I am pleased to have secured this joint debate with Meg Hillier, and I am honoured, Mr Sanders, to serve under your chairmanship—for the first time, I think—on this, the last day of term.
During the past year, I have visited a number of refugee camps around the world. What has really struck me is the disparity between the conditions in different camps. In March, I went to the middle east as part of my work on the International Development Committee. I was given the opportunity to visit the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which is currently home to more than 82,000 people fleeing the conflict in Syria.
Despite the fact that it is the fourth largest refugee camp in the world, Zaatari is remarkably well run and the quality of life for its resident population is comparatively very good. The accommodation provided there was far better than I have seen in any other refugee camp in the world, with the refugees living in portacabins. Although living conditions were basic, it was clear that the issues caused by overcrowding were not as prevalent as in other camps. For example, a family of up to five could live in one of the portacabin units; if a family was any larger, a second unit would be provided for them.
The relative comfort in which Syrian refugees live in Zaatari is largely due to the fact that the camp receives a lot of funding from other middle eastern states, and it is pleasing to see that aid being put to good use. Having seen its living conditions, I think that Zaatari has a greater sense of permanency than many other refugee camps I have visited.
Most people in Zaatari believed that they would be going home to Syria in a relatively short time. The reality is that in many cases there is nowhere for them to go home to because many homes no longer exist. It is perhaps a good thing that the refugees there enjoy a higher quality of life than those in many others camps do. Achieving that quality of life should be reflected in the management of camps all over the world.
The services available for children and young people in the Zaatari camp are much better than what camps usually provide, due to the provision of child friendly spaces. Obviously, a number of children in the camp have witnessed the horrors of the fighting in Syria and even seen members of their families killed. The child friendly spaces scheme, run by various global non-governmental organisations, is designed to give children a safe place to play, to ensure that they can continue to have a childhood and can recover from the emotional and psychological scars that conflict has caused. Many young children in the Zaatari camp start off by being able to draw only guns and tanks, but after the work of the NGOs they start to draw pictures that are much more normal for children of their age, and they even start smiling again.
I was delighted to see the particular focus on education at Zaatari. UNICEF, which runs the education programme at the camp, has set up a compound of 14 classrooms and runs two schools a day, with girls being taught in the morning and boys in the afternoon. That dedication and commitment to ensuring that the children of the camp have a good education is unusual, and will serve to mitigate some of the disruption caused to the children’s lives, and, most importantly, normalise them. It should also ensure that when Zaatari’s young people leave the camp and eventually return to their country, they will have some of the skills they need to enter the work force and thrive.
The quality of life of the residents of Zaatari is significantly better than that in many of the camps I have visited. For instance, £1 million has been spent on laying down gravel on the site to reduce the nuisance and health issues caused by excessive dust, because the camp is situated in very arid conditions. Although dealing with dust is a lesser concern than providing education, addressing it has ensured that the lives of those living in the camp are much more comfortable; people there experience far fewer chest problems, including asthma in children, than they would otherwise.
The other measure that normalised the lives of Zaatari’s residents was the way in which food was provided in the camp. As I am sure many hon. Members will have seen, food provision in refugee camps typically consists of a rationing-style system, in which residents queue and are allotted a set amount of certain types of food every day. In many cases, refugees will eat the same thing day in, day out for the length of their stay, which often runs into years. That approach undoubtedly prevents people in camps from making their own choices, and I believe that it leads only to institutionalism.
In Zaatari, residents are given smartcards, which function like cash and can be used to buy whatever their holders want, albeit from a relatively limited choice, in the supermarket-style food stores in the camp. Although choosing what to eat may seem a small concern, it is important in helping to normalise the lives of those living in the camp. I would like the approach to be rolled out in refugee camps across the world.
In stark contrast, on a visit to Rwanda with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association earlier this year, I was presented with a sense of disorder and listlessness at a camp for refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo. There was a huge number of young men, many of whom had been there for years; they were bored and had nothing to do. Those young men had no hope, and no chance of escaping and getting a normal life again.
Early marriage was common, due to the absence of any enrichment programmes or provision of education. We all know that education is particularly important for young women, as statistics show that those who receive education are likely to put off marriage and having children until later, meaning that they have better prospects and, above all, better health. This particular camp demonstrated that that is true. I learned that mortality in childbirth there was very high, because many of the girls and young women were getting married far too young, as there is nothing else for them to do.
Although there is a clear discrepancy between the provision of facilities in Syria and in other refugee camps, in camps outside the middle east a similar divide exists along gender lines, and provision for women is of particular concern. In the South Sudanese camp that I visited, toilets were non-existent and people defecated openly; when the rains come, the camp is flooded with human excrement. I heard stories of the women and girls there being too afraid to go to the toilet at night for fear of being raped. Given the duration of the crisis in South Sudan, it would make sense for more permanent toilet facilities to be built, which in turn would reduce the risk of rape that the girls in the camps face every day. However, there must be some sort of security for the toilets, so that women’s and men’s toilets are separated.
What is most shameful about the situation is that the guidelines for the protection of young girls, which specifically mention the need for the provision of lockable toilet facilities, have been in place for the last 10 years in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s paper on gender-based violence. It is absolutely essential that that advice should be followed in the running of refugee camps globally. In line with their strong stance on violence against women, particularly in conflict, I urge the UK Government to put pressure on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other NGOs to ensure that women are adequately protected.
It is clear that there is a huge disparity between the conditions in refugee camps such as Zaatari and those in Africa. When the residents of refugee camps eventually leave the camps, it is important that they should be able to reintegrate into normal society. Achieving that requires an emphasis on the provision of education, ensuring that children whose lives have been torn apart by the horrors of war can continue to grow emotionally and psychologically, and, most importantly, become contributors to their communities, with reasonable job prospects.
Maintaining normality is key in ensuring that adult refugees leave the camps as functioning members of society. It is clear from how Zaatari is run that self-sufficiency is encouraged there. Although the introduction of supermarket-style food provision is a positive thing, and a welcome change from how food is distributed in the African camp that I described, more could be done to encourage refugees to be more self-sufficient, ultimately ending the dependence that the camps create.
Perhaps one way to do that would be to encourage more micro-economies to be created in camps. Such micro-economies would serve to normalise life for refugees and provide lives more like the ones they will experience when they eventually leave. The fact is that the Syrian refugees in Zaatari are more educated than those in camps elsewhere, but it seems unfair that they should be able to demand one type of camp, and get it, whereas people in camps in Africa, who are generally less educated, have to put up with much more basic facilities.
