Syria — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:49 pm on 24th June 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 7:49 pm, 24th June 2015

My Lords, I think that all of us speaking tonight would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, for securing this important debate.

The plight of the Druze in Syria is a worrying development for those of us who place a special significance on the religious diversity and harmony that was once a hallmark of the Levant and the Middle East. In so many of the Middle East’s holiest and most significant centres of religious devotion, the ability of all faiths to worship together in harmony and peaceful co-existence is much diminished. Many members of minority faiths have had to flee their homelands to survive and now live in refugee camps.

The scale of displacement across all sectors of society is quite astonishing and one of the real tragedies of the current situation in Syria. The refugee crisis in Syria is now the biggest mass movement of people since the Second World War. According to the UNHCR, almost 4 million have fled to Syria’s immediate neighbours, more than half of them children. More than 6.5 million children and their families are internally displaced within Syria. This is, by any measure, the most profound humanitarian catastrophe of our time.

Save the Children reports that humanitarian access remains constrained, a result of which is that food, water and medicines are running out, putting millions at risk of sickness and malnutrition. I join Save the Children in urging the Government to use all their influence at the UN to ensure that UN agencies, as a matter of urgency, improve the delivery of aid across conflict lines and borders.

I pay tribute to Save the Children and all the other NGOs for their remarkable work inside and outside Syria. I also pay tribute to the Government. We should be proud of our £800 million contribution, the largest ever response by the UK to any humanitarian crisis. I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to expand the UK resettlement scheme for Syrian refugees.

Only a political solution can resolve this crisis. As ever in the Middle East, it is the politics that gets in the way of peace. No simple solution presents itself. As I was once told by a friend, “If you think you understand the politics of the Middle East, it’s not been explained to you properly”.

What is clear, however, is that, before a political solution can even start to gain momentum, the military challenge of ISIS must be contained and defeated. Much of the burden of this challenge is being faced by our staunch allies in the region, such as Jordan—I declare my interest as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Jordan. Our role, which remains critical, is to support them in all that they do.

Happily, in a region wracked by instability, in Jordan we have a friend on whom we can rely, not only to provide safe shelter for refugees but as an ally that is doing its utmost to drive forward a political solution to this conflict— an effort that we should all applaud.