Syria Crisis: UK Response

– in the House of Commons at 4:19 pm on 8th February 2016.

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development 4:19 pm, 8th February 2016

With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement updating the House on the recent Syria conference, which the UK co-hosted with Kuwait, Norway, Germany and the United Nations last Thursday.

For nearly five years, the Syrian people have suffered unimaginable horrors at the hands of the Assad regime and, more recently, Daesh. Inside Syria, 13.5 million people are in desperate need, while a further 4.6 million people have become refugees. As we have seen over the past 72 hours alone, the impact on the people of the region is terrible and profound. When I was in Lebanon and Jordan last month, I spoke to refugees, some of whom were spending their fifth winter under a tent, and their stories were similar. When they left their homes, they thought they would be back in weeks or perhaps months at the most, but for an overwhelming number it has turned out to be years, and there is no end in sight.

Not only is Syria the world’s biggest and most urgent humanitarian crisis, but its far-reaching consequences are being felt across Europe and touching our lives here in Britain. More than 1 million refugees and migrants risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean last year. Of these, half were fleeing the bloodbath in Syria.

Since the fighting began, Britain has been at the forefront of the humanitarian response to the Syria conflict. Aid from the UK is already helping to provide food for people inside Syria every month, as well as clean water and sanitation for hundreds of thousands of refugees across the region. Our work on the Syria crisis gives people in the region hope for a better future, and is also firmly in Britain’s national interest. Without British aid, hundreds of thousands more refugees might feel they had no alternative but to risk their lives seeking to get to Europe.

Despite all that, more was needed. The UN Syria appeals for the whole of last year ended up only 54% funded. Other countries needed to follow the UK’s lead and step up to the plate. That is why the UK announced we would co-host an international conference in London on behalf of Syria and the region, building on three successful conferences held in Kuwait in previous years. Last Thursday, we brought together more than 60 countries and organisations, including 33 Heads of State and Governments. The stage was set for the international community to deliver real and lasting change for the people affected by the crisis, but in the end it was going to come down to choices.

Could we pledge the record-breaking billions needed, going much further than previous conferences, and commit to going beyond people’s basic needs and delivering viable, long-term solutions on jobs and education for Syria’s refugees and the countries supporting them? At the London conference, the world made the right choices to do all of those things. Countries, donors and businesses stepped up and raised new funds for the crisis amounting to more than $11 billion. This included $5.8 billion for 2016 and another $5.4 billion for 2017-20. It was the largest amount ever committed in a single day in response to a humanitarian crisis, and it means that more has been raised in the first five weeks of this year for the Syria crisis than was raised in the whole of 2015.

The UK, once again, played its part. We announced that we would double our commitment, increasing our total pledge to Syria and the region to more than £2.3 billion. Going beyond people’s basic needs, the world said at the London conference that there must be no lost generation of Syrian children and pledged to deliver education to children inside Syria and to at least 1 million refugee and host-community children in the region outside Syria who were out of school. This is an essential investment not only in those children, but in Syria’s future. It also gives those countries that are generously hosting refugees temporarily the investment in their education systems that will benefit them in the longer term.

The London conference also made a critical choice on supporting jobs for refugees and economic growth in the countries hosting them. We hope that historic commitments with Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan will create at least 1 million jobs in countries neighbouring Syria, so that refugees have a livelihood close to home. That will also help to create jobs for local people and leave a legacy of economic growth. By making those choices, we are investing in what is, overwhelmingly, the first choice of Syrian refugees: to stay in the region, closer to their home country and their families who are so often still in it. If we can give Syrians hope for a better future where they are, they are less likely to feel that they have no choice other than to make perilous journeys to Europe.

I wish to thank all those civil servants from my own Department, the Cabinet Office, the Foreign Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills for working so tirelessly as a team to help us deliver such a successful and vital conference. It is not often that civil servants get the thanks that they deserve, so on this occasion I decided to put my thanks on record.