It would make sense for the Department for International Development to ensure that, in its aid policy and work with NGOs, substantial facilities are put in place in camps. The disparity between the facilities available at Zaatari, compared with the other camps I have described, marks unfairness in how they are organised.
Although Zaatari marks what could be the global standard for refugee camps, more than 70% of Syrian refugees in Jordan and 100% of them in Lebanon live outside them. Although refugees living outside are more likely to lead lives that are more typically normal, there is a challenge in keeping them safe. Many of them are living in basic rooms, with little sanitation and poor water, but they are at least kept in family units, in individual—albeit very small—apartments.
Organisations that run the camps, such as the UNHCR, are experienced in identifying vulnerable individuals and giving them the care that they need, but that is obviously problematic when those vulnerable people are not in camps. Living outside the camps presents a number of other problems, in that refugees have to pay for their own accommodation. Of the non-camp dwelling refugees in Jordan, 90% are now in financial crisis. One reason is that refugees must obtain work permits to work in Jordan, which can often be expensive. Another factor is that some 33% of households are run by women who have been widowed by the war.
One way of assessing the needs of refugees in non-camp settings is to create community boards, consisting of elected representatives from the community. That initiative has been successful within camps and provides aid agencies and NGOs with a useful way of monitoring refugee populations. CARE, the NGO, has been running similar schemes for Iraqi refugees, and they have been very successful. Like that organisation, I believe that community boards should be rolled out in refugee populations across the globe.
Although the UNHCR does a fantastic job of co-ordinating humanitarian efforts across the middle east, especially in Jordan, it goes without saying that one of the bars to providing assistance to, and improving conditions for, refugees who do not live in camps is its reach. For example, many Syrian refugees in Lebanon are unable to access services, due to their inability to travel because of sectarian concerns. In this instance, co-operation between NGOs in these areas and the UNHCR is essential. It is to that end that I would like DFID to use its relationship and influence with the UNHCR to encourage NGOs to co-chair working groups.
It is obvious that there is much to be done in standardising the quality of life of refugees around the world. Nevertheless, it is often easy to overlook the fate of those who do not go into camps. It is vital that provision be made for those people and that they are not rendered more vulnerable as a consequence of not having entered camps. With that in mind, I strongly advocate greater co-ordination between NGOs and the UNHCR, to ensure the widest possible delivery of services and the setting up of community representative groups as standard practice with non-camp dwelling refugee populations.
I have not yet mentioned the current crisis in Gaza. People there are living in schools because they have had to flee their homes. DFID should consider what money it can forward to those vulnerable people, who probably have no homes to go back to now because there has been so much bombing. They are in a desperate situation. I hope that the Minister will take back to the Department my feeling, which is that I should particularly like it to get involved and help the Palestinian people to have as much of a normal life as they can under the circumstances.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Sanders.
I congratulate my colleague Pauline Lathamon driving forward the desire to have this debate. She and I visited a refugee camp in northern Rwanda and we were both struck by what we saw there. That sparked the idea for this debate.
I want to talk about two issues. I am not as expert as the hon. Lady on the situations in camps around the world, but I do want to talk a bit about my experience visiting Rwanda and, perhaps more pertinent to the Minister’s role, about the UK’s role in resettlement and making sure that we play our part, as a nation, to support and tackle the humanitarian crisis around the world.
As a constituency MP in Hackney South and Shoreditch, the issues in Rwanda and other parts of Africa are pertinent, day to day. I can stand at bus stops in Hackney and have many conversations about the situation at le petit barrier, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or what is going on in other parts of Africa, particularly west Africa. Partly because of resettlement, which I will come to, these are real, living issues for communities in my constituency and throughout the country.
We visited a camp for Congolese nationals in northern Rwanda. As the hon. Lady said, we were both shocked by some of the things we saw there. It was overcrowded and there was a high number of young people, most of whom had nowhere to go and nothing to do. This is not to be hypercritical of the UNCHR, because it was clear that education was being provided up to age 11 and a few older young people had been provided with education in the community, through support from the Rwandan Government. However, with education only up to age 11, a lot of young people are idle, without the skills necessary to integrate into society and without either families or the support and ability to access anything beyond that stage. There is little education and no skills training.
We met a couple of articulate young men, who spoke both good French and very good English, we felt, and had the benefit of some education beyond the age of 11. They were desperate to play a role as young men, but felt stuck in the limbo of teenage years.
The hon. Lady is speaking about education and young people. Given the air of permanence that is emerging in some refugee camps—we do not want to consider that as a long-term solution—does she agree that, in trying to assist, we need to turn our minds to issues such as education and health care, as well as to the immediate problems, to ensure that those communities see that there is life beyond the next few months and to help them plan for the long term?
The hon. Gentleman hits the nail on the head. It was striking that people still believe that there is a chance of going home. We met young people born in the camp I just mentioned, who believed that there was a chance that they would be able to go back to war-torn, militia-ridden parts of the DRC—we know it is a challenging country—but who are held in limbo. We must have a big discussion as an international community about whether it is sensible to limit education. It is right that education is a basic provision—it is all funded by taxpayers around the globe, not just in the UK—but it cannot benefit our wider international community if cohorts of people misplaced through war and conflict end up in such a state of limbo and then quickly become uneducated parents.
I will not repeat the excellent points made by the hon. Lady about girls. The girls in the Rwandan camp, as in camps around the world, become mothers while still children themselves, because there is little else for them to do. Becoming a mother is a rational choice for them, because it gives them a purpose in life. However, in overcrowded conditions, where families are all living cheek by jowl and are crowded in, sleeping together, it is no surprise that pregnancy is rife.
The camp met with UN requirements—there was no sign that it was badly run—but the challenges in that region mean that camps quickly become overcrowded. This one had been closed to new admissions, but of course the birth rate means that the number of people carries on growing.
It was striking that children talked about going home, but for many there could be much better immediate prospects locally, as the hon. Gentleman said, if they could be given support to integrate—although perhaps not always in the country where the camp is located—through a proper regional integration and relocation policy. That would not mean that those refugees never had the chance to return, but it would give them the chance to build skills and opportunity, so that, if the happy day came when they were able to return to the DRC, they would be able to contribute massively more. We saw that directly with some of the MPs and Senators who accompanied us on visits around Rwanda. Most of those Rwandans had been refugees who fled Rwanda and worked in other parts of the world. They kept their skills up, had a good education and then came back to lead Rwanda out of the horrors of the genocide of 20 years ago. We can see what happens when people have support; there was a direct contrast.
