Update on the campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria

16th March 2017

Priti Patel updates the House of Commons on the ongoing campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, including the UK’s role in this collective effort. 

With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall update the House on the ongoing campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, including the UK’s role in this collective effort. I shall deal first with Mosul, the last major population centre held by Daesh in Iraq and a city key to the counter-Daesh campaign.

Retaking Mosul will be a body blow to Daesh and a major victory for the Iraqi Government, but this is not going to be an easy fight. It will be tough to retake the city, tougher to rebuild it after three years of Daesh rule, and tougher still to win back the trust of the population. Since the House was last updated in November, Iraqi forces have made significant progress against Daesh in Mosul, with substantial support from coalition aircraft including those of the Royal Air Force. East Mosul was retaken on 24 January.

We should pay tribute to the skills and tenacity demonstrated by the Iraqi security forces in clearing Daesh from east Mosul, and to their commitment to protecting civilians during that difficult fight. The liberated community of east Mosul have testified daily to the horror and the sheer brutality that they have experienced. The United Nations has received

“innumerable reports of…gross abuses of human rights”

perpetrated by Daesh, including the use of human shields and snipers to kill civilians, and the existence of mass graves—a reminder to us all of why bringing Daesh to justice is so vital. Thirty schools in east Mosul have already reopened, allowing 16,000 children to return to education. UK assistance through the UN is providing access to water, health and municipal services, and our funding for the UN Mine Action Service will assist in the removal of explosive devices.

On 19 February, Iraqi forces launched the next phase of the operation: the liberation of west Mosul. We should congratulate them on their steady progress so far, including the recent capture of the regional government offices and the courthouse. We will continue to encourage the Government of Iraq to ensure that the protection and wellbeing of civilians are paramount during the ongoing operations.

As a global humanitarian leader, the UK remains at the forefront of efforts to support the Government of Iraq’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. Since June 2014, the Department for International Development has committed £169.5 million to the crisis. A significant proportion of those funds is contributing to the Mosul humanitarian response, and has allowed our partners to make preparations before the start of military operations. We are giving very practical and often life-saving help to vulnerable families. It includes trucking in millions of litres of clean water to people in east Mosul who face severe water shortages, providing shelter, distributing support kits containing blankets and heaters to thousands of displaced families, thus helping them to survive gruelling winter conditions, and giving children access to education and safe spaces.

I remain, however, especially concerned about the plight of civilians who are still trapped in west Mosul by Daesh. We understand that water, food, fuel and medical supplies are worryingly low. Access is all but impossible, but the UK, together with our partners, is looking at every option for humanitarian assistance. Later this month the UN will launch the 2017 humanitarian response plan for Iraq, which estimates that the humanitarian funding required for 2017 will be $930 million. I continue to call on other donors to follow the lead that the UK is setting. However, the humanitarian efforts alone will not be enough; we will also need to ensure the political climate is right.

Central to efforts to secure stability and peace in the city of Mosul and the governorate of Nineveh post-liberation will be the political arrangements that lay the foundations for the long-term reconciliation that is so important. Securing a sustainable peace in Iraq will require the Iraqi Government, with assistance from the international community, to address Sunni fears and interests, bring communities back together, and ensure that Iraq is placed on the road to stability and—equally important—prosperity. To help to achieve that objective, the UK supports, and provides funds for, the UN’s efforts to encourage reconciliation. We continue to urge Prime Minister Abadi and the Government of Iraq to take the steps that are necessary to ensure that they do not win JUST the war, but the peace. On 17 February my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met Prime Minister Abadi in Munich, where they discussed the issue.

Let me now deal with Syria. Regrettably, we are marking the sixth anniversary of the terrible civil war in which civilians continue to suffer so badly. We were pleased that UN-mediated political talks between the Syrian parties resumed in Geneva last month, and that the participants were able to agree on the future agenda. The next round is due to take place later this month. We strongly support the work of the UN and of the special envoy, Staffan de Mistura.

It is clear that there is no military solution to the situation in Syria, and a sustainable political settlement is needed to end the fighting for good. This will require a genuine transition to a new Government that is representative of all Syrians and that will protect all Syrians’ rights.