The world has offered an alternative vision of hope to all those affected by this crisis, but, in the end, only peace will give the Syrian people back their future. The establishment of the International Syria Support Group at the end of 2015 was an important step on the path to finding a political settlement to the conflict. The Syrian opposition has come together to form the Higher Negotiations Committee to engage in negotiations with the regime on political transition, and the UN launched proximity talks between the Syrian parties in January.

The UN special envoy to Syria took the decision to pause these talks following an increase in airstrikes and violence by the Assad regime, backed by Russia. The UK has called on all sides to take steps to create the conditions for peace negotiations to continue. In particular, Russia must use its influence over the regime to put a stop to indiscriminate attacks and the unacceptable violations of international law. Across Syria, Assad and other parties to the conflict are wilfully impeding humanitarian access on a day-by-day basis. It is brutal, unacceptable and illegal to use starvation as a weapon of war.

In London, world leaders demanded an end to those abuses, including the illegal use of siege and obstruction of humanitarian aid. Our London conference raised the matter of resourcing for life-saving humanitarian support, which must be allowed to reach those who are in need as a result of the Syria conflict, irrespective of where they are.

I also want to take this opportunity to provide an update on the campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria. Since my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary last updated the House on the campaign against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, the global coalition, working with partner forces, has put further pressure on Daesh. Iraqi forces, with coalition support, have retaken large portions of Ramadi. In Syria, the coalition has supported the capture of the Tishrin Dam and surrounding villages as well as areas south of al-Hawl.

The UK is playing its part. As of 5 February, RAF Typhoon, Tornado and Reaper aircraft have flown more than 2,000 combat missions and carried out more than 585 successful strikes across Iraq and Syria. We are also leading efforts to sanction those trading with, or supporting, Daesh. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gained agreement at the European Council in December on asset freezes and other restrictive measures.

Since day one of this crisis, the UK has led the way in funding and shaping the international response. We have evolved our response as this incredibly complex crisis itself has evolved. There will be no end to the suffering until a political solution is found. The Syria conference, co-hosted by the UK and held here in London, was a pivotal moment to respond to help those people and countries affected. We seized the chance to offer the Syrian people and their children hope for a better future. The UK will now be at the heart of making that ambition a reality and keeping the international community’s promise to the Syrian people. That is the right thing to do for those suffering and, fundamentally, for Britain, and I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

The Syrian crisis is the most pressing humanitarian challenge facing us at this time, and the Government are to be commended on co-hosting an important conference that has raised more than $10 billion for Syrian refugees. They are also to be commended on doubling our own commitment to more than £2.3 billion. The emphasis on education and jobs is entirely correct: we cannot allow a whole generation of Syrian children to be lost.

The Secretary of State will be aware, however, of the report by Concern Worldwide that reveals that a third of the funds pledged to Syria in 2015 had not been confirmed by December of that year. Can she say whether all the money pledged in 2015 has now been confirmed, and does she appreciate the hopes of the entire House that she will get other countries not just to match our generosity but to hand the money over? The wholly commendable efforts on Syrian refugees in the region belie the Government’s wilful myopia on the plight of more than half a million Syrian refugees here in Europe. It is true that the majority of Syrian refugees are in the region, and the situation continues to worsen. We all saw the television pictures at the weekend of tens of thousands of terrified Syrians waiting at the border with Turkey in response to Assad’s bombardment of Aleppo, but will the Secretary of State explain how much longer this country and the EU can expect Turkey to keep its border with Syrian open while at the same time we want to prevent refugees from transiting to western Europe?

The funds raised by the conference are vital, but it is vital, too, that this country shows willingness to take its fair share of refugees, including Syrian refugees. The UK has agreed to take, over five years, fewer refugees than Germany has taken in a month. The Opposition appreciate that this country has not signed up to Schengen, but does the Secretary of State acknowledge that the fact that we are not signatories to Schengen does not remove the moral responsibility that falls on us as part of the European family of nations, and does she accept that many people are surprised and disappointed that the Government have rejected the Save the Children campaign to take in just 3,000 child refugees?