On the UK’s role, I had the privilege when I was a Minister in the previous Government to have some oversight of the gateway scheme, through which the UK Government take refugees from United Nations camps around the world. The Government accept those who meet the UN criteria. For the record it would be useful to remind Members what those are. The categories for vulnerable people include
“women and girls at risk…survivors of violence and/or torture…refugees with medical needs or disabilities…LGBTI refugees at risk…vulnerable older adults…refugees in need of family reunification and…those who face serious threats to their physical security, especially due to their political opinion or belonging to a minority group.”
The first categories are probably more pertinent, day to day, in camps.
When the Government talk about reducing immigration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands, we must not lose sight—I hope the Minister will make clear the Government’s position on this—of our international humanitarian responsibilities in this regard. When I became a Minister, we were accepting 500 people from the camps annually, but we aimed to raise that to 1,000 a year. Can the Minister tell me what the figures are over the past two or three years, so that we can see what the trajectory is and what the projections are? If not, perhaps she can write to me.
We also face pressures—I will come back to the gateway scheme in a moment—within the European Union, where Mediterranean countries continually receive boatloads of desperate and vulnerable people from north Africa. Discussions about burden sharing, as those countries put it, absorb a lot of time at EU Justice and Home Affairs Council meetings. We need to have a greater and wider view on the matter. I sat next to the Maltese Minister for three years. Every time I sat next to him, he asked whether we would take refugees who had arrived in Malta. We were, however, also trying to take refugees from camps around the world. We need to see that bigger picture across the EU much more. Some EU countries take good numbers of people from UN camps. Others take very small numbers. We need to look at that as part of a wider strategy. It is a sensible strategy for Europe to enable those in great need to resettle in Europe, where appropriate, and have them contribute to the European Union. It sends a message that we are supportive, but it is important that we have immigration controls more generally.
On the gateway project, it was a privilege to work with the Home Office officials who work to support resettlement. They visited the camps—I was prevented from doing so at the time by pregnancy—to see for themselves the families that they, working with the UN, felt could be relocated in the UK. There was a joint resettlement between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, so that there was a critical mass of people from a particular region, which meant that there was language support and the other support necessary for that group. Scotland was also very good at receiving groups of refugees. The idea was that local authorities would bid to take on refugees from the camps, and there was no shortage of willing volunteer local authorities. I was slightly worried that there would be.
It is perhaps pertinent for the Minister to take this back to some of her colleagues in Government, but what was heartening was that communities—often, churches and community groups—that knew they would be receiving people who had lived through desperate times would work positively to receive and welcome those people into the community. The media coverage locally was positive and it was seen as humanity, not as a burden to the UK.
I endorse what the hon. Lady is saying. Bradford as a community accepted the Rohingya—I believe they were part of that gateway programme—which shows that, even in an area where there is tension from increased immigration, there is still a positive and welcoming response when people understand the circumstances of where these groups are coming from.
Absolutely. It is wise for all of us who sit in this House and have the opportunity to speak about these issues to be moderate in our discussion of immigration. I was a Home Office Minister and I partly dealt with immigration issues. I absolutely believe that we should have an immigration policy and criteria, but the rhetoric that sometimes comes out—unfortunately we often saw that coming out very negatively during the European elections—is deeply unhelpful. I am sure the Minister will want to put on record her position and that of the Government on how they want to support people from around the world whose lives have been torn apart by conflict.
When I was a Minister, we looked at the Canadian model and it would be interesting to know whether there have been any further developments on that. The model could boost the numbers by allowing local groups, particularly religious groups—churches and mosques and others—to raise money locally to accept more from a particular community into their area, effectively match-funding some of the Government money going into the project. The model would build on the good will and humanitarian support that is embedded in the British psyche and ensure that we do everything we can to support these groups.
On the wider issue of refugee camps, we have to have a bigger debate internationally. We all look at the issues, particularly what is happening in Syria, where many have been displaced. A young man, Chris, who is going to Palestine, came to visit me at my surgery yesterday. He said, “Remember that a lot of the people in those camps have already been displaced once. They are being displaced again.” There are whole areas of the world where people are not settled and do not have the right to a stable home, to education and to get on with their lives. They do not have that opportunity. It is important that as a community, not only in the UK, but in the EU and the other partnerships in which we work, we recognise the instability that that causes to the world.
Our Government need to do all they can to support and stabilise what is happening in Syria. It is difficult for one Government to achieve that alone, and that is why we must work with our international partners. We must also ensure that we think about the long-term consequences of having camps that sit, grow and become communities that are almost sub-sections of a society in their own right. We must also ask questions about whether that is desirable in the long term. We should be shifting the boundaries of the debate, helping more of those refugees to resettle, whether that be in the region or elsewhere, and giving them the chance, as the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire put it so eloquently, to normalise their life so that they can adapt, when the opportunity arrives, to life outside of the enclosed and artificial environment of the refugee camp, of which there are many around the world.
I am delighted to be serving under your chairmanship, Mr Sanders—it is the first time, I think, for me and thee. I do not know whether I need to mention this for any particular protocol reasons, but I would like to thank the Council for European Palestinian Relations for supporting me and a number of other parliamentarians in a delegation last November to Jordan to see a number of camps, including Zaatari. That is in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, and I will come back to it in a moment.
I want to talk about what is often regarded, certainly by its members, as a forgotten group of refugees—those from Gaza in the refugee camp in Jerash, Jordan. I suppose I cannot talk about them without talking about Gaza today. The Gazans I will be talking about are those who fled in 1967, which causes particular problems for them with citizenship, but there are 1.8 million or so Gazans who cannot flee from Gaza today. They are hemmed in by air, sea and land by what many regard to be a brutal and powerful military force, and they are at the mercy of that force. Our thoughts must be with them, as they should be with innocent Israelis who are caught up in this and are under threat from rocket fire in retaliation—others would deny this—for the suppression. Either way, whatever the reason, it must be condemned. Hopefully, more and more innocent Israelis will see that the way to their security is not through military or other suppression of the Palestinians.
