British aid is making a difference

Hexham MP Guy Opperman playing basketball with Syrian children in a refugee camp.
Hexham MP Guy Opperman playing basketball with Syrian children in a refugee camp.

“Just because it isn’t happening here, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.” The Save the Children campaign puts the Syria crisis into clear focus.

We are so fortunate in this country to be free from the terrors that others face across the world. Yet, you cannot help but be shocked and moved by the heart-rending images of the unfolding crisis across the Mediterranean. Fathers, brothers, mothers and sisters, displaced by conflict and left in desperate need.

This is a complex problem. It will not be resolved with aid alone. This crisis is caused by a multitude of factors and we need a varied response.

Opperman is not a traditional Northumberland name. I write as someone whose family were migrants over a hundred years ago.

I am well aware of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and its neighbouring countries. I have travelled through the region over the last seven years, and last year spent time helping at the Nizip 2 refugee camp on the Turkey-Syria border, where I spoke to refugees, as well as Unicef, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Syrian opposition leaders.

The situation continues to escalate: the Assad regime clings on to power, ISIS continues to rampage. The aftermath, and how to deal with the sheer numbers of refugees, is dividing Europe.

Our record on aid to the region is second to none. The UK Government believes that providing aid is vital. We are spending £900million between Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. It is money well spent and we are making a difference; we are the second largest bilateral donor of aid in the world in response to the Syrian conflict. Our help has included providing over 18 million food rations and giving 1.6 million people access to clean water.

Britain can be proud that we are one of the only major countries in the world to deliver our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of our GDP on aid — this is making a difference.

However, this is a complex problem. It will not be resolved with aid alone. This crisis is caused by a multitude of factors and we need a varied response.

Since the Syrian crisis began in 2011, over 85 per cent of asylum applications have been granted; almost 5,000 Syrians have been granted asylum in the UK. We also operate three re-settlement routes; these enable people to settle in the UK. The Gateway programme has run for ten years and has re-settled almost 6,400 people, with the aim to re-settle around 750 per year.

However, more needs to be done. That is why on September 7, the Prime Minister announced an expansion of our existing Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. Through this, we expect to re-settle 20,000 Syrians during this Parliament. This is in addition to those we re-settle under our Gateway and Mandate programmes, and the thousands of people who receive protection under normal procedures.

We are working closely with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to identify some of the most vulnerable and bring them to the UK. The criteria for the scheme will be expanded to ensure more of those in need are re-settled.

Please be assured that the Government will continue to play a leading role in formulating a plan to deal with this situation and will continue to support humanitarian aid.

The real difficult issue is our approach to UK/UN involvement in the prevention of the decline of nations and the rise of terrorism. Interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have left an impact. This has strongly reduced the desire of the public to put our soldiers in harm’s way in foreign lands; but we in the UN countries will need to address this at some stage soon. Should we be doing more to prevent the utter destruction of Syria?

Sadly, the conflict in Syria and the migrant crisis will not be solved quickly. I fear there will be more upsetting images and harrowing stories before this is resolved.

Yet, this Government is acting: as the second largest donor and by taking refugees. This crisis might not be happening here — but we know that it is happening, and we are responding.