It is the UK’s long-standing position that there can be no sustainable peace in Syria while Assad remains in power. The atrocities the regime has committed make it impossible for him to unite the country and bring peace. The UN commission of inquiry’s recent report on the Aleppo offensive said that the regime had committed war crimes with its indiscriminate bombing and use of chemical weapons against civilians and its targeting of medical facilities and a humanitarian aid convoy.

The UK continues to call for accountability for these violations and abuses of human rights. In December, we co-sponsored a UN General Assembly resolution to establish an independent mechanism to assist in bringing those responsible for the most serious crimes to justice. Most recently, we worked with the French and the United States on a UN Security Council resolution to hold the regime and Daesh to account for their use of chemical weapons in Syria. We are deeply disappointed that Russia and China chose to veto this resolution.

The UK continues to use its position in the International Syria Support Group and the UN Security Council to support the work of the UN special envoy to bring peace in Syria. We have called for the ceasefire, brokered by Russia, Iran and Turkey, which came into force on 30 of December, to be strengthened. The regime must abide by the ceasefire and stop taking new territory if the ceasefire is to be credible. Russia and Iran, as guarantors of the agreement, must deliver on their commitments.

The fall of east Aleppo in December was a tragedy that brought home to many the ongoing nightmare being experienced by so many in Syria. Some 13.5 million people are in need of humanitarian support, and 1.5 million of them are living under siege-like conditions. The Assad regime continues to prevent the delivery of life-saving aid.

Through the UK’s humanitarian and diplomatic efforts, we are doing all we can to alleviate the suffering of civilians. We have mounted the UK’s largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis and are using our position in the UN Security Council and the International Syria Support Group to press the regime and its backers to allow aid to reach those who need it, and call for civilians to be protected.

As part of our £2.3 billion pledge to support people affected by the Syrian crisis, we have committed more than £1.2 billion to support refugees in the region. I have seen how our support is making a real impact. In Lebanon, I met Syrian children who, thanks to UK support, now have an opportunity to learn and attend school alongside Lebanese children, after years of suffering. In Jordan, I visited the Azraq refugee camp and witnessed how we are supporting job creation for Syrian refugees. I also discussed with the President of Lebanon and the Prime Minister of Jordan how the UK will continue to lead the scale-up in international support for host countries.

I have met refugee families from Raqqa who told me about their experiences of the daily horror of living under Daesh rule. No child should have to witness kidnappings, public hangings on their streets, and the torture of their friends and families. I spoke to mothers who had lost children as they fled the terror of Daesh.

Despite its claims to be fighting terrorism, Assad’s regime focuses its efforts on eradicating all political opposition in Syria by military means. The regime has left the job of tackling terrorism in Syria to the international community.

Daesh continues to lose territory in Syria. In north-west Syria, Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces, with support from coalition aircraft, have succeeded in pushing back Daesh and taken al-Bab. Elsewhere, the Syrian Democratic Forces have commenced operations to isolate Daesh’s stronghold in Raqqa, with coalition air support. This is a fight that will take time and patience to get right. The population will need an inclusive and legitimate local authority to represent them.

As well as action on the ground, we have made progress in countering Daesh’s propaganda, which it has used as a recruiting tool. Daesh’s propaganda output has fallen by about 75% over the last year. On social media, anti-Daesh posts now outnumber pro-Daesh propaganda by six to one. The UK is leading coalition efforts to do this.

A year has now passed since the UK co-hosted the “Supporting Syria and the Region” conference in London. Donors pledged over $12 billion, the largest amount raised in a single day for a humanitarian crisis. One year on, donors have exceeded their pledges for 2016, allocating $8 billion, of which $6.2 billion has been delivered to Syria and the refugee-hosting countries. The UK has set the pace in going above and beyond what was promised, exceeding our 2016 pledge of £510 million, with £550 million in life-saving aid delivered last year. Next month, we are co-hosting the Brussels conference, which will be an important opportunity to take stock of the situation in Syria, reaffirm and build on the London conference commitments, and ensure ongoing support to those in Syria who are in desperate need of help.

In conclusion, much progress has been made against Daesh. Since 2014, it has lost 62% of the territory it once held in Iraq and 30% in Syria, but much more remains to be done. Even when Daesh is militarily defeated, we must continue to be wary of its resurgence. In Iraq this means supporting the Government to restore order and be accountable to all their people to meet their needs. In Syria it means continuing our efforts to deliver a political settlement that enables a transition away from Assad to a Government who serve all the Syrian people.

