Syrian Refugees — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:42 pm on 13th January 2015.

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Photo of Lord Selkirk of Douglas Lord Selkirk of Douglas Conservative 2:42 pm, 13th January 2015

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, with reference to the Oxfam survey which found that 65 per cent of Syrian refugees feared they might not be able to return to their homes, how they are co-ordinating with host countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq to improve the living conditions, educational opportunities and employability of those who have fled the conflict in Syria.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

My Lords, the United Kingdom is working with and through Governments and partners in the region to meet the needs of Syrian refugees and their host communities, including for food, shelter and education. In the current financial year the United Kingdom has committed over £62 million to activities in Lebanon, £39 million for activities in Jordan and £53 million for activities undertaken at a regional level, including in Iraq and Turkey.

Photo of Lord Selkirk of Douglas Lord Selkirk of Douglas Conservative

I thank the Minister for her very positive reply. Although providing food, shelter and medical assistance must remain an immediate priority to reduce human suffering, given that there are over 1.3 million refugees under 18 and that the United Nations says that two-thirds of these are receiving no education at all, does the Minister accept that the provision of schooling and vocational education is essential, in the longer term, for them to get a better chance of obtaining employment? Does she agree that, looking further into the future, there is a case for the host countries to relax restrictions on refugees getting legitimate jobs, especially where there are both skills shortages and gaps in the local labour market?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

My noble friend is absolutely right. We are deeply concerned about the impact of the crisis on Syrian children. As he probably knows, we helped to launch—and gain international support for—UNICEF’s No Lost Generation initiative. We have allocated £82 million to provide protection, trauma care and education for affected children. In response to the other points in the Question, we are in close consultation with authorities in host countries on the legal status of refugees and the importance of self-reliance through income generation.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister will have seen reports not only of Syrian refugees dying on the high seas trying to escape, but, this weekend, of refugees dying of the cold in Lebanon, where there are 400,000 in the Bekaa valley alone. Has she seen the request by the United Nations refugee agency for an urgent, immediate response to that crisis? Will she also tell us how many refugees we have been able to accept in the United Kingdom, given the United Nations’ request that over 100,000 need to be accepted by developed nations, and following yesterday’s welcome decision by Canada to accept a further 10,000?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

There are immense pressures on the Syrian refugees. In terms of the challenges of winter, the United Kingdom has contributed £32 million towards what is called “winterisation”—that is, the provision of warm blankets, tents, shelters, stoves and so on. As regards admission to the United Kingdom, a number of people have come through the vulnerable persons relocation scheme, but we have in addition given sanctuary to more than 3,800 Syrian nationals and their dependants.

Photo of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Labour

My Lords, citizens and political leaders across Europe have rightly made a stand over recent days for humanitarian values, human rights and tolerance. I wonder whether there might therefore be an opportunity for the Government to discuss with the European Union an overall raising—and implementation—of the target for introducing refugees from these horrific camps in Jordan and elsewhere into the member states of the European Union in far greater numbers than have been admitted so far.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

The noble Lord is right to draw attention to what happened last week and to the stand that we have taken for freedom of speech and the rule of law. What is clearly essential here is a long-term political solution. It is very clear that the refugees in the region wish to return to Syria. Therefore, the contribution that the United Kingdom is making to support refugees in the region is extremely important. We are the second-largest bilateral supporter. As I say, we are granting asylum where appropriate, as are other EU countries, but it is extremely important that we take forward a political solution here.

Photo of Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I repeat my declaration of interest as president of UNICEF UK. Is my noble friend aware that Syria now ranks as the largest humanitarian crisis that we have had since the Second World War, with 2 million children now in desperate need as an unusually cruel winter sweeps across the Middle East? Is she aware that the last UN appeal for funds was 40% underfunded at the end of last year, despite the Government’s acknowledged generosity? Will she assure us that the Government will be as generous in this year’s UN’s appeal and do everything they can to encourage laggards to follow their lead?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

I can give all those assurances. We are a leading contributor, as my noble friend rightly points out. We also encourage other nations, both at the Kuwait pledging conference and at the UN General Assembly, to bring forward their own contributions, helping to raise $3.3 billion. However, he is right about the scale of this crisis. We continue to play our part internationally.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, almost three years after the start of fighting in Syria, and given that a political solution is a long way off, is it not clear that resettlement in third countries outside the region will be necessary? Will Her Majesty’s Government therefore consult the International Organization for Migration on this very point?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

A political solution has to be the way forward, given the population of some 22 million in Syria. At the moment, 12.2 million people within Syria require assistance. It is critical to try to take forward a political solution, and we are working internationally on this. The UN is working on it. There are conferences further down the track. It is extremely important that that is addressed.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

My Lords, was not the Minister right when she said a little earlier that a long-term political solution is needed, and that this is a short-term crisis? She has acknowledged that this is one of the cruellest winters in the Middle East, and children are dying now—they cannot wait for the long-term political solution to come forward. Can she tell us whether the Government will review the figures of the refugees who we are taking at the moment? Compared with the numbers that we should be looking at, 3,800 is a tiny number. What numbers are our European partners taking? How do we compare? Will the Government please find it in their hearts to be more generous in taking these people who are in dire difficulty?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

It is because they are in dire difficulty now that we are putting in our bilateral support of £700 million, which is way ahead of most other countries. We have also taken more refugees and asylum seekers here than most other EU countries. As the noble Baroness will know from her experience in the Foreign Office, that is not the long-term solution that is required. If she looks at the Oxfam survey of the refugees, she will see that they wish to return to Syria and not to move to other countries. We have to support them in that political aim, and support them right now in their immediate needs. That is what we are doing.