When we visited Jordan, we were fortunate to meet the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister and have a wide-ranging conversation. It is unsurprising that they thought the numerous wars surrounding Jordan, which it has sat amidst for many years, can be traced back to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The expulsion and displacement of Palestinians across the region has created tensions and animosity towards Israel. We raised the issue of Palestinians wanting to flee Syria and the policy of denying them access to Jordan. Some do get through, but the response that we received, which must be accepted, was that more than 2 million Palestinian refugees are registered in Jordan.
It is difficult to deny that Jordan is making a phenomenal contribution at huge cost. Yes, it receives funding from other countries and from agencies, but we must never forget the contribution that Jordan, which is sat in the middle of all this, makes year in, year out. As Pauline Latham mentioned, many of the 2 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan—some 70%—actually live in people’s homes with them. You covered well the fact that that is not an ideal situation. Just because they are not in a refugee camp does not mean that they are living well. They are often in poverty and in situations that create understandable tension in those homes.
The scale of the Zaatari refugee camp is staggering. It is unbelievable. The majority of the refugees are Syrian, because they are flooding over the border. As I said, Palestinians are not actually allowed into the country—bizarrely, they are seen as Syria’s problem and therefore are not eligible for refugee status in Jordan. Some do get through, but the policy is not to allow them in. The camp was opened in July 2012 and when we there at the end of last year it was estimated that there were some 120,000 refugees, 60,000 of whom were under 17, which is mind-boggling. Every day, 4 million litres of water are brought in and garbage and the sewage from the 1,500 toilets must be disposed of. Simply coping is a mammoth task. Schools and hospitals do exist, and additional funding has gone in since our visit, but it is hard to believe the scale of the enormous task before the Government and the agencies in dealing with, for example, the vaccinations of 60,000 children.
Around the time when we were at the camp, a figure of 80,000 was regarded as being its core, settled population. When we were there, 300 to 400 refugees were arriving every single day. Busloads were arriving not on one or two days a week but day after day, and they all had to be accommodated, sorted out and provided with somewhere to stay. Many were leaving and heading back to try to find work. Harvesting, for example, means that some will come and go, depending on whether they have work to return to. They will be in danger, but they have to go back.
I was left with a couple of memories, the first of which is the fantastic work being done by the various United Nations organisations. All the UN workers there are incredible human beings who face unbelievable circumstances. My second memory is of the resilience, ingenuity and enterprise of the refugees themselves. When we walked down the middle of the camp—you will remember it—there were some 650 stalls, selling everything under the sun, which shows that enterprise and initiative can flourish even under the most difficult of conditions.
I want to discuss the Gaza refugee camp at Jerash, where conditions are stark compared with Zaatari. Whereas most of the Palestinians to whom I have referred have been granted Jordanian citizenship and enjoy all the related rights, the refugees who came from the Gaza strip, which was Egyptian-controlled in 1967, are almost stateless. They are regarded as Egypt’s problem, because they were under Egyptian jurisdiction when they fled Gaza and took refuge in Jordan. The camp was opened in 1968 and is somewhat smaller than Zaatari, holding some 20,000 refugees. They live in deprived conditions and do not enjoy the rights that come with citizenship. They cannot vote or work for the Government and are not supposed to benefit from Government services. They also cannot progress educationally. Schools do exist, provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, but those who attend are treated as international students. Many have lived there since 1967, but they are still treated as international students for the purposes of tuition fees.
Perhaps the clearest example of the difference between the Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees and the Gaza refugee camp for Palestinians is that, although it was some two years old at the time of our visit, the Zaatari camp is being upgraded with a fully functioning sewage disposal system. The Gaza camp, which was created some 47 years ago, still does not have a sewerage system. There are 20,000 people but no sewerage system.
We met some remarkable people on our visit to the Gaza refugee camp in Jerash, including a dozen or so young girls from the local school parliament. The school has over 1,300 girls, so conditions are cramped, and next door is a boys’ school of a similar size. The schools cannot contain all the pupils, so both operate a shift system with morning and afternoon schools. The girls were brilliant and inspirational. They are full of self-confidence and are quite outspoken about demanding that something be done to support them. They told us of their high ambitions and their desperate desire for access to higher education. The teaching in the schools is delivered by UNRWA and is of a high standard, but resources are of course quite pitiful by our standards. There is internet access, and I told those girls that I would try to establish a link with a school in my constituency, which has now taken place, so there is a link between Laisterdyke high school in my constituency and the school that we visited.
The young girls’ tales were of hardship and family stress. I mentioned resilience and determination, but that camp was more than 45 years old, and they must fear that in practical terms little will change in the future, because of their failure to gain citizenship however long they might have been there. Unlike some of the camps in Lebanon that we have heard about, people in the Gazan camp are free to come and go as they please, but there remains an overwhelming sense of lives being constrained, and indeed they are constrained. People are not starving, but the diet is poor and there is deprivation and stress, all of which take their toll on refugees’ health.
As I said, the refugees are not fully accepted in Jordan. Most have temporary Jordanian passports, which they have to renew every two years, and let us not forget that many families have been there since ’67 or ’68. The unemployment rate is very high, at 81% for women, which is double the rate of non-Gazan Palestinians elsewhere in Jordan.
Most donors want to contribute aid to much higher-profile areas—I am sorry to have to say that—such as Gaza itself and the west bank. My plea is not to forget the forgotten group of refugees who seem to have been left behind when so much is quite rightly done in many other areas. They have the unique circumstances of being almost stateless and of feeling forgotten.
It is a pleasure to make a contribution, Mr Sanders, and I thank Pauline Latham for securing this debate and creating the opportunity. It is a pleasure to follow all the speakers, as it will be to listen to those who follow.
I am pleased that the issue has been raised today, although I feel that we do not remind ourselves of it often enough. It is good to have such debates, because they give us the opportunity to remind ourselves of the appalling conditions that refugees endure on a daily basis. Unfortunately, because they are not in our backyard, we tend to have the ability to forgo images of cramped tents, dirty water and malnourished children. It is important that we remind ourselves of those in the world who need help and about how our Government can help those who need help most.
For thousands of people, that is their everyday life—the hardships and challenges that they face every morning when they wake up. In the United Kingdom, we complain about traffic jams, the tube or queues for coffee in the morning. Thinking about the challenges that others have in the world puts things into perspective, and this debate gives us that opportunity.