The protracted crises in Syria and the region are the defining humanitarian challenges of our time. History will judge us if the international community does not deliver on support for affected and displaced Syrian and Iraqi people. Supporting the region is the right thing to do on behalf of those suffering, and it is the right thing to do for the UK, to make us safer. I commend the statement to the House.

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I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement today, and I thank her for giving me prior sight of it. There has long been cross-party agreement on the work of the Department for International Development. Its core role is to tackle the global challenges of our time, including poverty and disease, mass migration, insecurity and conflict. We must now come together and give cross-party support for helping the most vulnerable civilian refugees affected by Daesh. Violent actors such as Daesh should be condemned, but we must proceed cautiously and avoid compromising the integrity of UK aid if we are to act in a way that is informed by the evidence of what works to promote sustainable peace and development.

United Nations experts reported in June last year that Daesh was committing genocide against Yazidis and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq, and destroying minority religious communities through killings, sexual slavery and other awful crimes. I particularly welcome the Government’s commitment to the Modern Slavery Act 2015 in helping the survivors of torture and violence and those who have suffered sexual violence.

I want to ask the Secretary of State a series of questions about her announcement, which I welcome. Will DFID have any input into the drafting of the United Nations Security Council resolution that seeks to establish a UN investigation into Daesh’s crimes in Iraq and Syria? Does she support the UN’s call for all the armed forces involved to avoid the use of heavy weapons in populated areas? The priority is to provide safe passage to get the civilians out. There are around 750,000 people trapped in western Mosul. They have no safe means of exit, and limited or no access to food, water or basic sanitation.

I agree that it is important for all Departments to work together to support sustainable peace and development, and yes, that means seeking to address the causes of conflict and fragility. However, I ask the Secretary of State always to think about the role of DFID and how the Department can best serve those it is intended to serve. Fundamentally, its role is to focus on poverty reduction, and part of that involves working to prevent conflict and violence. To be effective, however, that work must focus on the needs of local populations. Does she agree that in important security operations we must be careful not to securitise the aid that the UK provides, as that can sometimes undermine the effectiveness of aid delivery and put the lives of aid workers at risk?

DFID can and should invest in addressing the causes of conflict and insecurity, as part of a path to sustainable development, and I stress the need for the Department to engage with civil society groups and other local actors in mapping out the long-term future of Iraq and Syria. This will offer hope and certainty to people devastated by these atrocities. That requires the UK to understand the different causes of conflict and instability more broadly, and how DFID can seek to address them through its work. Does the right hon. Lady therefore agree that by focusing on only one actor we can be distracted from tackling issues that are of greatest concern to local people, or that generate conflict in the first place? I believe there is cross-party agreement on helping the most vulnerable, and Britain has a long history of helping those who are fleeing terror and persecution. We should stand together in the House today and support that tradition now. I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement.

 

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. She will be the first to recognise the extent of not only DFID’s work, but the British Government’s combined effort, including our first-class diplomacy, how our military and defence teams come together, and our work on the ground in difficult and challenging parts of the world to deliver humanitarian support and, in particular, protect the lives of civilians. Everyone in the House today would pay tribute not only to those on the frontline and the civilians who see the horrors of Daesh day in, day out, but the aid workers and many others who deliver life-saving and life-changing humanitarian support in country.

Our work shows Britain at its best and exactly why we have UK aid. It shows not only how the British Government lead across the world, but how we influence security and stabilisation in many of the areas that the hon. Lady touched on, and how we can work together, including with the United Nations, to bring about peace and address the atrocities and the horror of the crimes of Daesh and the Assad regime. Much of that work is already under way. There is no doubt that it will take time—the evidence-gathering and investigations could take many years—but the entire House can commend not only the work of everyone on the ground in country, but the important international leadership work of the British Government.

 

Last year, I met a Yazidi Christian in a refugee camp in Athens who had brought five children, including a 10-year-old boy, over on a dangerous boat trip. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right for the UK to provide general financial support for refugee centres throughout the middle east? That support must continue for humanitarian reasons, so that families such as the one I mentioned do not have to extend their suffering.

