish to go far from home and want to be helped directly wherever they have landed. Will the Minister encourage more organisations to carry out such work?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for highlighting the incredible work of so many charities and non-governmental organisations. I pay tribute to the work of the organisation in her constituency. We should remember the incredible risks that so many people take to provide such help and assistance. It is important to underline that, as well as to recognise their supportive work with DFID and other partners.
We know that the Minister has the scheme that he has outlined—it is the subject of this Urgent Question—and that Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are doing an enormous amount to help in the refugee crisis, but what more can the Government do to put pressure on other Governments in the region, such as the Gulf states, to open their doors to more refugees from Syria?
I understand from the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend Mr Ellwood, that that matter is being raised at international bodies and in international discussions. The right hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise the work done by countries such as Jordan and others. We are providing more than £300 million in aid assistance outside Syria to some of the countries on which the displacement of people is most directly having an impact.
I have visited both Lebanon and Jordan to see projects supporting Syrian refugees, as outlined in my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. In talking about numbers, it is worth noting—on a day when the Prime Minister is in Turkey—that Turkey has received more Syrians fleeing the war in the past three days than the number resident in the whole of Europe altogether. Will the Minister consider expanding not just the vulnerable persons relocation scheme, for which many colleagues have argued, but other safe routes to travel? For example, family reunification, which Switzerland has done, would be cheaper to administer and would alleviate significant suffering.
People subject to the vulnerable persons relocation scheme are also eligible for family reunion under our normal rules. The hon. Lady mentioned Turkey and other countries. Again, it is important to underline that our support has reached hundreds of thousands of people across all 14 governorates of Syria, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. She is absolutely right to emphasise the impact on other countries.
Desperate Syrians were heavily over-represented among the 500 people in a boat that sank in the autumn in the eastern Mediterranean, from which there were only 11 survivors. We now know that 3,419 refugees have died in the Mediterranean this year. Does that not underpin the critical importance of not reducing sea rescue efforts in the Mediterranean, while we work to find solutions to the refugee crisis that has engulfed so much of the world?
As the hon. Lady will be aware, Operation Triton is being conducted by Frontex along the borders of the southern European Mediterranean countries. It is important to underscore that people are not in any way being left to drown as a consequence of the changes endorsed by all EU member states. I draw her attention to the fact that, on
May I commend my hon. Friend for the UK’s significant financial contribution to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria and the British people for their generosity? Does he share my pride—not the shame that the Labour party is talking about—that the UK is the second largest donor in the world in this instance?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, which we need to underscore and recognise. As a country, we should be proud of the extent and scale of the assistance that the UK is providing in-region to those most in need of help. We can stand tall in respect of that contribution.
In his earlier responses, the Minister made it very clear that political pressure to reduce net migration has had no impact on the number of refugees this country is accepting. However, he must accept that such a conclusion is inevitable, given that refugees are included in the net migration figures. Why are refugees included in the net migration figures, and will the Home Office now reconsider that matter to avoid such accusations in future?
I again entirely reject any assertion that the manner in which net migration statistics are calculated has any bearing or influence at all on this country’s international obligations on humanitarian assistance. Indeed, we should be proud of the work that this country does in providing humanitarian aid, assistance and asylum to those in need. Net migration statistics are calculated on the same basis as in many other countries, and they are drawn up in that manner for use in international comparisons.
Any proposals for resettlement must be set in the context of the scale of the problem. Some 1.4 million Syrian refugees are currently resident in Jordan, many of whom are children of school age. Does the Minister agree that activities such as those of the Manchester-based NGO Syrian Women Across Borders, which is educating young Syrian refugees in Amman, play an important part in improving the lives of the young Syrian refugees who are struggling against such odds?
I agree with my right hon. Friend, and I pay tribute to the project he mentions. Important facilities are provided through our aid and assistance, and we are funding partners to provide education supply kits in refugee camps in Jordan. That supports the very work he identifies, including the supply of pencils, exercise books and other facilities. In addition, the Government have committed to providing textbooks to benefit at least 300,000 Syrian and Lebanese children attending Lebanese public schools, showing a real focus on children.
The Minister stated that there are no quotas for the number of refugees we are taking, but he does not seem, from his answers, to be very proactive in trying to obtain offers of assistance within the United Kingdom. May I suggest that he arranges a summit with the devolved Administrations and local government in England to find out how many authorities are prepared to make offers of assistance so that the UK can increase the number of refugees we take, as many of my constituents are demanding?