The number of refugees and asylum seekers worldwide has exceeded 50 million for the first time since the first world war. In 2014, that is a sad statistic to read. The largest refugee camp is the Dadaab camp in Kenya, with a total of 355,709 refugees recorded as living there, 95% of whom were Somalis. Registration facilities were closed in October 2011, so in excess of 500,000 refugees are now reckoned to call Dadaab “home”. As the hon. Lady indicated, we do not want the refugees to think of the camps as home—the camps are not home, but a staying point until they can go back to where they come from.
Médecins sans Frontières conducted interviews with refugees living at the camps in 2013 and its findings were truly shocking, with 41% complaining about the condition of shelters that did not even protect them from the rain, while a further 11% had no access to toilet facilities. The situation is no different in Ethiopia’s Dollo Ado camp, which is home to almost 200,000 people, of whom 170,000 are Somalis. In February 2013, it was estimated that between 150 and 200 Somalis were arriving at the camp each day. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the International Medical Corps found that refugees in Dollo Ado were at risk of malnutrition and poor hygiene facilities due to overcrowding. Such conditions are being compounded every day.
In Jordan, the Zaatari camp houses 122,673 refugees, but provides slightly better conditions than those I have mentioned, boasting three schools, two hospitals and a maternity clinic. That is not the norm but, none the less, lots of problems still exist there. As in every refugee camp, women are at high risk of violence, which perturbs me greatly. That is one of the things that has come to my knowledge as an MP that I would not otherwise have known—the level of violence against women in the camps, as well as elsewhere. In 2013, according to a UNICEF report, Syrian women and girl refugees felt unsafe using toilets and communal kitchens; in some instances, they simply did not leave the tents that they were housed in, staying there for safety.
Refugee camps are particularly dangerous for women and children. For example, on
The situation at the camp in the Gaza strip, which is home to 110,000 refugees, is fairly bleak, with some 90% of the water unfit for human consumption. Concern about poor drinking water and, in turn, the spread of disease is widespread across the camps. In South Sudan, the Yida camp, which contains about 71,000 refugees, has witnessed a sudden cholera outbreak—the disease is spread by poor hygiene conditions and a lack of drinkable water. We have had many debates in Westminster Hall and the main Chamber about the need for better drinking water. Water aid helps, but the need is a basic one in refugee camps, because of the poor hygiene conditions.
UN aid agencies have claimed that hundreds of thousands of refugees live in unacceptable conditions in the camps, blaming food and safe drinking water shortages. Those two problems combined can lead to, and certainly seem to aid in, the spread of life-threatening diseases, such as cholera, malaria, jaundice and malnutrition. In South Sudan, in one camp, officials have reported cases of hepatitis E, which is yet another disease spread through contaminated water.
UNICEF estimates that 400,000 children aged under five will need treatment for malnutrition. To put that into perspective, I should say that the population of Belfast is more than 280,000 and that of Newtownards, the home of my constituency office, more than 77,000—a total of some 358,000. The entire population of the city of Belfast and the town Newtownards still do not account for that number of 400,000 children—that is the vastness of the issue.
We must remember that the global theme for this year’s world refugee day is “1 family torn apart by war is too many”. Refugees have suffered inconceivable losses, from family members and friends to their homes and neighbourhoods, because of conflicts going on in their countries and beyond their control. Sometimes they are involved neither physically nor personally. The camps should be a safe haven for them, but instead many are faced with squalid conditions, widespread disease, a lack of food and water and, for women in particular, fears of being subject to violence and even rape, in a place where they should feel safe.
I understand that tablets have been provided in some camps in an attempt to purify the water, and that although people have tried to teach refugees how to stay healthy and safe, that is not always possible or indeed enough. I appreciate the difficulties of funding for camps, but an attitude that there is only so much that we can do is not good enough when we are talking about an average of 10 children under five dying in those camps every day. That is the magnitude of the issue.
Furthermore, some Syrian refugees are not even receiving aid because they are too scared of endangering themselves or their families back home by registering with UN agencies and, in turn, camps. Even though they have escaped, they cannot register because that would have an impact on their families back home.
For me, without doubt the greatest tragedy is that there are children who have lost out on so much: their childhoods, their education, to which my hon. Friend Mr Campbell referred, and their homes; in some cases they have lost family members and friends. According to UNICEF, nearly 2 million Syrian children have dropped out of school since 2012. Climbing trees, playing football in a park or visiting a neighbouring village are normal activities for children as far as we are concerned, but for children in refugee camps such activities are distant memories. Half of the total Syrian refugee population in Iraqi Kurdistan are children. Camps provide very few child-friendly spaces or schools and there are a limited number of areas where children can play.
The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire has a passion for this subject. I have spoken to her before about it and listened to her comments and questions on it in the
House. It is clear that she understands the issue. We hope to hear a significant response from the Minister on how best the Government can help those refugees in far-off camps.
A total of 328,000 people have left South Sudan to head for neighbouring countries. At Kakuma refugee camp in north-west Kenya, 1,750 children arrived alone and over 5,000 accompanied by an adult. So far, over 2,000 children have arrived there in need of psychosocial support and assistance of all kinds. The figures are simply horrendous.
We in this Parliament have a responsibility to those in a less fortunate position than ourselves, no matter where in the world they are. For many, the camps are only just better than the war-torn states that they have fled from. There is an old saying, “Out of the frying pan, into the fire”; for many refugees, that is exactly how it is. They still face the prospect of death, although it comes in a different form—from disease or starvation rather than from bullets or rockets. Many live in fear of physical and sexual violence each time they leave the security of their tents. For many children, education is simply out of the question and they face very uncertain futures. That is why this debate is so important.
To misquote Charles Dickens in 2014, these are the best of times and the worst of times. It is an age of wisdom and an age of foolishness. There is a season of light, there is a season of darkness. There is a spring of hope and there is a winter of despair.
To look at the worst of times, others have set out graphically the vast scale of the problem. There are 50 million refugees, and huge numbers of Syrians, for example, are fleeing that conflict zone—it is that country I particularly want to focus on. We debate the issue on
One could say that the debate brought by my hon. Friend Pauline Latham is particularly timely because there is a risk that while all those atrocities are going on and being shown on the television, conflicts and refugee situations that have been going on for a considerable time have almost been forgotten. It is a fantastic aspect of the House of Commons, first, that when we get this job we gain a greater understanding of the huge complexity of the problems faced around the world and secondly that, on a hot and steamy morning, Members from four different parties are here, making the case that we genuinely all care, on a cross-party basis, about the suffering of the individuals involved in these situations.