 

My hon. Friend is right. As I mentioned, I have visited the region several times, meeting many refugees who have experienced nothing but trauma on their journeys. The whole House should commend the host countries that are doing tremendous work, and I pay particular tribute to the Governments of Jordan and Lebanon for their outstanding contributions. Through last year’s London Syria conference and the forthcoming Brussels conference, we are giving those host countries every ounce of support, in terms of our pledges and our work to ensure that they can support refugee communities in a sustainable way and to help bring peace and stability to the region.

 

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement; it is always welcome to see her at the Dispatch Box. As the Disasters Emergency Committee today launched an appeal on the famine in east Africa, it may be helpful to hear at some point what DFID is doing in response to that.

I recognise the role that DFID plays in responding to the humanitarian situation—something it can do because it meets the 0.7% aid target. Given that the official development assistance budget is being spread more thinly across Departments, is the Secretary of State confident that DFID has the necessary resources? Will she confirm the Government’s commitment to the aid target, not least because that will encourage others to follow suit and fulfil the pledges that have been made?

Daesh’s activities are causing massive displacement across the region, so what steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure adequate provision for the humanitarian response in the countries that border Iraq and Syria? What support is she able to provide to local civil society, particularly the Churches and faith-based organisations that are often best placed to respond quickly to those in need? Aid for the formal refugee camps is welcome, but what support is being provided to those not in formal camps, particularly in Lebanon?

On the response in Syria, we have repeatedly asked, “If we can drop bombs, why can we not drop bread?” What lessons can be learned from the drone delivery trials in Nepal and Tanzania? What discussions are being had with the US about the joint precision airdrop system? Displacement does not just happen to border countries. The UK needs to commit to taking its fair share of refugees; 20,000 over five years is not a fair share, nor is 350 children under the Dubs scheme. If ODA money is to be used by other Departments, the Home Office can use it for the first year of resettlement.

The former Prime Minister said that UK military involvement in Syria would cut off the head of the snake. Where is the evidence that that has happened? A humanitarian response is the right thing to do, and not only to make us safer; as long as people in Syria and Iraq live with the consequences of UK military adventurism, we have a responsibility to help clean up the mess.

 

The hon. Gentleman raises a number of points. He specifically mentioned the support that DFID is giving to those outside the camps; he will not be surprised to hear that we are working with partner organisations, non-governmental organisations and charities in Jordan and Lebanon, particularly outside the camps, to provide support directly to refugees.

On bringing about peace and stability, the Government’s objective is long-term stabilisation and humanitarian support. Last year, with the UN, DFID—the British Government—committed substantial resources to pre-preparedness for the Mosul offensive to ensure both that we could protect civilians, and that aid could be provided to people who needed it in light of the offensive.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the important and valuable role of the Government’s legislative and manifesto commitment to the 0.7% target. The Government have been unequivocal in continuing to support that target. On top of what we have been discussing as regards Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the wider region, a DEC appeal was launched today to address the four potential famines in Somalia, north-east Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. We should reflect on the fact that at times of humanitarian crisis, the 0.7% target demonstrates to those who are suffering persecution and displacement who we are as a country, our place in the world, the leadership we give and our response to those who are very much less fortunate than ourselves. That is what UK aid is about. It is about our place in the world, and it is in our national interest to continue doing what we do. Those of us in the House and UK taxpayers can all be proud of that work.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman mentioned resettlement schemes. Our resettlement schemes offer a safe and legal route to the UK for the most vulnerable refugees, and the British Government can be proud of what we have been doing to resettle refugees.

 

Well, I am certainly proud. What are the Government doing to support the programme of reform in Iraq that is so necessary for delivering peace by ensuring that liberated Sunni communities are embraced by the whole political economy of Iraq?

 

My right hon. Friend, as a former DFID Minister, knows better than most the vital role that UK aid plays in the world, particularly in Iraq. In answer to his question, we have been pressing Iraqi leaders and stressing to them at every opportunity the importance of an inclusive political plan for stabilising and rebuilding the country. All groups have to be involved in that rebuilding and stabilisation. Of course, the UK Government and UK aid are providing all the support to reopen schools in east Mosul, and humanitarian assistance to displaced people across Iraq.

