Syria: Refugees - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:51 pm on 10th January 2017.

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Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat 2:51 pm, 10th January 2017

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what actions they are taking to help resolve the refugee crisis in Syria.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

My Lords, the UK has pledged more than £2.3 billion to help millions of people affected by the Syria crisis. This includes more than £1.1 billion to support refugees in the region by addressing their humanitarian needs. The only way to resolve the refugee crisis is a political settlement that ends the conflict and enables refugees to return voluntarily.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that Britain has a responsibility to lead in the resolution of this crisis in Syria? If so, why has Britain, with GDP per capita of more than $40,000, only received fewer than 4,000 refugees since March 2014 while it is content for Lebanon, with less than half our GDP, to accept 1.6 million refugees? With civilian bombing still continuing, does the Minister think we could send more humanitarian aid at this time to Syria?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

Let me say first that I absolutely agree that the United Kingdom should lead by example, and that is exactly what it is doing. It is the second largest donor in cash terms to the region, with £1.83 billion having been given there, helping more than 2 million people. We have given a pledge that we want to bring 20,000 people from Syria to the UK over the lifetime of this Parliament, and we are doing that. At the same time we hosted the London Syria conference in February last year, which was the biggest fundraiser that has happened for Syria and the needs there, raising more than $12 billion. So I believe that on all those counts, including our activity at the UN Security Council, we are taking the leadership that the people of this country expect us to take.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister reassess the arbitrary distinction that is made between those fleeing ISIS in northern Syria and those fleeing the same genocide in northern Iraq, who are excluded from the vulnerable persons scheme? Can he explain why, in a Written Answer given yesterday, the Government said that the affiliation of those resettled under the scheme is,

“monitored but not routinely reported”?

Would it not help the House, and help us all, to understand whether proper priority is being given to victims of genocide if such reporting were to take place?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

We certainly agree that there ought to be wider access from the region. That was of course exactly the outcome which came from the Immigration Act which we passed, and we have set up a scheme to broaden it to the Middle East and north Africa and to bring more children from there. People fleeing genocide are in fear and in need of protection: that is the definition by which they qualify for protection under international humanitarian law and, with the UNHCR, that is what we are working to deliver.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

My Lords, given the ongoing Syrian crisis, will the Government reconsider their decision not to grant refugee status to resettled Syrian refugees so that they can enjoy the full rights and security of refugee status?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

We give them humanitarian protection, which is broadly the same thing. I know what the noble Baroness will say, but what we have is people in acute need and we want to get them here as quickly as possible. Humanitarian protection is the vehicle by which we can do so. If we first have to go all the way through the route of establishing refugee status for a lot of people who have no identification papers, it means they are at risk for longer. That is why we have chosen to take that particular route, to ensure that we can get people here and give them the help they need as quickly as possible.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, do the Government recognise the regrettable fact that there is no way in which the EU, with or without the UK, can absorb permanently the total number of people who have already arrived as refugees and would-be immigrants, and that the answer must be what two senior members of Mrs Merkel’s cabinet are now exploring? That is to have somewhere else outside Europe—they suggested north Africa—where people can go to be assessed, processed, helped and cherished as far as possible, to resolve the problem. The costs which would be imposed would otherwise be politically wholly unacceptable to the electorates of the countries inside Europe.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

As my noble friend will be aware, this was looked at and examined, but it would require a level of international agreement in this sphere which has simply eluded us in the core area of trying to reach a solution in Syria. We remain absolutely of the opinion that the best way to deal with movement and migration is to get a political settlement. That is why we are hopeful and supportive of the UN Security Council resolution which brought about the current ceasefire, but we believe it needs to work beyond that to provide a lasting peace under the Geneva communiqué.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, the most important thing which the Minister has referred to is the host countries in the region and their sustainability under the weight of such numbers of refugees. Can he reassure the House that the Government will commit further support and aid to those economies, as well as to the refugees, which are under such pressure through the violence that has been occurring in Syria? Unfortunately, international development has a bad press at the moment, but this is such a strong case and we should support it.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

The noble Lord is absolutely right, and £1.1 billion of the money which I mentioned has gone to areas in the region—most notably, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. That money is being focused on economic development, by helping people to find work, and on schools, by helping children who are currently out of school to get into it so that their learning does not suffer. The noble Lord is absolutely right that we should focus on that.

Photo of Baroness Sheehan Baroness Sheehan Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, may I ask the Minister for an assurance that, should the Kazakh peace negotiations take place, the Government will do their utmost to make sure that Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons are fully considered? While I am on my feet, can I ask him whether he could outline what role the Government hope to be able to play in the peace negotiations?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

We hope to play an active role through the International Syria Support Group, which has the two strands of humanitarian aid and conflict resolution. That meets weekly in Geneva and we are still playing a part in it. We wish the negotiations all success and will of course support them in every way we can.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, would it not make more sense if we and the other western European nations offered to take as many as could come here of the Christian refugees from these troubled areas, leaving it to the Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, which are immensely wealthy and have immense amounts of space, to take their fellow Muslims?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

My Lords, we have said that we recognised that Christians and other minorities face a level of persecution in the region. In fact, my noble friend will be pleased to note that there was a commitment to protect Christians, particularly in the Middle East, in the 2015 Conservative manifesto. We are very mindful of that commitment; of course, anyone who is persecuted, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is eligible for international protection—the type of protection that this Government have been offering.