Syria and Lebanon

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:43 pm on 7th March 2012.

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Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Manchester Central 4:43 pm, 7th March 2012

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Love on obtaining this debate. It is absolutely the right time for the House to be discussing the issue in greater depth than we have been able to do so far. The humanitarian situation in Syria is clearly of enormous international concern, and is frankly nothing short of outrageous, which is an overused word.

My hon. Friend and I met a young boy in hospital in the north of Lebanon, who had been severely injured by what was probably a nail bomb used by the Syrian authorities, perhaps the armed forces, to make war on children, in this case on a child of four or five. The Syrians’ medical skills saved his leg, and that is a great triumph, but it belies the fact that many other children have been killed in the conflict. The plight of refugees in Lebanon is genuinely pitiful. My hon. Friend made the important point that the Lebanese Government do not accord refugees any form of proper status under international law, so they are outwith what international law dictates they should do. I again ask the Minister whether it is possible to exert pressure on the Lebanese authorities to reconsider the matter, because that would make a material difference to the way in which refugees can be treated in Lebanon.

As my hon. Friend said, many refugees in Lebanon are housed with family and friends, but sometimes with total strangers. We saw families with many children packed into small rooms, sometimes without fathers, and often without proper access to financial support. Their plight is difficult, because many refugees are not registered with the UNHCR. Of the 15,000 or 16,000 refugees in Lebanon, perhaps only half are registered with the UNHCR, and depend on assistance from groups such as Save the Children, or perhaps friends and relatives, but the problem of what aid is available to the UNHCR and its assessment of need is a real one. I hope that the Minister can throw some light on what the international community is doing in that context.

The other issue that I want to put on the record is the need to recognise that what is taking place in Syria is enormously important in its own right, but may also have a hugely destabilising effect on Lebanon, a country that has known massive destabilisation for many years. Frankly, the region cannot afford to have Lebanon plunged again into crisis, because that would have an impact not only on Lebanon, but on its neighbours, including Israel, and the capacity for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and so on. The issues are much more than those that apply to a country that in recent times has received relatively little attention in our media.

The humanitarian crisis and political destabilisation are extremely toxic, and I hope that the Minister can provide some assurance that at international level the situation in Lebanon is at least part of the consideration as we rightly debate internationally how to push Syria towards a better future, how to get rid of the vile Assad regime in Damascus, and how to move the whole region to a better place.