The Secretary of State may well wish that these children had stayed in the region, but the direction in which the children chose to flee does not make them any less vulnerable. These children may not be in the part of the world she might prefer them to be in, but they are still lone children at risk of abuse, sex-trafficking and worse. She cannot behave as if there are two classes of Syrian child refugee: one set who stay in the region, whom she is prepared to help, but another class who have travelled to Europe on whom she turns her back.

The Secretary of State will have heard reports of the German Chancellor’s speech in Turkey today. Does she agree with Angela Merkel that the ultimate solution to the migrant crisis is safe and legal pathways for refugees? On the political process, I am glad to say that the Opposition support calls on all sides in the Syrian civil war to take steps to move towards sustainable peace negotiations. In particular, Russia must use its influence on the Assad regime. We entirely agree that it is unacceptable and illegal to use siege, starvation and the blockage of humanitarian aid as a weapon of war. We welcome the steps taken to freeze Daesh assets and other restrictive measures, for which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has called for some time.

All Syrian refugees want to return home. Immigrants and refugees, whether they go home or not, never lose that hope in their heart that they will return to the country in which they were born. But whether the Secretary of State would prefer it or not, there are half a million Syrian refugees here in western Europe. Together with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, I visited the camp in Calais and met very many Syrian refugees there, many of whom, it seemed to us, had a legal right to come to this country, and all of whom were living in appalling conditions.

When the caravan of these international events has moved on, there will still be thousands of Syrians and other refugees, including an increasing proportion of women and children, living in appalling conditions in Europe, frightened, terrorised and at the mercy of people traffickers. We may all wish that they had not listened to the people traffickers, but this Government should be doing more not just for Syrian refugees in the region, but for the very many Syrian refugees here in western Europe.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

The hon. Lady raises the important point that it is vital that countries that came and made promises at last week’s conference live up to them. Too often at similar meetings in the past, countries have spoken warm words or set out promises that they have not lived up to. The UK will play its role by delivering on our promises, as we have in the past and will in the future, and by putting in place the necessary transparency to enable us to ensure that other countries live up to the promises they made.

It is wrong of the hon. Lady to say that we have not played our role close to home. Our strategy from the word go has been to tackle the root causes of the crisis that we have seen reaching our own shores, which is to make it viable for refugees to stay close to home in their home region as that is, overwhelmingly, the first choice of most refugees. It has been a failure to deliver on such promises and to provide the necessary resourcing that has led them over time to give up on that.

We are playing our role close to home here in Europe. It is the UK that has been working with UNHCR and the Red Cross, making sure that newly arrived refugees are effectively registered—although the hon. Lady will understand the challenges that poses on occasion—and making sure that they have the shelter, clothing, blankets and sustenance that they need, having finally made that often fatal journey. So we are playing our role.

The hon. Lady will know that we are resettling 20,000 refugees from the region directly. That is not only a safer route for people to get to the UK if that is where they need to be resettled, but it enables us to focus on the most vulnerable people affected by the crisis who need to be resettled—people who could never otherwise make the kind of journey we have seen other refugees making across Europe. In more recent days we have set out the work that we will be doing particularly to help children affected by the crisis. I am very proud of the work that the UK has done to put children at the centre of our response to the Syrian crisis. It was at our initiative that the No Lost Generation initiative was set up. It was through our help that UNICEF has been able to put safe zones in refugees camps to help link up children who have become separated from their family. It is the UK that has been ensuring the availability of the psychosocial support that children so often need, having been involved in such crises and undergone the experiences that they have, and we will continue to do that.

More broadly, the hon. Lady’s condemnation of Russia is correct. We can debate whether and how the UK’s support for people affected by this crisis is working, but we should all be able to agree that the routine flagrant, deliberate breaches of international humanitarian law that we see daily in relation to this crisis are unacceptable. A country such as Russia should be playing its role by pressing the Assad regime, which it is spending so much time and resource supporting, to allow the aid that is there in places such as Damascus to get down the road to the people who desperately need it. I believe that in time, as we look back on the crisis in the years to come, that breach of international humanitarian law will be one of the most telling aspects of it. People will ask themselves how it could have been allowed to go on.

