Letter from Westminster - Syria and the refugee crisis

1st October 2018

As I write ahead of publication, events may have altered the situation in Syria by the time you read this. But after 8 long years of bloody and tragic conflict, it seems the civil war in Syria may be reaching the end.

Regime forces supported by a Russia have encircled the city of Idlib, the last major stronghold to hold out against President Assad. Tensions run high, given the regime’s previous use of chemical weapons. Turkey has bolstered its military presence in the area, determined not to let the humanitarian situation on their border worsen.

This tragic civil war has touched the lives of millions, killing hundreds of thousands and displacing over 6 million civilians, around half of the country’s population.

Earlier this year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group with a network of sources in the country, indicated it had documented the death of 353,900 people, including 106,000 civilians. This figure did not include 56,900 people who it categorised as missing and presumed dead. The group also estimated an additional 100,000 deaths had not been documented.

For those of us in the House of Commons who voted, whether for or against the decision to intervene in Syria following the use of chemical weapons, when David Cameron was Prime Minister, the effects of the war are a stark reminder of the consequences of inaction.

The accounts of behind the scenes negotiation and efforts to build international consensus at the time make for interesting reading – but it was clear the lack of majority for action in Syria in the House of Commons had international ramifications, including within the United States.

As the civil war has raged, significant international action has provided a massive humanitarian response to this crisis. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates over 13 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the crisis, of whom 5.3 million are thought to be children. A further 5.6 million refugees have fled the country due to the civil war, almost exclusively to neighbouring countries. Most have fled to Turkey, followed by Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

I am travelling to neighbouring Lebanon this week to see for myself the impact of this displacement on the lives of those who have had to flee, and the impact on countries providing shelter.

I am encouraged the British government has been so proactive in providing support on the ground to the region, where aid has the greatest impact. Since 2012, across Syria and the region, UK aid has delivered over 27 million food rations that feed a person for a month, 12 million medical consultations, 10 million relief packages, and 10 million vaccines. In 2016/17 alone, UK aid reached over 5 million people with clean water. Much support has come through voluntary agencies and charities, many of which are well supported here in Shropshire.

But there is every likelihood that much of this aid to support the refugees will continue for years to come. Britain’s aid in the region is playing a vital role in alleviating the extreme suffering, and we will continue to be at the forefront of the global humanitarian response.

The only way to establish lasting peace in Syria is through a credible political transition away from the Assad regime, but the reality is hope of a political settlement in the region at present looks like a distant dream.

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