UK Support for Humanitarian Relief in the Middle East – International Development Committee report
The UK Parliament’s International Development Select Committee has published a wide-ranging review of the international response to the Syrian crisis. The committee’s enquiry began in December 2013, and worked with a number of academics and organisations including Islamic Relief UK to collate evidence.
Islamic Relief’s UK Director, Jehangir Malik, gave evidence to the committee in person at Westminster about the situation in Syria and humanitarian work in the region. The report provides a good summary of some of the main challenges on the ground, and makes a number of recommendations to the Department for International Development (DFID).
UN figures reveal there are currently 9.3 million people within Syria in need of humanitarian assistance, including 6.5 million who are internally displaced. A wide range of organisations are working in Syria in extremely dangerous circumstances. The report stresses the exceptional work these organisations are doing, and commends the brave men and women working on the ground.
Over 2.3 million refugees have fled Syria, mostly to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Since the crisis began DFID has allocated £292.6 million for humanitarian assistance in neighbouring countries. Assistance is needed to address a number of different issues refugees face, including health, education and food security.
Jehangir Malik, UK Director of Islamic Relief, explained to the committee:“I have seen some horrific dwellings in monitoring and evaluation visits in Jordan and in Lebanon. It is primarily because people have left their homes with no money at all, and the cost of living inside Lebanon and Jordan is extremely high. It is $300 minimum for a room in some of these locations.”
The report states that in countries bordering Syria, it would be a mistake to provide assistance to refugees without also providing assistance to host communities. Doing so would almost inevitably lead to further tensions between the two groups: if their own needs are neglected, poor families in host communities would understandably feel resentful towards refugees receiving international assistance.
In light of this, the report urges that in Lebanon and Jordan, DFID should ensure that its humanitarian assistance benefits needy host communities as well as refugees. This is precisely how DFID is working with Islamic Relief in Jordan, where a project we are implementing is enabling children from Syrian refugee families and poor Jordanian families to go to school.
The astonishingly high number of Syrian children who are out of school is cause for grave concern. If an entire generation of children is unable to complete its education, the long-term implications for the stability of Syria and the wider region will be very serious indeed. Ensuring that Syrian refugee children receive an adequate education should remain a top priority for DFID, the report says. To support children who are unable to enrol in school, DFID should scale up its support for informal learning mechanisms such as ‘family-friendly spaces’. DFID should also allocate additional funds for the provision of psychosocial support, to enable traumatised children to re-engage with education.
The report concludes that with its humanitarian response to the Syria crisis, the UK has led the world. The committee commends the Government for its exemplary contribution. The UK has been able to increase its annual spending because its Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget has been increasing. However, there are many difficult choices ahead.
Islamic Relief has been providing support to Syrians since May 2011, first by providing food, subsidies for rent, blankets, and hygiene kits to refugees in neighbouring countries. Since June 2012, Islamic Relief has been providing medical and other aid across a wide area inside Syria. Islamic Relief has provided assistance to 2.1 million Syrians so far. Of these 1.4 million are inside Syria itself, in areas including Aleppo, Idlib and Homs; the remainder are refugees in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.