 

The whole House will welcome the progress on defeating Daesh in Mosul and elsewhere, and I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the bravery of all the forces, including our RAF pilots, who are engaged in that task.

The Secretary of State referred to the discovery of mass graves, and she will have seen the reports of the now infamous Khasfa sinkhole, which is said to contain thousands of bodies. What action is being taken to collect forensic evidence? Are we giving assistance? Such evidence will be important in calling to account those who have committed crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, and one way to defeat Daesh ideologically is to tell the truth about what it has done.

 

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the starkness of what has taken place. We have to speak the truth and bring the facts about exactly what has been going on to light. He specifically asks what the Government are doing in this area. We are working with the UN and others on the investigations. All colleagues in the House will know that this is difficult and will take time. We have seen in the past the amount of time it takes to get the evidence to secure convictions for war crimes, but that does not mean we should shy away from doing this. The mass graves exist, and we already know the extent of the horrors and atrocities that have taken place. It is in all our interests to stand by those who have suffered or been silenced, to act on their behalf to bring about justice for the victims of these atrocities, and to show the world the appalling nature and conduct of Daesh and those who have been associated with them.

 

The Secretary of State referred to the Syrian Democratic Forces, with coalition air support, commencing operations against Raqqa. Will the Secretary of State inform the House of her assessment, and that of the National Security Council, of Turkish intentions towards the SDF, not least around Manbij? Will she also give her assessment of what Turkish engagement there will be in the political arrangements for the reconciliation around Mosul, not least given Turkey’s military presence in Bashiqa, and the recent discussions between President Erdogan and Masoud Barzani?

 

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He will recognise and appreciate that we are working to bring all parties to the table, although we face difficult challenges in getting parties to come together. We have seen greater developments through the Astana process, and our priority is to support Staffan de Mistura to make sure that we can drive the right outcomes and get parties talking to seek the peaceful resolutions we desperately need.

 

I thank the Secretary of State for her statement, and particularly the strength of her point about our investment in Syria and Iraq being a fine example of UK aid at its very best. I wish to ask her about a specific issue: the mines around Mosul and de-mining. I understand that there is a real concern among internally displaced people in Iraq about going back to Mosul because of the mines. Co-ordination is essential, so will she say a bit more about international co-ordination and, in particular, about which Department is leading on this? Is it DFID, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the Ministry of Defence?

 

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. This is an important area, and I mentioned in my statement the importance and significance of de-mining. There is no doubt that we have to invest in it, so that we can return the land securely to the community and they can get on with their lives. The MOD is leading on this activity, but he will know, from discussions we have had on the significance and importance of de-mining, that from a development perspective we must support, fund and back it. I see this as a cross-Government initiative.

 

I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement, and I wonder whether she could extend this update geographically. I have an interest in a potentially large humanitarian action project going into Libya, so it would be of considerable interest to me if she could, either verbally now or in writing later, give me an update on the action being taken to remove Daesh and its fellow travellers from Sirte and its surroundings. What forces are taking that action?

 

I thank my hon. Friend for his important question about Libya. A joint FCO and DFID team is working on the wider issues relating to Libya, which cover a range of things. Obviously, there has been a lot of activity and action not only around Sirte, but on dealing with some of the migration challenges we are facing. I will write to him so that we can give him the specific details on that cross-Government work, covering fully not only the DFID aspect, but the FCO aspect.

 

I join colleagues in sending our thoughts and prayers to everyone on deployment, as well as to the Secretary of State’s staff and others who are on the ground delivering humanitarian aid. Will she update the House with the specifics of what we are doing to strengthen local democracy throughout Iraq, especially in the regions, to win the peace, as she says?

 

I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks and for the support she and other Members have given to all the people delivering aid in difficult, challenging locations. A political process is obviously under way, on which the Foreign Office is leading. As I mentioned in the statement, the Foreign Secretary has been engaging with Prime Minister al-Abadi and the Iraqi Government on the political side. Linked to that is the wider work on stabilisation, which has to be integrated at every level, including all aspects of state building, nation building and the building of democracy and civil society, as well as some of the most basic things for the functioning of a society, such as infrastructure and the delivery of public goods and services. A great deal of work has taken place across Government, involving the MOD, the FCO and DFID, through the stabilisation team and the combined teams. We are advocating a combined and integrated approach, and we have to work with the Iraqi Government, because ultimately they are responsible for delivery.

