With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement updating the House on the recent Syria Conference, which the UK co-hosted with Kuwait, Norway, Germany and the United Nations last Thursday.
For nearly five years the Syrian people have suffered unimaginable horrors at the hands of the Assad regime and, more recently, Daesh.
Inside Syria there are 13.5 million people in desperate need and a further 4.6 million people have become refugees.
As we have seen over the past 72 hours alone the impact of this crisis on the people of the region is terrible and profound.
I was in Lebanon and Jordan last month and spoke to refugees, some of whom are now facing their fifth winter spent under a tent, and their stories are similar. When they left their homes, they thought they’d be back in weeks or perhaps months at most.
It’s turned out to be years, with no end to in sight.
Syria is now not only the world’s biggest and most urgent humanitarian crisis. Its far-reaching consequences are being felt across Europe and touching our lives here in Britain.
More than 1 million refugees and migrants risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean last year. Of these around half were fleeing from the bloodbath in Syria.
Mr Speaker, since the fighting began, Britain has been at the forefront of the humanitarian response to the Syria conflict.
Aid from the UK is helping to provide food for people inside Syria every month, as well as clean water and sanitation for hundreds of thousands of refugees across the region.
Our work on the Syria crisis gives people in the region hope for a better future and is also firmly in Britain’s national interest. Without British aid, hundreds of thousands more refugees could feel they have no alternative but to risk their lives by seeking to get to Europe.
But more was needed.
The UN Syria appeals for the whole of last year ended up only 54% funded - other countries needed to follow the UK’s lead and step up to the plate.
That’s why the UK announced we would co-host an international conference in London on behalf of Syria and the region. This would build on three successful conferences held in Kuwait in previous years.
Supporting Syria & the Region
Mr Speaker, on Thursday last week, we brought together over 60 countries and organisations including 33 heads of state and Governments.
The stage was set for the international community to deliver real and lasting change for all the people affected by this crisis - but in the end it would all come down to choices.
Could we pledge the record-breaking billions needed – going much further than previous conferences? And could we commit to going beyond people’s basic needs and deliver viable, long-term solutions on jobs and education for Syria’s refugees and the countries supporting them.
At the London Conference the world made the right choices to do all of those things – countries, donors and businesses all stepped up and raised new funds for this crisis to the amount of over $11billion (£7.7 bn). This included $5.8bn (£4 bn) for 2016 and another $5.4billion (£3.6 bn) for 2017-2020.
This was the largest ever amount committed in response to a humanitarian crisis in a single day. It means more has been raised in the first five weeks of this year for the Syria crisis than in the whole of 2015.
The UK, once again, played our part. We announced that we would be doubling our commitment – increasing our total pledge to Syria and the region to over £2.3 billion.
Going beyond people’s basic needs, at the London Conference, the world said there must be no lost generation of Syrian children, pledging to deliver education to children inside Syria and education to at least 1 million refugee and host community children, in the region outside Syria, who are out of school.
This is an essential investment not only in these children, but in Syria’s future. It also gives those countries generously hosting refugees temporarily the investment in their education systems that will benefit them for the longer term.
The London Conference also made a critical choice on supporting jobs for refugees and economic growth in the countries hosting them.
We hope historic commitments with Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan will create at least 1 million jobs in countries neighbouring Syria, so that refugees have a livelihood close to home. This will also create jobs for local people and leave a legacy of economic growth.
By making these choices, we’re investing in what is, overwhelmingly, the first choice of Syrian refugees: to stay in region and closer to their home country and their families still in it. And if we can give Syrians hope for a better future where they are, they are less likely to feel they have no other choice left but to make perilous journeys to Europe.
Mr Speaker, I’d like to thank all of those civil servants from my own department, the Cabinet Office, the Foreign Office, and BIS, who worked tirelessly as a team to help deliver such a such a successful and vital conference.
It’s not often that civil servants get the thanks that I believe they deserve, but on this occasion I’d wanted to put that on record.
The political process
Mr Speaker, the world has offered an alternative vision of hope to all those affected by this crisis but only peace will give Syrian people their future back.
The establishment of the International Syria Support Group at the end of 2015 was an important step on the path to finding a political settlement to the conflict. The Syrian opposition has come together to form the Higher Negotiations Committee to engage in negotiations on political transition with the regime and the UN launched proximity talks between the Syrian parties in January.
The UN Special Envoy for Syria took the decision to pause these talks following an increase in airstrikes and violence by the Assad Regime, backed by Russia.
The UK continues to call on all sides to take steps to create the conditions for peace negotiations to continue. In particular Russia must use its influence over the regime to put a stop to indiscriminate attacks and the unacceptable violations of international law.
Across Syria, Assad and other parties to the conflict are willfully impeding humanitarian access on a day-by-day basis. It is a brutal, unacceptable and illegal action to use starvation as a weapon of war.
In London world leaders demanded an end to these abuses, including the illegal use of siege and obstruction of humanitarian aid.
Our London Conference raised the resourcing for life-saving humanitarian support. It must be allowed to reach those in need as a result of the Syria conflict, irrespective of where they are.
The campaign against Daesh
I also want to take this opportunity to provide an update on the campaign against Daesh in Iraq and in Syria.
Since my Right Honourable Friend the Foreign Secretary last updated the House on the campaign against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, the Global Coalition, working with partner forces, has put further pressure on Daesh.
Iraqi forces, with Coalition support, have retaken large portions of Ramadi. In Syria, the Coalition has supported the capture of the Tishreen Dam and surrounding villages as well as areas south of al-Hawl.
The UK is playing our part. As of 5th February, RAF Typhoon, Tornado and Reaper aircraft have flown over 2,000 combat missions and carried out more than 585 successful strikes across Syria and Iraq.
We are also leading efforts to sanction those trading with or supporting Daesh. My Right Honourable Friend the Prime Minister gained agreement at the European Council in December on asset freezes and other restrictive measures.
Mr Speaker, in conclusion since day one of this crisis the UK has led the way in funding and shaping the international response. We have evolved our response as this incredibly complex crisis itself has evolved.
There will be no end to the suffering until a political solution can be found.
The Syria Conference, co hosted by the UK and held here in London, was a pivotal moment to at least respond to help those people affected and those countries affected. We seized the chance to offer the Syrian people and their children hope for a better future.
The UK will of course now be at the heart of making that ambition a reality and keeping the international community’s promise to the Syrian people.
This is the right thing to do on behalf of those suffering and, fundamentally, it is also the right thing to do for Britain too and I commend this statement to the House.