[Mr David Crausby in the Chair] — UNHCR: Admission Pathways for Syrian Refugees

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:54 am on 16th March 2016.

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Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman The Second Church Estates Commissioner, The Second Church Estates Commissioner 9:54 am, 16th March 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby, and I congratulate Caroline Lucas on securing this debate.

I commend the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. As with other aid and relief organisations that are working in this most troubled region, the UNHCR has an incredibly difficult task. Its work is invaluable and I fear that the current crisis would be much worse if the UNHCR was not on the ground trying to co-ordinate the agencies’ relief efforts in very difficult circumstances.

One particular issue that is being a bit neglected within this humanitarian response is that of religion. I speak in my capacity as the Second Church Estates Commissioner. This conflict is one in which issues of religion are central, and religion is also central to how we deal with the crisis. There is evidence that suggests religious minorities may be avoiding the refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey. I do not undermine in any way the incredible efforts that those host countries have made in trying to protect the vulnerable, but it is the members of religious minorities who often do not find their way to the camps. Consequently, the camps may fail to house the full demographic of vulnerable Syrian refugees and therefore they may not truly represent the percentage of the vulnerable minorities in the wider population of Syria. We do not see in the camps a balance of the Syrian population similar to the one that existed in Syria before the crisis began.

It is hard to determine exactly why that is the case. It may be because of fear of persecution in the refugee camps, or that individuals do not wish to stop in the camps but wish to progress further, due to a fear that the persecution they faced in Syria will spread to other parts of the region. There is anecdotal evidence from those who are travelling towards Europe that that is one of the reasons why members of religious minorities do not want to go to the camps.