I will touch briefly on what I consider to be the best of times. In January this year, I travelled with a number of colleagues to the Nizip 2 camp. It is on the river Euphrates, a wonderfully peaceful and soulful spot on the Syrian-Turkish border that is revered in religious history. Right next to the Euphrates are 17,000 people in the Nizip 2 camp in a combination of tents and containers.
We are debating the conditions in refugee camps. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire, I have had the privilege of seeing the amazing work that the Turkish Government in particular are doing to make the Syrian refugees, who have fled primarily from Homs and Aleppo, feel very welcome. I have also seen the quality of care and of the camps there. My hon. Friend talked about the gold standard of the camps that she visited; I recommend wholeheartedly the efforts of the Turkish Government in looking after Syrian refugees in Nizip.
We travelled there to see in particular how taxpayers’ money is spent. One of the benefits this Parliament has over the previous Parliament is that the argument that international aid is money worth spending is almost overwhelmingly won. It was patently clear that British taxpayers’ money was being used constructively and properly, particularly in the systems for payment for food and the debit card system for the supermarkets there. That drives away the dependency culture and creates an independence that is vital. The House of Commons Library debate pack featured an outstanding article by Mac McClelland in The New York Times from
In Nizip we saw many things. I can only praise the container system there—it works and is way better than the usual tents and the difficulties with those. I certainly praise the remarkably open and welcoming approach of the Turkish Government. It was refreshing to see people so frank in their desire to help their fellow man and also to see the degree of support given by a multitude of agencies: DFID itself is very much involved and there is support from UNICEF and from some of the Arab nations, particularly Qatar.
It was noticeable that the quality of life and the optimism about going home, as well as the lack of a dependency culture, were so much better in Nizip because of the quality of the camp. It was not creating a dependency culture but a desire to regroup and to go home at some stage in the future. That is what I understood from all the people I met during my time there. My hon. Friends the Members for Braintree (Mr Newmark), for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) and for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) also attended, and my hon. Friend Geoffrey Clifton-Brown did the majority of the organising. We were all struck by the fact that these were people who, fundamentally, simply wish to go home.
As for the situation going forward, I have to raise the fact that on
I regret to say that not a lot has happened about implementing resolution 2139, so I would very much like the Minister, who promised on
One cannot talk about the future without hope springing up, and, much like Mr Ward, I was tremendously struck by the young women and children whom I met at the Nizip camp. They were overwhelmingly positive about the life they would lead in the future. We did a straw poll of the year 6 and 7 children we met. Most of the young ladies wanted to be doctors; most of the young men wanted to be engineers. All intended to go back to their country, rebuild it, and look after the people.
I met a young man called Suleiman, who had come from Homs and had left behind many members of his family. He was a qualified engineer, aged about 21. He was trying hard to teach people in the camps. One could talk a lot more about the quality of the education. Today’s debate is about conditions in refugee camps, and I urge DFID and the humanitarian agencies to bring more attention to bear on the quality of education, because a silo system is operating, to some extent.
The overriding impression is that individual charities, DFID and the nations that are involved provide fantastic amounts of basic aid, and then allow limited education to be provided, effectively from within the camp. I am utterly convinced that we could do more to provide education, and assistance with education, in individual camps. That might include providing books, with charities organising that in the camps. There is massive need, and there is a huge role for DFID and others to play. Without a shadow of a doubt, I want more such work to be done.
The need for refugee camps will clearly never disappear. The quality of what I saw at Nizip was amazing. I look forward to visiting Jordan with the Tearfund charity, which has invited me to go there in the near future. I praise my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire, and look forward to a response from the Minister about resolution 2139.
It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Mr Sanders.
I congratulate Pauline Latham on securing this important debate, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting time for us to discuss the vital issue of refugees and the conditions in the camps where so many have no choice but to reside. I congratulate my hon. Friend Meg Hillier, who spoke movingly of the camp for Congolese refugees that she saw in Rwanda. She was eloquent in speaking about the many issues that have to be faced. The hon.
Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward) made important points, as did Jim Shannon in his comprehensive remarks about the serious challenges that exist. Finally, I have not visited a refugee camp, but Guy Opperman made it clear why it is important for Members of this House to do so, and to share with us the experience of people who live in camps. I commend the work he has done on that.
There is a simple fact at the heart of today’s debate. The world’s refugee problem is growing, and that trend shows no sign of reversing. By the end of 2013, according to estimates of the UNHCR, there were more than 51 million people worldwide—almost the population of England—who had been displaced, whether by persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations. Over the 12 months of 2013, 1.1 million people became refugees or asylum seekers, while just 415,000 returned to their countries of origin. The net impact on the global numbers suffering displacement is clear from those figures; there is a rapid and continuing expansion. The cost and impact of that growth falls overwhelmingly on the poorest nations. Developing countries host 86% of all the world’s refugees. In the light of such figures, it is absolutely right that we should discuss what we can do both to pre-empt the process of people becoming refugees through conflict prevention and poverty alleviation, and to improve the lot of those who are already displaced—particularly the vulnerable millions scattered across the world’s refugee camps.
As has been mentioned by several Members, the terrible, unabating conflict in Syria is one of the key drivers of the upward trend in refugee numbers, as civilians forced from their home by the violence stream across the borders of neighbouring countries. Many end up in refugee camps, while others filter informally into the existing Syrian diaspora communities in those areas. More than 2.8 million refugees have fled Syria, and the vast majority are now located in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. There is still much to do to improve conditions for refugees housed in camps in those nations, but it is right to pay tribute to the work of the Governments of those countries, all of which have their own significant domestic issues to deal with, for their commitment to and support of hundreds of thousands of new residents.
Perhaps the starkest example of what I have described is Lebanon, which is home to more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees—a figure equivalent to a quarter of that nation’s permanent population. Given the unimaginable strain that such situations place on the often fragile and overburdened systems of health, education, employment and security in host countries, it is essential that the UK should do what it can, alongside the international community and the development sector, to support people in refugee camps.
Hon. Members have already mentioned some high-profile failings at refugee camps, and I will not describe those again. They are often due to a shortage of support, a lack of planning or a failure to learn the lessons of previous experience. In the Syrian crisis, the Zaatari camp, just across the border in Jordan, is worrying in many ways. Apparently uncapped expansion of the camp has been allowed, way beyond what local resources can support; later arrivals have been housed in makeshift, unsanitary conditions, in tents with little protection from the extremes of heat and cold of the Arabian desert. The camp sprawls over five square miles, with limited and often constrained food supplies. Security is limited, and violence—especially sexual violence—is a threat and a worry, as are health facilities that are less than we might want. There are also constraints on education provision.