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Conservative, Mid Derbyshire

May I commend my right hon. Friend for her calm and factual statement on the situation of the Syrian refugees, which contrasted with the rather emotive statement by the shadow Secretary of State, who is trying to whip up emotion about these things? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, actually, we do need peace in the region, we do need to talk to Russia about what it is doing, and somebody needs to tackle Assad? We should also be looking at keeping as many people as possible in the area where they have been brought up, where their culture is correct and where they understand the lifestyle, rather than encouraging them, as the Labour party might choose to do, to come to this country, when we are putting so much money—taxpayers’ money—into helping these people to settle there.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

These are two related issues. One, as I have said, is that we are, of course, playing our role close to home—here in Europe—in helping refugees who have finally arrived on our shores. However, my hon. Friend is right to recognise that, overwhelmingly, refugees basically want to stay close to home. I met a lady on my last trip to Jordan whose family were still in Homs, and she had intermittent contact with them. For her, the prospect of even considering leaving Jordan was totally not what she was looking at; what she desperately needed was to be able to work legally to support herself while she tried to get on with the life she suddenly found herself living.

As I said, at the beginning of this crisis, none of the refugees thought that they were leaving Syria for anything more than a few weeks or months, and we should all think about how we would cope with such situations. It is incumbent on the international community, though, to make sure that we now go beyond providing just day-to-day support, so that people are not just alive but able to have some kind of life. That is in their interests, but it is also in the interests of the host communities, which are so generously accommodating them.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

I thank the Secretary of State for her statement and for giving us early sight of it. The Scottish National party, too, welcomes the pledges and commitments made at the conference. We recognise the achievement of securing the biggest ever pledges made in one day and particularly the commitments on child education and jobs. However, I echo the concerns about the difference between making and fulfilling a pledge, and it would be helpful to hear what discussion there was at the conference about processes for monitoring and implementing the pledges, bearing in mind the gap between last year’s pledges and the actual assessed need.

There is a feeling in some quarters that civil society—especially local and national Syrian civil society organisations—was under-represented. However, it is those organisations that are often the front-line responders to the crisis and that have the access inside Syria that international counterparts do not. It would be useful to hear what role the Secretary of State sees civil society on the ground having in decision making and implementation as aid is disbursed.

While recognising the role the Government have played, I echo the concerns about the response to the refugee crisis in Europe. Analysis from Oxfam suggests that, rather than 20,000 refugees over four years, the UK’s fair share would be 24,000 this year alone. How will the commitments the UK made at the conference support those displaced by the conflict, especially those already in Europe?

Finally, the only viable long-term solution, as we have heard, must be a negotiated peace. What discussions is the Secretary of State continuing to have with her Cabinet colleagues about the impact of UK airstrikes, and does she believe that the UK’s involvement has helped or hindered its role as a peacemaker; and how can the Government be confident that their bombing is not adding to human misery, and that, while seeking to improve the humanitarian response on the one hand, they are not adding to the crisis on the other?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

Mr Speaker, I shall try to answer briefly the points that the hon. Gentleman raised, which were all important.

As I said, we will do our level best to make sure that the commitments made last Thursday are honoured. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the important role of civil society. In fact, we had a day dedicated to that last Wednesday. Seventeen Syrian civil society organisations were represented at that event, and 27 non-governmental organisations overall. The role they have been playing, and can continue to play, is in delivery on the ground. Many of these people put their lives on the line every single day of the week to get into communities who desperately need their help. We have to continue to assess needs, and the information that we get from civil society is often vital in making sure that we target our aid where it can have the biggest impact,.

Looking ahead, perhaps optimistically, but nevertheless importantly, when we finally get to a position where we can see Syria getting back on its feet and rebuilt, civil society will have a crucial role not only in understanding the needs and priorities of local people but in forming networks that can help on the ground to deliver on them. As I said, I believe that we are playing our role, not only, overwhelmingly of course, in the region, but closer to home here in the EU. A pound spent here in Europe does not go anywhere near as far in supporting refugees as a pound that can be delivered closer to home in the region to provide food, water and shelter, or get a child into school who is currently out of school. It is incredibly important that we do not lose sight of the need to tackle the root causes that underlie the refugee flows into Europe over recent months.