 

The Secretary of State is quite right in what she has said, and I welcome her timely statement. I pay tribute not only to the compassion and humanitarian efforts of British citizens, but to the courage of our armed forces. On winning the peace, will my right hon. Friend undertake to work with the Home Office to ensure that British jihadists who return from Syria are properly de-radicalised, using a proper strategy, and that there will be the most draconian efforts to deal with those who are not de-radicalised, so that we can protect our constituents and our country?

 

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make that point. Everyone who returns, having been involved in the conflict, must be subject to the right kind of sanctions and be reviewed by the police to determine whether they have committed offences. He also raises an important point about our collective work across Government. Everything that DFID, the FCO, the MOD and the Home Office do to fight the forces of terrorism is done in our national interest. That is why our focus is on protecting not only those in Iraq and Syria who are subject to Daesh’s atrocities, but our citizens in this country, too.

 

In a meeting earlier, members of the Iraqi Democratic Movement stressed the need in Mosul to ensure: first, that refugees are screened safely, in a transparent and accountable way, to make sure there are no disappearances; secondly, that electricity and other services are restored as soon as possible, so that the internally displaced persons can return; and finally, that a high-profile UN presence is deployed to provide reassurance to civilians. What support can the British Government give on those issues?

 

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and we agree with him completely about the approach to refugees and the right kind of screening. We need to get in resources, such as electricity and water, for IDPs, so that they have all the essential life-saving and humanitarian support they require. The United Nations Development Programme is on the ground and a great deal of work is taking place. I am happy to write to the right hon. Gentleman with more information about the collective work that is taking place, because the British Government have cross-Government resources in country. We spent time prior to the Mosul offensive pre-positioning supplies and support, and we are of course working with UN agencies and our partners on the ground. I would be happy to share with him some of the detail of that work.

 

In welcoming my right hon. Friend’s comments about supporting the Governments of Lebanon and Jordan, which are carrying so much of the burden, may I also remind her that while the military mission in Lebanon—or the ex-military mission—is achieving miracles on very small amounts of resources, it does need more help? There is a really serious military threat, which puts at risk 1.5 million refugees and 4 million Lebanese.

 

We have a combined approach across Government. My hon. Friend is right to point out that Lebanon is under great pressure. It has more than 1 million refugees who effectively outnumber the Lebanese community. There are wide-ranging pressures on the economy and the military. I have been to some of the very difficult parts of Lebanon and seen at first-hand how hard it is to get the balance right. There is the Brussels conference coming up. We will look at the resources that need to be allocated, and the pledgingthat will inevitably take place. As I said in my statement, the United Kingdom is absolutely committed to both Jordan and Lebanon, and that commitment will be demonstrated in our pledging and in our wider political support.

 

The Secretary of State has referred to support for the Iraqi Government, but is she also aware that there are hundreds of thousands of Syrian Kurdish refugees in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and, in addition, even greater numbers of internally displaced Iraqis, including many who have come from the area near Mosul? As we liberate Mosul, there will be even greater pressure on the Kurdistan Regional Government. What specific help are the Government giving today, and what help will they give in future to the KRG authorities, because they sometimes have difficulties with Baghdad?

 

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that point. We have Ministers who are working directly with the Kurdistan Government, and support is going in to help the refugees. Importantly, his point demonstrates the extent of the crisis in the region, the level of displacement that is taking place and the challenges that need to be overcome.

 

May I ask my right hon. Friend to give us an update on what is happening in Aleppo? For instance, is British aid getting through to the citizens of Aleppo at the moment?

 

My hon. Friend will be well aware that the Aleppo situation is still very difficult—quite frankly it is traumatic and harrowing. There are grave difficulties in getting aid into Aleppo. As I said in my statement, we saw the atrocities and the extent of the pressures in the area in December. That said, we are looking at every single possible avenue that we can use to get aid not only into Aleppo, but into other besieged areas. That is a continuing focus of DFID and of the wider humanitarian community.

 

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her interesting statement, particularly in relation to the work around children. What is being done to help support and empower women to rebuild the civil society of which she correctly speaks, and what support is being offered on the ground to women and young people so that they can resist the ongoing call to arms from Daesh, which uses their desperation and their need for cash?

