Middle East and North Africa — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 16th September 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Verma Baroness Verma The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development 7:15 pm, 16th September 2015

My Lords, the world is facing humanitarian emergencies in unprecedented numbers, scale and complexity, from the Ebola epidemic that hit Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea last year to the devastating earthquake in Nepal in April, and from the current crisis in Yemen to the conflict that has raged in Syria for more than four years now. We have all been struck by the tragic images of desperate refugees putting their lives in the hands of criminal gangs and people smugglers, risking and sometimes losing their lives. Some of them are fleeing conflict and persecution and others are seeking economic opportunity.

The humanitarian crisis in Syria has reached catastrophic proportions and is contributing significantly to the increased flows of people we are seeing across the Mediterranean and into Europe. More than 220,000 lives have been lost and 11 million people forced from their homes in Syria, often moving multiple times. Some 4 million people have fled from Syria to countries in the region, and 7.6 million are internally displaced.

The lack of effective law and law enforcement in Libya has facilitated the growth of smugglers and smuggling networks. The year 2013 saw just under 43,000 migrants making the sea crossing from Libya to Italy; this rapidly increased to 170,100 in 2014. Many of the people crossing the Mediterranean are fleeing conflict and insecurity, and it is estimated that at least 5% of migrants making the crossing die on the way. The UK’s priority is to stop the senseless deaths of people making these perilous journeys. Our assets in the Mediterranean such as HMS “Bulwark”, HMS “Enterprise” and our two Border Force cutters have played their part in the European response, helping to rescue more than 6,700 people this year.

Britain has also been at the forefront of the humanitarian response to the conflict in Syria from the beginning. To date, we have pledged more than £1 billion to help Syrian refugees in the region, making us the second biggest bilateral donor after the United States. This is the largest sum we have ever committed to a single crisis. As the humanitarian situation has deteriorated, the UK has scaled up its support. We are helping to provide vital services so that both those seeking refuge and the communities hosting them are better able to cope. Our aid has so far provided 18 million food rations, 2.4 million medical consultations and clean water for more than 1.6 million people. In addition, DfID has allocated £9.5 million from the UK Conflict, Stability and Security Fund to support local capacity and build longer-term stability. This support is reaching millions of people and has saved lives in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

The UK’s life-saving work in the region, however, goes beyond this critical and immediate humanitarian assistance. More than half of all registered refugees from Syria are children. We are now looking at how we can provide education for this generation. In 2013, alongside UNICEF and other international leaders, the UK launched a No Lost Generation initiative to give children who had lost everything a chance of a better future. In support of this, we have allocated

£111 million to provide protection, support and an education for children affected by the crisis in Syria and the region.

As noble Lords will be aware, in addition to this, the Prime Minister announced earlier this week an additional £10 million per year to support education in Lebanon for the next three years. This will support 59,000 more free school places for Syrian refugees and vulnerable children. It will also provide education to 30,000 out-of-school refugees and poor Lebanese children. This amount doubles Britain’s planned investment in education in Lebanon over the next three years. Investing in education supports the aspirations of Syrian refugee families, helping them make the academic progress that will enable them to make a contribution to the region and ultimately return to rebuild Syria.

In Syria 4.6 million people live in areas where humanitarian access is extremely restricted. In response the UK co-sponsored and lobbied hard for the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2165 and 2191 which enable the UN to deliver aid across border without the consent of the Assad regime. Between the adoption of the resolutions and the end of August this year the UN and its partners have delivered 175 convoys across the border. These convoys of aid are helping to provide food, blankets, water kits and vital medical supplies to thousands of people in Syria.

Without the humanitarian support led and often shaped by the UK, many more refugees could risk their lives in the journey to Europe, so we are also taking action to provide support to those refugees closer to home. We have already provided sanctuary to more than 5,000 Syrian refugees since the conflict began. On Monday last week the Prime Minister announced that over the lifetime of this Parliament we will expand the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme to resettle up to 20,000 additional Syrians in need of protection, the costs for this scheme being funded through overseas development assistance for the first 12 months after arrival.

The Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme has prioritised those who cannot be supported effectively in their region of origin—women and children at risk, people in severe need of medical care and survivors of torture and violence. The scheme is in addition to those we resettle under other programmes which offer protection in the UK under normal asylum procedures. These other programmes focus on a wider set of nationalities—people from Iraq, Somalia and other countries. Over the coming months we will work with local authorities, the UNHCR and others to ensure we deliver on the expansion of the prime minister’s announcement.

While we are doing all we can to support people fleeing the region, we must not lose sight of the need to help the overwhelming majority of Syrians still in the region. Indeed, around 3% of the 11 million Syrians displaced by the conflict are claiming asylum in Europe. Most have sought refuge inside Syria itself or in neighbouring countries. We have already given more aid than any European country and more to the UN appeals than Germany, Netherlands, France, Italy, Hungary, Austria and Poland combined. Our commitment will continue, but we need other countries to step up.

The UK continues to play a leading role in the international community by encouraging our international partners to pledge more generously in response to the crisis. The UK has led a sustained lobbying effort, pressing other countries to follow our lead and increase their funding. Our efforts have helped to raise more than $6.9 billion for the Syria response over the past two years, including $1 billion raised at a ministerial consultation co-hosted by the Secretary of State for International Development at the UN General Assembly last September.

At the G8 summit at Lough Erne in June 2014, G8 leaders agreed almost $1.5 billion in additional contributions to meet humanitarian needs in Syria and its neighbours. In addition, the UK has lobbied hard to mobilise funding from other donors ahead of the third Kuwait Pledging Conference in March, which raised a further $3.6 billion for the UN appeal for Syria. Despite all these efforts, the UN Syria appeals for this year are still only 37% funded, and the 2015 UN appeal for Iraq is only 46% funded. That means limitations on food, water and urgent medical care, all of which puts pressure on people to leave the region. The immediate refugee crisis can be tackled only by effective, co-ordinated EU and international action supported by much-needed resources.

At the same time, dealing with the humanitarian crisis and ensuring aid reaches those who need it is not enough. We also need to take a long-term look at solutions to tackling the drivers of the crisis at source. Eighty per cent of refugee crises last for 10 years or more, and two in every five last for 20 years or more. This means children born in refugee camps today are likely to grow up in exile, away from home. It also means we need a step change in the way international communities support refugees, recognising that the current international model works for short-term support but not protracted displacement. DfID’s work is targeted to deliver, over time, more stable, secure and increasingly prosperous countries. In this work we are especially concerned by the particular needs of women and girls, who are affected disproportionately by poverty and crisis.

We should be proud that the UK has delivered on its legal commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on development assistance, becoming the first G7 country to meet this long-standing commitment. In Africa DfID is spending £2 billion in bilateral aid in 2015-16, of which £540 million is targeted at economic development and £360 million at humanitarian support. An additional £2 billion is being spent in Africa through our share of multilateral aid.

The World Bank predicts that an extra 600 million jobs will be needed globally over the next decade to keep up with the number of young people in developing countries entering the job market. At the Department for International Development, we have already refocused our priorities to be more jobs-focused and livelihood-focused than ever before.

In the long term, development assistance addresses the root causes of instability and insecurity by promoting the golden thread of democracy, strengthening the rule of law, establishing property rights and creating accountable institutions. This helps reduce inequality and provides economic opportunities for all. This in turn helps to build more effective states and reduces some of the pressures to migrate.

If people can find stability, prosperity and opportunity in their home country, it means a more stable and prosperous world for us all. The UK will continue to demonstrate the leadership we have shown throughout our response to the Syrian crisis to mobilise the international community.

I look forward to all noble Lords’ contributions this evening—particularly to my noble friend Lord Brooke’s contribution as he makes his valedictory speech. I beg to move.