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I could not disagree with him more on UK airstrikes. One of the key challenges in ever reaching any kind of peaceful settlement in Syria is the presence of the barbaric Daesh, who, day by day, routinely commit acts of unspeakable brutality—particularly on women, but on people more generally—in the territories they control. These people are not simply going to get up and go home. That is why we need to take military action against them to force them out of those territories. This is already happening in Iraq. They are leaving a wasteland behind them, but at least it is a wasteland that we can start to rebuild in, and we are going to do the same in Syria.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I wholeheartedly support what the Government are doing. A critical part of our strategy is to ensure that the two small nations nearby, Jordan and Lebanon, are able to cope. It must be incredibly difficult, given the huge number of refugees compared with their overall populations. Will the Secretary of State give some detail on the work we are doing to encourage those two nations, particularly in economic terms, through customs unions and the idea of economic co-operation—perhaps not just with the UK but within the EU as a whole—to try to ensure that they do their best in this regard? We must recognise that many hundreds of thousands of these Syrian refugees are likely to be in Jordan and Lebanon for many years to come.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has mentioned this historic step forward in getting agreement to start creating jobs for refugees. For many years, they had been unable to work legally, and that forced many into working illegally to try to support themselves. They might have left Syria with some assets, but over the weeks, months and years those assets were depleted, and reaching the end of them led many to decide that they had no alternative but to try find a life somewhere else. This therefore matters. In essence, countries such as Jordan and Lebanon decided to allow work permits so that greater numbers of Syrian refugees can work legally. These were big decisions for them to take, but they were right to do so as they cope, and indeed often struggle to cope, with the refugees who are temporarily, but in large numbers, within their countries.

What are we doing? On the Jordanian and Lebanese side, particularly with Jordan, we are setting up economic zones with advantageous tax rates to encourage investment. Some of this will be, in effect, the Syrian economy in exile. I have met business leaders who are re-establishing their Syrian companies, but in Jordan. That is not just good for Syrians who can get back into work; it is also providing work for local people who are unemployed. This is complemented by the investment coming from the World Bank and the European Investment Bank; and crucially, as my right hon. Friend mentioned, by reform at the European Union level and making our own trade barriers that much more flexible so that countries such as Jordan can more easily sell their goods into the huge market that is the European market.

We should be really proud of the work achieved with both Jordan and Lebanon at the conference. It was home-grown UK ideas that were put on the table and they got international support. Most importantly, they gave us the chance to work directly with the Governments of Jordan and Lebanon to help with the long-term provision of jobs and growth that will be there long after their generous hosting of refugees temporarily.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Labour, Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford

I strongly welcome the results of the London conference and the leadership shown by the Secretary of State and others in Government. That is immensely important. She said that Britain is also helping refugees in Europe, but the honest truth is that the help being provided to them is tiny. There are refugees in Greece and the Balkans, and close to home in Dunkirk and Calais, who are in worse humanitarian conditions than those in the region and who are being denied support by Governments, the United Nations and aid agencies because they are in Europe. Children are suffering from scabies, bronchitis and cold. How much of the London conference funding will go towards helping refugees in Europe? If the answer is none, what is the Secretary of State doing to hold a similar pledging conference to help the refugees in Europe?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

The conference was, indeed, about making sure that we are responding, in the region, to Syrian refugees and host communities affected by the crisis.

The right hon. Lady asks about the response in Europe. We are talking about European countries that have the resources to respond to and help refugees who are currently in their own countries, but, as I have said, the UK has played its role in helping refugees who have arrived.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I strongly support the Government’s approach of giving maximum help to refugees near their homeland, as well as the Government’s participation in crucial initiatives for political progress and peace. What impact is the intensification of Russian-supported Assad military intervention having on British Government policy?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

The main impact, in the short term, has been the breakdown of any progress in peace talks. In the end, it is a peace settlement that will give people hope for the future and result in their wanting to go back and rebuild their country.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Labour, Exeter

I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments on the positive role already being played by the RAF in the coalition campaign to drive Daesh back from territory in Syria, following the recent vote in this House. Does she agree that the catastrophe, including the humanitarian and refugee catastrophe, will continue as long Daesh controls large areas of eastern Syria and as long as President Assad, supported by Putin, slaughters his own people?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

Yes, I agree entirely. As I said in response to Patrick Grady, it is critical that we maintain Syria’s integrity as a country, and that absolutely means regaining the territory that has been lost to Daesh. There can be no peace settlement in Syria until we have that territory back under control and it can form part of the peace talks.