However, as hon. Members have described in depth, incredible work is under way to improve the situation at Zaatari, and some of the other Syrian camps have learned the lessons. Those lessons include localising facilities around the camps rather than concentrating them in one spot, improving access and reducing potential for conflict. My right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for International Development has visited the Azraq camp, which is also in Jordan. It works on the basis of villages, each with its own clinic, playgrounds and facilities, and there is accommodation in prefabricated huts housing a maximum of five refugees each. That is hardly a great home, but it is better than what passes for refugee accommodation elsewhere, as was forcefully described in the opening speeches. What is the Minister’s assessment of the effectiveness of that model, and what logistical and technical support is her Department providing to Governments in conflict-ridden areas, who suddenly find they must establish such camps, so that lessons will be learned and best practice will not go to waste?
The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire asked, as I do, whether the Minister has had the opportunity to examine the effectiveness of top-up cards for refugees to pay for food and supplies—the shadow Secretary of State saw that in the Azraq model—instead of relying on sporadic handouts of aid.
The financial and resource strain that a sudden influx of refugees places on host nations such as Lebanon, Jordan and countries in Africa is unimaginable to us. Inevitably, with the need to provide shelter, water, food and security for hundreds of thousands of newly arrived refugees, other needs, including education, tend to be neglected by the host nations. The hon. Member for Hexham made that point well. Yet a failure to provide at least a basic education can have the most damaging long-term impact. Those who flee conflict and violence are often disproportionately young, and it is the young we are trying to remove from the violence. In Lebanon, there will soon be nearly 500,000 children of school age in camps, yet few have access to schools in the camps or in Lebanon’s towns and cities. The Lebanese Government lack the funds and teachers to provide that education safety net.
As the Syrian conflict drags on, the prospect of many children missing out completely on education rises, ingraining illiteracy and poverty. Will the Minister update us on what support her Department is providing to help to ensure that when refugee numbers are so great that they overwhelm the resources of host nations, young people, particularly those fleeing Syria, can receive at least a basic education? Will she assure us that her Department is making long-term funding available for education for young Syrian refugees, as well as supporting emergency schemes to get some basic provision in place now?
All too often, refugee situations, whether in Syria, Palestine, Somalia, South Sudan or the Central African Republic, switch from being short-term humanitarian emergencies to long-term challenges for the refugees, the host nations and the international bodies that support them. Refugee camps that were intended to be temporary become homes to hundreds of thousands of refugees for years, or even decades in the worst cases. It is crucial that we choose how to use our limited resources sensibly. The urge to give aid to tackle an emergency refugee situation is strong and often right, but we must examine carefully how that can be balanced against the long-term funding that is so necessary in refugee camps that persist for many years, to ensure that they do not become homes for the hopeless—those without education, without health care, even without the hope of moving out of extreme poverty and living their lives securely.
I pay tribute to everyone in this country who supports the City of Sanctuary movement and all UK volunteers who work to support refugees. Their work is not unnoticed, and we are very grateful for it. I again congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire on securing this debate, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the many vital points that have been made this morning.
It is a pleasure, Mr Sanders, to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate my hon. Friend Pauline Latham on securing this important debate and all hon. Members on their contributions. Hon. Members throughout the House are genuinely committed to the plight of refugees, wherever they are in the world. Meeting the needs of refugees and other forcibly displaced people is at the centre of the UK’s humanitarian work, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss it. I will try to respond to as many points as possible.
The debate is timely. A month ago, on world refugee day, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that in 2013 the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide had, for the first time in the post-world war two era, exceeded 50 million people. The increase from 2012 has been driven mainly by the Syria crisis, as many hon. Members said, but there have also been major new displacements in Africa, notably the Central African Republic and South Sudan.
My first visit to a refugee camp was to the north of South Sudan where refugees came across from South Kordofan and Blue Nile. That was also when I had my first trip in a helicopter, because there were no roads and the rainy season had started. The logistics of bringing in life-saving supplies were quite extraordinary in the direst of circumstances. Having to fly everything into refugee camps there partly explains the cost of the camps. I will go into the different costs, because where camps are situated and the countries they are in are critical to those costs.
This rise in the number of refugees is part of a worrying global trend reflecting the complexity of protracted crisis situations with regional and cross-border dimensions and the quadrupling of overall humanitarian need over the past decade. Increasingly, many refugee situations are continuing for extended periods. In 2011, a UNHCR study of 30 major protracted refugee situations found that the average length of displacement now is almost 20 years, compared with an average of nine years in the early 1990s.
Many hon. Members referred to the longevity of the camps, and I reiterate that primary responsibility for the assistance and protection of refugees lies with the host state. The UNHCR is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide, and to seek durable solutions to refugee displacement. I agree with all hon. Members who have said that we must normalise situations that last for a long time by providing skills, education and the hope of life beyond the camps. Solutions may include voluntary repatriation, assimilation within new national communities or resettlement to third countries. In 2013, refugee returns were fewer than 500,000.
The focus of this debate has been conditions in refugee camps, but it is important to note that the majority of today’s refugees do not live in camps. In 2012, a UNHCR study showed that only 35% of the 9.5 million refugees assessed lived in planned camps, and that the majority were living in private or rented accommodation. Meg Hillier referred to that, and I will respond in due course. More recently, it was estimated that 86% of Syrian refugees live outside camps.
It is critical to ensure that those with responsibility for meeting refugees’ needs are able to tailor their responses to different contexts. Camps are not usually the preferred solution for refugees, because they are expensive and often do not have good security. I have seen jealousy in host communities. Many hon. Members referred to education, and when it is provided in camps in countries where children outside the camps are barely in school, the balance must be carefully considered. My Department must consider the context or there may be all sorts of trouble between those inside and outside the camps.
The 1951 United Nations convention relating to the status of refugees and its 1967 protocol laid down the basic minimum standards for the treatment of refugees. The UNHCR has further developed them into detailed standards and guidelines in every sector of humanitarian assistance and protection. Today’s debate has rightly highlighted the fact that conditions vary widely from one camp to another. The issue is complicated. It depends partly on the political willingness and economic ability of a country to host refugees. In the middle east, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire said, host states are relatively wealthy compared with those in Africa and perhaps more politically willing to help with refugees. Certainly, as Guy Opperman said, the Turkish refugee camps are of the highest quality. They are quite astonishing. I was at an iftar meal, as I am sure many Members in the Chamber have been. It was a Turkish evening, and the quality of the camps was referred to many times over.