I know that many local authorities are actively assisting the work of the vulnerable persons relocation scheme—I commend them for doing so—and others are offering help and support. I absolutely endorse the need for more local authorities to come forward to do so. On her suggestion about the devolved Administrations, I will certainly consider what further steps we could take to underline the importance of their contribution, as well as the help that local authorities can give.
Having visited a refugee camp on the Syria-Turkey border earlier this year, I am all too aware of the conflict’s impact, especially on children. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking the Turks for all they are doing to provide support? Does he agree that the best way to resolve the problem is to find a way to end the war, however difficult that may be? Will he remain committed to providing whatever support is needed both at home and abroad?
My hon. Friend has experience of travelling to see the very direct impact of the situation on the ground, and I commend him and other Members from across the House for their work and the real focus and attention that they have given to this very serious issue. He is right to identify Turkey’s contribution. The Prime Minister is in Turkey at the moment, and it is important to work with our international partners to seek to resolve this appalling crisis.
May I point out to the Minister that none of us is criticising the generosity of the population or of our constituents? Britain is doing pretty well on many measures. What the rest of the world are criticising is the lack of leadership and the drift. Here is a Prime Minister—in Turkey—who is regarded by so many allies as a modern-day Neville
Chamberlain. Where is the determination to sort out this conflict, to face up to the humanitarian crisis and to get allies to work with us, across Governments, to do something about it?
The Prime Minister and the Government have shown clear leadership at the UN and elsewhere, and by working bilaterally with other Governments. Indeed, the fact that we have committed £700 million, the biggest aid project this country has ever seen, shows very direct leadership. We are not just talking about it, but actually doing something about it. On that basis, we are showing leadership, and our country can be proud that we are doing so.
Along with my right hon. Friend Mr Jones and my friend Mr Love, I returned from Jordan last week. We visited Syrian refugees in Zaatari and saw the institution that my right hon. Friend referred to. May I say gently to my hon. Friend the Minister that it is a particular pity that the enormous amount of aid that the United Kingdom is giving is being overshadowed by the frankly derisory numbers of refugees that we are taking relative to the size of the problem? In addition, despite all the assistance going to particular NGOs and the UN in Jordan, the Jordanian Government’s budget is not receiving the help that it desperately needs given that the Jordanian public services are picking up much of the responsibility.
The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend Mr Ellwood, who is sitting alongside me, will be visiting Amman next week, and I am sure that he has heard clearly the points that my hon. Friend Crispin Blunt makes and will raise them with his opposite numbers and colleagues in the Jordanian Government. However, this country can be proud of the overall contribution that is being made. Each country is providing assistance directly, and we are doing so through significant aid, through the vulnerable persons relocation scheme and by providing asylum to those who need it.
When I asked about this issue during Scotland Office questions on
I note that the hon. Gentleman highlights one individual country within the EU, but each country provides a balance of assistance, whether by accepting people through various schemes or by providing monetary assistance. Each country does so in its own appropriate way. We have said that we will provide support under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme to several hundred of those most in need of assistance, and we are providing quarterly updates on that work. The scheme is therefore transparent and clear, and we are obviously continuing our discussions with local authorities and others to see what further assistance they can provide. I will seek to take that further forward following this session.
The Minister is right to be proud of the aid that Britain is giving in the region, and to give asylum to Syrian refugees who can make it over here. However, as he knows from our exchanges at the Home Affairs Committee, I believe that the efforts to tackle the problems of the most vulnerable refugees who cannot easily get here are simply tokenistic and fall far short of what Members of all parties agreed when the system was set up. It is far less than other countries are doing. Will the Minister reflect on that? I know that he and the Home Secretary were careful not to give any quotas or numbers, but will he at least try to edge the numbers upwards to deliver what this country would like to see and to help people in need?
My hon. Friend says that the vulnerable persons relocation scheme is in some way not meeting what he sees as the intent behind it, but when the scheme was launched we were clear that it would assist several hundred vulnerable Syrians over the course of three years, and it is doing that and remains absolutely on course to achieve it. Again, I highlight the fact that we are providing assistance to some of the most vulnerable people through our direct aid assistance to individual countries. That aid contribution and the vulnerable persons relocation scheme mean that this country can be proud of what it is doing.