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for coming to the House today. She has always been accommodating in updating us on the work of the Department for International Development in the region. Will she confirm that DFID will continue to focus its work and aid on the camps and the region, because ultimately this is about tackling the root cause of the problem, and a political solution is the only long-term solution?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. The talks need to get back under way. Of course, UN Security Council resolution 2254, which was adopted at the end of last year, set out a road map for that to happen. It highlighted two key areas. The first was the need for a ceasefire, and the second was the need for free, unfettered access for humanitarian supplies to get through to people, but the lack of progress on them, combined with the intensification of attacks by Assad forces, supported by the Russians, is hindering the peace talks and undermining the process.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley

Words cannot convey the impotence and the anger that we, as politicians, feel at the lack of progress in the peace process. I understand the contribution made by the Government, but we are seeing an awful humanitarian crisis develop today at the border with Turkey. Mrs Angela Merkel has made quite clear what she feels about it. She says that the Russians are primarily responsible for the bombing and are the reason that people are fleeing in their droves from Syria. Has the Foreign Office called in the Russian ambassador today? Has the Prime Minister called in the Russian ambassador? He should be called in every day until the Russians stop barrel bombing the civilians in Syria.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

The right hon. Lady will be pleased to hear that the Foreign Secretary is part of the International Syria Support Group, which will meet in Munich this Thursday, hopefully with the Russians there. That is precisely the sort of message that we will be delivering to the Russians; they have a critical part to play in enabling the peace talks to move forward. At the moment, their actions are taking us further away from a peaceful settlement, because they are bombing the very moderate opposition around which it should be possible to form a transition Government.

Photo of Heidi Allen Heidi Allen Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

The Secretary of State has every right to be exceptionally proud of what was achieved at the conference, but I fear that we need to do more locally in Europe. She will know, I am sure, that I and my hon. Friends the Members for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) and for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) were in Lesbos last weekend, and I can tell her that the Greeks are not coping. Britain needs to lead in Europe, as we have done on the global stage. There are refugees, including children, in Europe who need our help, and Greece is on its knees. Will the Secretary of State meet us to hear our first-hand emotional and factual account of what we saw?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend, and I have read reports of her visit. I reassure her that we are playing as much of a role as we can in working with Greece. The UK has worked with the UNHCR, which has registered many of the refugees who have arrived in Greece. In the end, we have to accept that Greece has sovereign control, and it will want to organise how it deals with refugees. Yes, it needs resourcing. The European community is discussing how it can effectively do that, and the UK has been part of that. In the meantime, our focus has rightly been on dealing with the root causes of why those people lost any hope that there was a future for them in the region where they lived and had grown up. That surely has to be the main focus.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Labour, Wolverhampton South East

The Prime Minister accepted when the House voted to extend the military campaign against ISIS from Iraq to Syria in December that that would extend not only our involvement but our responsibility. May I ask the Secretary of State more about the political peace process that she has touched on? It would be easy to lose faith in it, given the events of recent days, but does she agree that although the aid efforts she talks about are commendable, the only long-term solution for the people of Syria is not aid but a country in which they can live? Is there anything more that she can say about how to get the political process back on track?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

The right hon. Gentleman knows that a key next step will be taken this Thursday, when the International Syria Support Group meets. That will build towards the resumption of peace talks, which are having what the UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura described as a “pause” until 25 February. There are two elements to this. One, of course, is the peace talks and the political dialogue that is under way. The second, as I said in response to an earlier question, is the military action that is needed to eradicate Daesh from the part of the country that it holds. Making progress on both of those is critical. The final step, the rebuilding of Syria, will be a chance to put into practice much of the planning that is there already but unable to be got on with.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, South West Wiltshire

