22 June 2021
James Cleverly responds to debate on the situation of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon

James Cleverly, Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, responds to debate on the situation of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon.


The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa (James Cleverly)

It is a pleasure to serve under you as Chair today, Mrs Cummins. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) for securing this debate. I pay tribute to the work he has done in support of Syrian refugees and the moving points he made about his constituent Mr N. and his extended family.

Let us first recall why we are having this debate. Over the last 10 years, Assad’s unrepentant and unreformed regime has inflicted untold suffering on the Syrian people and has consistently and deliberately undermined efforts to pursue peace. Over half of Syria’s population has been displaced by the violence; more than 6.4 million people have fled their homes and sheltered in other parts of Syria; and over 5.5 million have taken refuge in neighbouring countries. As the hon. Gentleman said, the number that have fled to Lebanon is estimated to be 1.5 million and they make up the largest concentration of refugees per capita in the world.

The UK has a long and proud history of supporting refugees in need of protection and the Syria crisis is no exception. To date, we have committed over £3.7 billion in response to the crisis in the region—our largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis. Since 2012, across Syria and the region we have provided over 28 million food rations, over 21 million medical consultations, 6 million cash grants or vouchers, 10 million relief packages and over 14 million vaccinations. Our aid provides life support to millions of Syrians, in support of refugees to remain in countries in the region, and it enables host communities to provide for and manage a protracted refugee presence.

Jordan and Lebanon have shown tremendous generosity in hosting 670,000 and 880,000 registered refugees respectively. As the hon. Gentleman said, that is not the full number of refugees that those countries have had to host. The UK Government recognise that generosity, which is why we have contributed over £720 million in bilateral development assistance to Jordan since 2012, and over £780 million in humanitarian and development funding to Lebanon since the start of the Syria crisis.

In Jordan, our support has provided access to quality education and social protection. It has enabled partners to deliver primary and reproductive healthcare, and specialised care for refugees with disabilities. Over the past three years alone, UK humanitarian funding has helped 65,000 refugees and vulnerable people access mental health services, legal aid and rehabilitation for people with disabilities. Our cash programme has supported around 100,000 refugees with regular cash assistance.

With our support, the Jordanian Government have enrolled 83% of all Syrian children in education, the highest proportion in the region. In Lebanon, since 2011, we have provided 1.1 million people with sustainable access to clean water and sanitation. We have helped provide access to education and psychosocial support to 300,000 children. We have improved infrastructure and services in over 220 municipalities, and we have helped to create 1,300 new jobs for both Lebanese and Syrian communities and supported nearly 400 small and medium-sized enterprises.

Despite the grave economic challenges facing the UK this year, we have continued to provide humanitarian support for the Syrian crisis, as part of our commitment to the region and its overall stability. At the Brussels conference on supporting the future of Syria and the region, in March this year, the UK pledged at least £205 million to the Syrian crisis for 2021. That support will continue to deliver essential, lifesaving and life-sustaining assistance in Syria, and provide vital support in neighbouring countries that host refugees.

The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East mentioned our aid. The UK Government are completely transparent about our aid programme. We publish detailed information every year, and this year is no exception. Final audited spending for the 2020-21 financial year will be published in the annual reports and accounts. Final 2020 spending will be published in statistics on international development in the autumn, and will contain detailed breakdowns. I hope that document will allow him to answer some of the questions that he posed at the end of his speech.

Ahead of the publication of those figures, I can explain what our development assistance will achieve in Jordan and Lebanon this year. In Jordan, we will continue to support the most vulnerable refugees with cash transfers for food and basic needs. We will support refugees and vulnerable Jordanians to access services such as legal counselling, child protection services and rehabilitation for people with disabilities. In Lebanon, we will continue to provide those most in need with assistance and protection services to cover essentials, and hopefully reduce gender-based violence, which he alluded to in his speech. We will ensure that Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese people have access to quality formal and non-formal education.

Through our CSSF—the conflict, stability and security fund—we will support vulnerable Syrian refugees to access services and will support initiatives to improve livelihoods, community peace building and reconciliation. Our support for peace-building initiatives is particularly important as the economic crisis in Lebanon puts additional strain on all communities, both Syrian and Lebanese, but we are very concerned about the increase in the critical rhetoric around refugees that we hear in Lebanon, particularly the reports of forced returns.

Although we hope Syrian refugees will ultimately be able to return home, conditions in Syria do not currently allow that to take place, and it is essential that international law is respected and that any refugee returns are voluntary and safe, and done with dignity. We continue to work with the UN on a political process to deliver a lasting peace in Syria. We do not believe the Assad regime, which has committed so many atrocities against the Syrian people, is capable of delivering that peace. If the regime and its backers want to avoid another 10 years of conflict, they must seriously engage with the political process as outlined in UN Security Council resolution 2254.

When I visited Lebanon in December last year, I stressed to my counterparts, including the then Foreign Minister, that conditions in Syria did not allow for safe, voluntary and dignified returns. I made clear the need to uphold their commitment to the principles of no forced returns. I also stressed to my counterparts the need to grip the economic crisis, which has devastating effects on the already vulnerable Syrian refugee population. The UK is united in agreement with the rest of the International Support Group for Lebanon on the issue. Only the formation of a new Lebanese Government and the implementation of economic reforms can unlock the international financial support required to stabilise the economy.

Finally, I will outline the support for refugees at home. The UK has a long history of supporting refugees in need of protection. Our resettlement schemes have provided safe and legal routes for tens of thousands of people to start a new life here in the UK. Overall, since 2015, we have resettled more than 25,000 refugees through safe and legal routes direct from the regions of conflict and instability, around half of whom were children. On 25 February, we fulfilled our commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, and we continue to welcome refugees through the UK global protection scheme, as well as through the community sponsorship and mandate resettlement schemes.

Our focus will remain on helping people directly from the region of conflict or instability, thus reducing the drivers for people to put themselves in the hands of evil people-trafficking criminals. That commitment, alongside a fair and firm asylum system, will ensure that we continue to offer safe and legal routes to the UK for vulnerable refugees in need of protection.

For more than a decade the Assad regime has inflicted untold suffering on the Syrian people. It is a source of pride that the UK, as a force for good in the world, is supporting Syrian refugees in countries around the region and at home. We will continue to do so with determination, and with persistence we can, I hope, secure a brighter future for Syria and its people.