Syria: Refugees — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:39 pm on 10th December 2014.

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Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 3:39 pm, 10th December 2014

My Lords, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the answer given by my honourable friend James Brokenshire to an Urgent Question earlier this morning in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, I am sure the whole House shares the Government’s deep concern about the 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 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 which replaces the Assad regime with a Government which 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 USA. The UK’s support is helping hundreds of thousands of refugees across the region 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. That is 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 survivors of torture and violence.

It is right that our resettlement efforts focus on the most vulnerable refugees, rather than operating a 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. This 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 UNHCR 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 we consider under 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 the 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 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 its neighbouring countries. Continuing our efforts to help them through aid must remain our highest priority”.