Tragically, whole generations of children have grown up in refugee camps, such as those in Tindouf in Algeria, with all that that means in terms of education and radicalisation. What can be done to prevent something similar from happening near Syria?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

The sort of step forward that we saw last Thursday—the commitment that no child will be lost to the Syrian crisis, and that all children will be back in school—is absolutely critical. If we want them ever to feel that they are in a position to rebuild their own country, they will need at least to be able to read and write, and to have had some sort of education. Too many children have already lost too many days in school, but after last Thursday we have a much better chance of getting them back into the classroom and back learning. That is precisely what we are hoping to do over the next few weeks and months.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

May I join other Members in commending the Secretary of State for the success of the donor conference but remind her that, as with the Yemen donor conference six years ago, it is not the pledges but the paying of the money that matters? In that case, only 10% has been paid so far. The key local country is Turkey, to which the EU has pledged €3 billion to deal with this crisis. Has that money been paid at least in part, and can she reassure the House that recent developments are not affecting the processing of the 19,000 Syrian refugees whom the Prime Minister has pledged will come to this county before the next election?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

The €3 billion deal was very much reached as part of the Syria conference last Thursday. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I will be very keen to make sure that all the commitments made last Thursday are delivered. That is vital if we are to achieve the results we have set ourselves, including the ambition to make sure that no Syrian refugee child is out of school by the end of the forthcoming academic year. More broadly, he should be reassured that the UK will continue to play a role in ensuring not only that we do a lot in our response to this crisis—we have already done so: we are the second biggest bilateral donor to date—but that we continue to shape the response.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

Once people cease to be internally displaced persons and cross an international border, in their minds and in reality they become refugees or economic migrants and it is very difficult—much more difficult—for them to go back to their own country. It would be great if the international community, which has so far failed to stop the war, came to an agreement to set up safe areas close to or on the borders of other countries. We would be able to reach into those safe areas and look after people there so that when the time comes—and politics works—they can go home to their own country.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

Following last Thursday’s conference, the hope is that we can better help countries on the border with Syria that are safe for refugees to flee to and that are better able to cope with the refugees who are now there. We all hope that, in time, refugees will be able to go back to their countries. The reality, however, is that the typical time somebody spends as a refugee is now 17 years. That is why the work on getting children into school and on jobs is so important.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

What concrete action did the conference agree to take in Aleppo, following the toxic intervention of the Russians and the likelihood that Assad will impose a blockade? Was the subject of either aid convoys or air drops discussed?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

The general point that the right hon. Gentleman raises about access and making sure, alongside generating the resources that UN agencies and NGOs need, that we have the ability to get those resources to people in need was a central part of the conference. That is why I set out in my statement how important it was for the international community to reiterate its support for free and unfettered humanitarian access. We should condemn all those who are daily preventing key supplies from reaching people who are often at death’s door and in need of such supplies.

Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley

The easiest thing in politics is to say, “Do more”, but may I say how proud I am of the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and the UK for our response to this humanitarian crisis? I agree with my right hon. Friend John Redwood, Ann Clwyd and many other Members that we must now tackle the issue of indiscriminate bombing by Russian air forces. What can be done to get the UN special envoy back around the table with the Russians and to stop the bombing, which is making the crisis so much worse?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

The UK Parliament is playing its own role in highlighting this issue, which has led to the current pause in the peace talks. In Munich on Thursday, it is vital that the Russians take a long, hard look at their role in being able to make or break the peace talks. At the moment, the actions they are taking are preventing progress—it is as simple as that—on two fronts: one is the ceasefire, and the other is their failure to persuade the Assad regime to allow supplies into key areas under its control. Of the many requests that UN agencies have made to the Assad regime to allow access to such areas, just 10% have been agreed, which is a total disgrace. I hope the Russians will raise that with the Assad regime, which they are doing so much to support.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