The number of people that this country has admitted this year under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme has been, in January, one; in February, none; in March, none; in April, one; in May, one; and in June, four. The Minister looks puzzled, but those figures are from a parliamentary answer that he supplied to me, and they show the priority that he gives the matter. Will he confirm that neither he nor the Home Secretary has ever met the Refugee Council to discuss those shameful figures? Will he please undertake to do that, and to do better from now forward?
The vulnerable persons relocation scheme was launched in February and was got up and running within the first two months, which was rapid given the significant needs of so many of the people involved. Many have medical needs and have suffered huge trauma, and the arrangements have been implemented appropriately to ensure that we provide them with the help that they need when they arrive. They do not simply arrive here and then wait for assistance; there is wrap-around care when they arrive in the UK. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is hectoring from his place, but the scheme is working and is providing direct assistance. I am sorry that he does not recognise that, because there are people receiving direct help. I am sorry that he appears to be blind to that.
My hon. Friend is right to point out that the quality and extent of British aid is second only to that of the United States. Britain’s historic role and ties in the region put a greater onus on us to play our full part in the resettlement of refugees. What work are the Government doing to encourage more local authorities to sign up to the vulnerable persons relocation scheme?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to underline again the significant contribution that many local authorities are making by allowing people to be located in their area through the scheme and ensuring that essential help and assistance is provided. I certainly encourage more local authorities to come forward, as I have said in response to a number of questions, and I encourage hon. Members of all parties to talk to their local authorities in support of what the Government are doing so that we can ensure that more areas make that assistance available.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend that the Prime Minister is showing real leadership in delivering humanitarian and local support to refugees in Syria. Will he join me in praising the work of Cornish-based ShelterBox, which is doing phenomenal work in Syria right now, ranging from health care to educating children, with the support of the Department for International Development and voluntary donations?
I am pleased to offer my support for, and commend the work of, ShelterBox and a number of other charities that are providing direct support and help to people in Syria and other areas affected by conflict. It is also important to underline the contribution that the British public make through their huge generosity to so many charities and aid organisations. As a country, we can be proud not simply of the Government’s work in investing aid money but of the public’s huge contribution and the funding that they are providing to give direct assistance.
The Minister has used the word “proud” eight times so far today. Many of my constituents are proud of the immense courage of the Syrian and Assyrian Christian communities that are currently facing a fearful and frozen future in a part of the world where they have lived for centuries but where they may simply not be able to survive much longer. Many of my constituents have offered accommodation—they have offered homes and bedrooms, and they have offered succour to those people. Will the Minister agree to collate the information about such offers and feed it in to the UNHCR, which will be responsible for the first year’s cost of any resettlement, to see whether the British people can show their pride in a courageous Christian community in the same way that he has shown his pride? Winter is coming fast to the region, and we have very little time.
I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s points. There are a number of persecuted communities, and he rightly highlights the situation in Iraq. I also recognise, from the letters that I see, the number of individuals who want to contribute. The most effective way for them to do that is through their local authorities and the vulnerable persons relocation scheme, but we continue to have discussions with the UNHCR, which identifies individuals who come through that scheme, and we will always reflect on what further information we can provide and how we can make the scheme work as effectively as possible.
My constituent, Razan Alsous, fled Syria two years ago and thanks to a new enterprise allowance now runs an award-winning Yorkshire halloumi cheese-making factory in Linthwaite. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Razan and other Syrian refugees who are making such a positive contribution to our communities?
I am pleased to congratulate Razan and all those who are making a new life in the UK, contributing to and enriching our communities. The vulnerable persons relocation scheme is precisely to provide such assistance and enable people to escape the conflict and settle into the relevant communities, and that is the reason for our measured approach.
Britain has a proud history of providing refuge and asylum, but I share the concerns of a number of hon. Members about how that issue has been confused with a wider debate on immigration, including data collection. I am still unclear—perhaps the Minister can help me—why we have set up a parallel programme to that of the United Nations, and about the criteria used for relocation. For example, will families be relocated close to other Syrians or family members?
The scheme operates in close conjunction with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. We judged it best to contribute through a complementary scheme, working in partnership with the UNHCR and focusing exclusively on the most vulnerable cases, particularly women and children at risk, those in need of medical assistance, and survivors of torture and violence. As I said, this is the first scheme of its kind in the UK with that direct focus. The UNHCR will make recommendations about those who are appropriate and suitable for the scheme, and through that complementary work we are actively supporting its efforts.
