Syria: Madaya

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:11 pm on 11th January 2016.

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Photo of Jo Cox Jo Cox Labour, Batley and Spen 4:11 pm, 11th January 2016

I thank the Secretary of State for her response. I am sure she will agree with the following quote:

“In order to break the siege, you need to first break the silence surrounding it.”

Those words were spoken by an individual in Yarmouk—a camp in Syria’s capital, Damascus—which was besieged for two years by the Syrian Government, causing a reported 200 people to die of hunger. It should not have taken an international outcry on this scale to agree what is a nominal agreement on access to just one small community of 40,000 people out of up to a potential 1 million currently living under siege in Syria.

As we know all too well, it is the Assad regime that is primarily responsible for the policy of sustained, systematic starvation of the population of Syria. Of the areas under siege, 52 are under Assad control, two under rebel control and one under ISIS, so let us be clear: he is responsible for 99% of those areas under siege.

I would be honoured if the Secretary of State could reply to a few questions. First, UN Security Resolution 2165 states that

United Nations humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners are authorized to use routes across conflict lines”.

Does she agree that, to date, the UN has not pushed the envelope and used that clear authorisation to break the siege not just in Madaya, but country-wide?

Secondly, will the Secretary of State demand answers from the UN on why it is still waiting for permission from Assad when resolution after resolution states that that is not necessary? It has the authority and the mandate to go in right now. Thirdly, will the Secretary of State ask the head of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs why certain besieged areas are not yet classified as such? For example, why is even Madaya not classified as besieged in the latest OCHA report to the Security Council?

Fourthly, does the Secretary of State agree with me, Médecins sans Frontières and other aid agencies that one-shot distribution to Madaya and other places will not alleviate the problem in the months to come or deal with the wider issue country-wide? Sustained and ongoing access is needed. What measures will the Government take from today to make sure that that pressure is maintained?

Fifthly, does the Secretary of State agree that, as the second largest donor, we have a critical role to play in making sure not just that next month’s donor conference is successful in raising the significant amount of money needed, but that that aid actually reaches Syrian children? We play a welcome role as the second biggest donor to the country, and it is critical to get access.

Finally, does the Secretary of State agree that, if the UN fails to negotiate and agree sustained, ongoing access to those populations under siege, we should start contingency planning for RAF food drops? It has worked before—we have seen it happen. I was an aid worker for more than a decade and I have seen the difference that airdrops can make. Will she investigate whether that is a viable option at this time?