I commend the Secretary of State for the resources that have been allocated to educating children and young people from Syria while they are displaced, which I understand are being channelled almost exclusively through UNICEF. Will she confirm that British aid agencies, which have a lot of experience in this area, are being included in the discussions and that the door to DFID is open so that their expertise can be used and harnessed?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

The No Lost Generation initiative was set up with UNICEF, which has done an amazing job in allowing us to scale up this work. Of course, it is now essentially owned by the Governments in Lebanon and Jordan. I have had the privilege to work alongside their Education Ministers to put together the plans that are enabling us to scale up this work to ensure that all children in those countries can get into school. The best suggestion I can make is that those NGOs get in touch with DFID to understand what role they can play in the plans that the Governments of Jordan and Lebanon have to get children back into school.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

I commend my right hon. Friend and the Government not only for convening the Syria donor conference but for the significant in-region humanitarian support we are providing. In recent times, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have contemplated military action in Syria. Will she say what those countries and similar countries in the region are doing with regard to humanitarian aid?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

One big step forward at the conference was the stepping up of the region to provide the resourcing for humanitarian supplies to get through to people. Of course, the last three donor conferences were in the region, in Kuwait. We chose to host the conference this year, but it had substantial and significant support from the region. That is one reason we were able to reach such a record-breaking pledge.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health)

I echo the concerns of my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper about the squalid conditions of some of the refugee camps not just in Syria and the region but in Europe. What assessment has the Department made of the health risks, particularly the public health risks, arising from those squalid conditions? What more can be done to alleviate the conditions in which refugees are living?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

As I said earlier, we have provided key support to refugees arriving in Europe. Most recently, we announced a £10 million fund that will enable us to provide very practical support to refugees who are having to cope with the difficult conditions the hon. Gentleman describes.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

I commend my right hon. Friend for ensuring that Britain is the second largest western donor of aid to the region. What are the Turks meant to deliver in return for the €3 billion that the EU is giving them, especially with regard to the latest wave of refugees from the crisis in Aleppo?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

My hon. Friend will be aware that there is already a substantial number of refugees in Turkey—

2 million in total. The plan is really about helping Turkey to continue to provide the food, water, shelter, education and, more latterly, jobs programmes that enable refugees to cope with the circumstances they find themselves in.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

If Syria is to have a stable and peaceful future, women and girls will have a part to play in it. Will the Secretary of State say why there was no mention of the role of women in the Syrian stabilisation paper that was published last week?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

I fully agree with the hon. Lady that women have a key role to play not only in the rebuilding of Syria in time, but in the peace talks that need to happen in advance. She will know that, alongside all the work we have done to help children affected by this crisis, we have focused on women as well. We know that in humanitarian emergencies, women and girls—adolescent girls, in particular—are often the most vulnerable people, so we have worked very hard to make sure that the risks they face are managed. I would be happy to write to her about some of our plans to make sure that women stay at the centre of our thoughts in the international response to the Syria crisis.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

The Secretary of State appropriately highlights the work that is done with people immediately on their arrival into Europe, but the key question remains about what happens after that. What do the Government think should happen with the 1 million people who arrived in 2015, and who should do it?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

The UK is obviously not part of the Schengen area, but it has played its own role in helping Syrian refugees who need to be resettled out of the region—the Prime Minister has pledged to resettle Syrians over the course of this Parliament, and I pay tribute to the work of the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees, who has overseen that process to date. We met our first timeline of resettling 1,000 Syrian refugees prior to Christmas, and I think we should be proud of that.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Europe), Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development)

Today, up to 70,000 refugees from Aleppo are caught between the al-Assad regime’s advancing forces and Russian airstrikes, and are unable to cross to Turkey. What is being done to offer immediate help to those poor people?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Secretary of State for International Development

That flow of people is happening because action by the Syrian regime is driving them out of their homes, and we have seen that persistently over the past few years. We have talked directly with our partners on the ground to ensure that humanitarian support is getting through to those Syrian refugees, and more broadly we understand that the Turkish authorities are putting in place the necessary measures to ensure that people are able to cross the border.