I congratulate Yvette Cooper on securing this urgent question, and the Minister on the excellent way he is responding. I disagree with the Opposition, however, because surely the Prime Minister has shown great leadership not only on Syria but on overseas aid. We are the second highest contributor of aid, but I think we have been concentrating too much on the money. Will the Minister say what that money is doing for people on the ground?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful and important point about the way that aid money provides assistance to hundreds of thousands of people. That money means food, water and shelter, and I have already mentioned the books that are being provided and other assistance to ensure that children receive an education despite their displacement from within Syria. The money is providing direct, practical, real-life assistance and we should underline work that has been done to ensure that we meet aid commitments, as well as the leadership being shown. As my hon. Friend said, I think the Prime Minister has shown leadership not only in Syria but on many other things as well.
Rochdale has more asylum seekers than the entire south-east of England. Cardiff has 900, Newport 400, but the Minister’s constituency has 33. The Home Secretary’s constituency has one—an increase on last year. Would it be far easier to rescue more people from that hell if the burden that asylum seekers place on local authority services was spread fairly? What will the Minister do to stand tall and proud in his constituency and prepare it to take a fair share of asylum seekers?
We work regionally with local authorities and I have had a number of meetings to see how the Home Office can work towards and assist a further spread of those in receipt of asylum across the regions. I welcome what the hon. Gentleman said about ensuring that more local authorities receive asylum applicants, and I have been taking forward discussions in a number of areas to ensure that new local authorities, and others in the region, play their part in providing asylum support.
A substantial number of my constituents have recently contacted me about this issue because they care and see its importance. They thought that the debate earlier this year about whether we should resettle people or act in the area had been resolved when the Home Secretary said that we would seek to take in several hundreds of refugees under this scheme over three years. Currently, however, the numbers involved are tiny, and I have heard nothing from the Minister about why those numbers are so small or what plans he has to honour that commitment to take in several hundreds of refugees?
I recognise the care and concern over this situation felt by many people across the country, and that is testament to the nature of this country and the values we hold. The Government were clear that the scheme would provide assistance to several hundred people over three years, as the hon. Lady rightly highlighted, and we are doing that. We remain firmly on course to seek to meet that objective and aim, and we will provide quarterly updates on our progress. We have provided the figures to September and further updates will follow. She will see that we are meeting our commitments and providing the help that is needed.
Along with Mr Jones and Crispin Blunt, I visited Jordan recently and saw for myself the tremendous work that has been done using British aid funds to feed and shelter massive numbers of refugees. We also visited a British Syrian charity to see its work in looking after women and children, and particularly the rehabilitation needs of those who directly and abruptly became victims of the conflict in Syria. Many of those people would be appropriate and suitable for the vulnerable persons scheme, and I plead with the Minister to look carefully at the need in countries such as Jordan because the numbers are huge.
The hon. Gentleman rightly highlights the scale and impact of what is happening in that region, and that is why we remain in close contact with the Government of Jordan and are providing assistance. He is right to say that those who have been traumatised may be appropriate for the vulnerable persons relocation scheme, and we are working with the UNHCR to ensure that those who come to the UK have their needs identified. We work closely with them so that once they arrive they can receive direct medical or other assistance from the word go. That is why the scheme is—rightly, I think—being undertaken in that way, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting his direct experience.
The Minister said earlier that the withdrawal of the wider search and rescue scheme in the Mediterranean had not led to more people drowning. He cannot possibly know that, however, because the new Operation Triton only operates close to the Italian coast. Given evidence that people are still dying in their hundreds and thousands in the Mediterranean, and that the Italian navy is putting about one third of its boats at the service of the new rescue operation, should the UK and the rest of the EU be thinking about a wider search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean? How many people is the UK assisting Italy with in Operation Triton?
The decision taken on Mare Nostrum was endorsed by all EU member states because it was felt that the programme was leading to more people putting themselves at risk, and—sadly—more people dying. More than 3,000 people have died crossing the Mediterranean already this year compared with 700 in the previous year. The UK is not part of Frontex, which is the EU body that leads the current work on a pan-EU basis, but we are nevertheless providing two debriefers and a nationality expert to support the operation, and considering what other resources we can provide. On search and rescue, if a vessel is in distress, another vessel in the vicinity will clearly seek to come to its aid. Indeed, as I have already highlighted, a Royal Navy commanded vessel did precisely that in recent weeks.