Conditions vary widely depending on how well the camp has been planned in advance and where it is located. Often, as I said, camps are situated in very poor circumstances without proximity to natural resources such as water or wood. The capacity of the camp to expand to more refugee influxes is also a factor, because if different cultural groups are sited in the same place or in close proximity, it results in overcrowding and tension.
A number of Members raised the issue of women and girls in refugee camps. As I am sure everyone knows, DFID puts women and girls, and particularly preventing violence against women, at the heart of all its development programmes. The Secretary of State gave a call to action to address the danger to women and children and their vulnerability in refugee camps, as has been mentioned. One of my earliest meetings was with a number of the agencies involved, and I said that this was a first-order issue. For a long time, food, water, shelter and sanitation were the first-order issues, but it is now becoming recognised that that is not enough any more.
Is it not true, however, that in these camps, we still do not separate the girls’ and women’s toilets from the men’s toilets and provide security so that they can go safely to the toilet without fear of rape?
My hon. Friend is right, but that is beginning to happen. Camps are at a variety of stages in their evolution. The newest and most modern camps most definitely have separate, safe toilets and all those things, but other camps that have been in existence longer do not necessarily have them. The issue has been raised and everyone is now aware of it. The Secretary of State’s call to action has highlighted the issue and put it on the front page, so that the agencies understand that it is as much a part of humanitarian aid as the more traditional first-order issues. I think we all recognise the danger that women are in. They are vulnerable if they go outside the camps to look for wood; they are at risk of violence and sexual assault, and we have called on others—UN agencies, donors and non-governmental organisations—to do the same as we have and put women, girls and children at the heart of their humanitarian response.
I want to try and answer more directly some of the questions that have been asked. I thank my hon. Friend Mr Ward and the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Hexham for their contributions. Education and food were raised in particular. Enrolment rates in education are higher in camps than outside—in Iraq, they are 57%, in Jordan, they are 67%, and in Turkey, they are 80%. There are three schools in Zaatari and 20,000 children, but there are still problems maintaining regular attendance and reducing the overcrowding in classes.
On food, in camps in Jordan refugees receive a daily allocation of bread and food vouchers valid for two weeks. Those can be redeemed at shops inside the camp, which also benefits the local communities. It is a kind of win-win situation. In one camp, the Emirates Red Crescent provides full catering. Malnutrition rates in those camps remain low, but there is a real spectrum in what is available and where. DFID certainly encourages the use of our cash transfer system, and we are very proud of it. That is one of the great innovations of recent years, because it ensures that money is spent locally, so it benefits the community. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford East said, the ingenuity of refugees in camps beggars belief. Stalls arrive and there is a marketplace, and I understand that there is also not the best-tasting alcohol—not in the Muslim countries, but in Africa for sure.
I will try and get through the points that all the Members have raised, and if I have time, I will come back to the hon. Gentleman.
Gaza was mentioned. Currently, only UNRWA, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society have sufficient access even to respond. DFID is funding both UNRWA and the ICRC, and we have increased funding to both in response to the crisis. More than 100,000 people are now taking shelter in schools and communal buildings under the aegis of UNRWA. The Secretary of State announced £2 million of funding yesterday to the flash appeal, which was launched by UNRWA, but it is a moving situation, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford East appreciates. It is relatively new.
On the Palestinian refugees from Syria, many of them have fled Syria to Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and elsewhere. They receive assistance from UNRWA in Lebanon and Jordan, and from the UNHCR in Egypt, because UNRWA does not have a mandate in Egypt. There are reports that the Palestinian refugees are finding it increasingly difficult to cross the borders out of Syria, which is a cause for concern. The UK has so far provided £25.5 million to UNRWA to assist it in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
Has the Minister’s Department made any assessment of the need for additional medical services, particularly in the Zaatari camp in Jordan? I say that in the context of a debate I held a few months ago in the House, which was on a mobile army surgical hospital facility that Britain could build up and deploy in a place such as Zaatari.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will write to him on that, because it adds a whole new area to the debate and I have only three minutes left.
The gateway protection scheme was mentioned by the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch. We want to focus our assistance on the most vulnerable people, rather than subscribing to a quota scheme. We have a vulnerable persons relocation scheme, which runs in parallel to the UNHCR’s own Syria humanitarian admission programme. We are determined to ensure that our assistance is targeted where it can have the most impact on the most refugees and those at the greatest risk. Our programme focuses on individual cases where evacuation from the region is the only option, and in particular, we are prioritising help for survivors of torture and violence and women and children at risk. The gateway protection scheme is operated by the UK Visas and Immigration partnership, as the hon. Lady knows, because she was a Home Office Minister. That is the Department from which the immigration side comes. It offers a legal route for resettlement for up to 750 refugees to settle in the UK each year.
We continue to be very concerned about the plight of the Syrian refugees. That crisis is not abating, and the UK has been at the forefront of the humanitarian response. The UK’s total funding for Syria and the region is now at £600 million, which is three times the size of its response to any other humanitarian crisis. My fear is that there are protracted crises looming, all coming together at a time when the world’s humanitarian effort is at its greatest, and resources are being severely stretched.
The UK tackles these issues in three ways. The first is at the global level, by providing support to the UNHCR to fulfil its mandate. In 2013, 43 million people relied on UNHCR assistance. We have a strong engagement with the UNHCR and participate in its executive committee. We also provide predictable and flexible global funding that allows the organisation to respond to the most urgent need.
The second way is through engagement on international humanitarian reform and, together with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, international advocacy on the rights of refugee and other vulnerable populations. I can assure hon. Members that there is a real debate—for a long time the humanitarian effort was stuck, but I think that is moving now and the debate is opening up. The third way is at the country level, where the UK is engaged in many of the world’s most severe crises.
Effectively meeting the needs of growing refugee and other forcibly displaced populations is placing ever-increasing demands on stretched host states and the humanitarian system. The majority of those needs are concentrated in protracted crises in fragile and conflicted states. Access is a nightmare in many countries, and the situation is terrible. I appreciate the difference between the camps, but I think it is explicable by the circumstances in which those camps arrive—