Syria: Civilians

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th October 2018.

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Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art 12:00 am, 30th October 2018

What recent assessment he has made of the conditions for civilians in Syria.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

Conditions remain dire for civilians in Syria. Half the population is displaced and some 13 million people are dependent on humanitarian assistance. We continue to engage with agencies and Governments to ensure humanitarian access and the use of supplies. Yesterday, I had an opportunity to meet Staffan de Mistura here in London.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

As the Minister has said, civilians in Syria desperately need calm, and they need a political process to lead them out of this conflict. On Saturday, France, Germany, Turkey and Russia met in Istanbul. How will we bring the UK’s influence to bear to ensure that this is a Syria-led process that puts Syrian civilians at the heart of whatever the political process brings next?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I should like to start by thanking Staffan de Matura for all the work he has put in. As the House will know, the United Nations special envoy will be standing down in November. He has devoted the past few years of his work to trying to achieve a settlement and agreement in Syria that will indeed enhance the rights of civilians. At present, he is still working on the details of the constitutional settlement. It will involve a constitutional committee, for which he has put forward various names. There is an impasse on that at the moment, but his work, and the work of the Syrian high negotiating committee, to ensure that civilians have a recognised role in the future of Syria remain a key part of the United Kingdom’s contribution to these discussions.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am grateful to the Minister for that response, but could he take this a little bit further and tell us what conversations he is having with his counterparts in other countries to ensure that civil society and civilians are at the heart of the post-conflict resolution and the peace and reconciliation that are so needed?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

That is a good question. We as a Government are engaged in regular consultations with states that have an interest in supporting the UN process. Essentially, this is a UN process, supported by the UN Security Council, to ensure a settlement that involves civil society. All the evidence suggests that conflict will reoccur unless women, civil society and others are involved in the resolution of that conflict. The United Kingdom takes this issue forward very carefully.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Independent, Barrow and Furness

But as my hon. Friend Alison McGovern said, the UK was not at Istanbul and it will not be part of the EU-US summit organised to take place in France next month. Is it not a source of profound dissatisfaction and, potentially, shame that the UK will not be at the table? What are the Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister going to do about that?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

Yesterday, the UN small group met in London with representatives of a variety of countries and the UN special envoy in order to be part of the process that is supporting the special envoy in his work. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have been involved, and I was at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly with other Foreign Ministers to discuss the future of Syria. We are engaged—we cannot be at every meeting, but the United Kingdom is heavily involved in backing the work of the UN and will remain so.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Conservative, North West Leicestershire

What update can my right hon. Friend offer the House on the resettlement of the White Helmets in the UK following the joint operation to rescue them in the summer?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

The White Helmets and their families were evacuated from southern Syria under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. That support has been delivered, and we continue to work with other countries to ensure the resettlement of the White Helmets’ supporters who left Syria a short while ago.