Lebanon (Syrian Refugees)

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 20th January 2015.

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Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 11:30 am, 20th January 2015

What assessment he has made of the capacity of Lebanon to support refugees from conflict in Syria.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I had the pleasure of visiting Lebanon—and indeed Jordan—last month, and I pay tribute to the enormous efforts that are being made in taking on 1.2 million registered refugees. This is a concern we have relating to the Syrian crisis, and the UK is providing more than £160 million-worth of help to manage the influx of refugees.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

The Lebanese interior Minister said recently that Lebanon lacked capacity to host more displaced people, given the substantial number of refugees to whom our Minister referred. The UK has received just 90 Syrian refugees to date. Does he agree that that limits our ability to press Lebanon to keep its borders open? Will he have discussions with the Home Secretary to ensure that the UK plays its part?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The hon. Lady raises a question which has been put to the House before, and I should highlight something that has also been raised before: the amount of funding that Britain is providing and the emergency cases that we bring across to the UK. I raised with refugees in the Zaatari camp, which has 80,000 people, the issue of whether they would prefer to be in the locality or to be taken away. It is very much the case that they would like to remain in the region—as close as possible. Britain is doing its best: we are one of the largest donors to support these countries in providing refugee camps, to give them the stability they need in this hour of need.

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

I am glad to hear that the Minister visited Jordan, one of our closest and most loyal allies in the middle east, which has paid a terrible price from the impact of refugees. Given our special relationship with Jordan and the fact that the country is fragile both economically and politically, do we not have a special responsibility to the people of that country?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I could not agree more with my right hon. and learned Friend. I saw for myself when I visited the country the closeness of the relationship that we have, which also extends to the security relationship, which he will be very familiar with, given the Committees on which he serves. We are working very hard to make sure that Jordan receives support, and I know that the Prime Minister has a very strong relationship with the King, too.

Photo of Frank Roy Frank Roy Labour, Motherwell and Wishaw

What recommendations have the Government made to the United Nations to ensure that the food voucher system remains for Syrian refugees fleeing to Lebanon?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

That is actually a matter for DFID, but it did come up on my visit as well. There was a concern that there was a breakdown in the food voucher system because the funding was not there. I understand that the funding streams have now been repaired, but we will keep an eye on the situation. It is important to ensure that the refugees have the food that they require.

Photo of Hugh Robertson Hugh Robertson Conservative, Faversham and Mid Kent

Reports at the weekend suggested that Islamic forces were massing on the Lebanese border around the town of Qalamoun. Is the Minister in a position to update the House on the situation, and does he agree that any threat to the territorial integrity of Lebanon would be extremely serious indeed?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend in this area. He was in Lebanon this summer. I had the chance to visit the Bekaa valley and see the work that the British are doing in training the Lebanese armed forces and in creating the watchtowers, which will help to enable the Lebanese to monitor and provide security themselves. But the situation is very intense indeed, and there is a threat of ISIL punching into Lebanon.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Shadow Foreign Secretary

The Minister is absolutely right to pay tribute to the neighbouring countries of the Syrian conflict, Jordan and the Lebanon, for the extraordinary work that they have done in receiving a huge population of refugees as a consequence of the conflict. On the point about the UN food vouchers, given the reports last week of the value of those food vouchers having been cut as well as the importance of ensuring the availability of vouchers, what further steps are the British Government taking to encourage international partners to provide a level of resource needed by the United Nations to meet the humanitarian crisis?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Given the right hon. Gentleman’s previous job, I know that this is a matter that is close to him as well. As I have said, I raised that issue in meetings with the United Nations representatives both in Lebanon and in Jordan. I was assured that, for the moment, the funding streams are in place. It might be helpful if I get a colleague from DFID to write to him with an update.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Shadow Foreign Secretary

In these exchanges, we have already heard of the importance of the bilateral relationship between the United Kingdom and Jordan. Beyond the very welcome humanitarian support that is being provided to refugees in Jordan and the Lebanon, what specific additional support is being provided to Jordan to maintain stability within that country given that a significant number of refugees are not in camps such as Zaatari, but with host populations?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

We are adopting a number of initiatives to support a country that has already been described as being very, very close to Britain. The Secretary of State has met his counterpart to look at improvements to the security situation, and I have visited Zaatari, the biggest refugee camp. We are not simply pouring money into the area, but funding support for the local towns that feel the burden of having large numbers of Syrians coming into their area. We are providing support to the

Jordanian towns in the area as well so that they do no feel so burdened with what is happening in the north part of Jordan.