 

Many of our programmes, and a substantial amount of our resources, are focused on women, children and young people. We want to ensure that young people have opportunities—and education is at the heart of that—to prevent them from being subject to propaganda and to manipulation by these evil forces in the region. Our work is ongoing. We are working with civil society, NGOs and third-party organisations in the region to put the protections in place, because safeguarding and security are paramount for women, children and young people. As I have said, we also want to ensure that children and young people have the opportunity to access education and other schemes as well so that they are not subject to the extreme propaganda of Daesh.

 

How many UK nationals have joined, or attempted to join, Daesh in Syria and Iraq, and how many have been apprehended and prosecuted?

 

I do not have that information to hand. I will investigate and see whether I can share that information with my hon. Friend.

 

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement unreservedly. Does she agree that in a chronically unstable region, the presence of Daesh serves only to intensify the instability? Does she also agree that the only way to resolve the situation is not only to defeat Daesh militarily, but to defeat the perverted ideology it represents?

 

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The objective has to be to defeat not only Daesh’s military capability on the ground, but everything it stands for—its ideology and the spread of hate and evil it perpetrates.

 

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her statement and on our success against Daesh in Syria. Has she looked at the impact of that success on the activities of Daesh in other parts of the world—for example, its support of Boko Haram in Nigeria?

 

We learn lessons all the time and assess all activities. My hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to praise our armed forces—the RAF and others—who have been at the forefront of much of the work we have been discussing.

 

Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) about the need to counter the ideology of jihadist Salafism, can the Secretary of State give more detail about the investment being made here in the UK and abroad, military and civil, in directly countering and enabling others to counter the narrative that is drawing in so many people? Will she make that strand a routine element of the updates the Government give in future?

 

The hon. Gentleman is right that that is a matter of enormous importance to this Government and all others internationally who are fighting the forces of Daesh. In my statement, I said that the UK is heavily involved in coalition efforts on propaganda. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), will be in Washington next week at the counter-Daesh coalition conference, where the UK leads in this area, and he will be happy to report back and update hon. Members on progress. In addition, work is taking place here that is fundamental to countering Daesh’s propaganda.

 

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, which highlights the sterling work being done by her Department and the UK Government as a whole, but may I ask specifically about the Yazidi women and children who have faced a campaign of genocide by Daesh? What help is being given to those who have managed to flee, as well as to the thousands who are still being held captive by Daesh?

 

My hon. Friend highlights the atrocious conduct of Daesh. Of course we in this House squarely and fully condemn Daesh’s brutality against ethnic minorities. UK aid is distributed to all those my hon. Friend refers to, including members of minorities and Yazidi women and girls. We have touched on the subject a number of times in this House and we have all seen and heard about the horrors of the persecution of minorities and Yazidis. UK aid is very much focused on giving them support, and I think that is something we can all be incredibly proud of.

 

I appreciate the Secretary of State’s statement today. I want to ask about her statement that “We…are using our position in the UN Security Council and the International Syria Support Group to press the regime and its backers to allow aid to reach those who need it, and call for civilians to be protected.” Will she say more about what success we are having and what barriers and obstacles we are facing? Also, what we are doing with the £2.3 billion that is going in to Syria outside the support for refugees? What is actually reaching people in the country?

 

The hon. Lady hits the nail on the head. We are working in a challenging situation. Basically, we need peace and stability to achieve the outcomes I described in my statement. We are using everything—every single ounce of capital we have—to lobby and influence, exactly as she would expect us to do. Our commitment to Syria has been substantial. Much of the £2.3 billion she referred to has been concentrated in the wider region, but we are also funding agencies and working with partners such as the World Food Programme and UNICEF, and the wide matrix of agencies, with which we have a strong working relationship, to provide life-saving support—food, water, shelter and medical supplies.

The situation is incredibly challenging. There are still people we cannot reach in besieged areas. Our No. 1 objective and priority is ensure that aid from the UK and from the whole international community reaches the people who have not seen any aid for not just weeks but months.

 

Have the Government given any further consideration, since the House last debated the matter, to recognising the crimes against the Yazidis as a genocide? Are the Government willing to support a rehabilitation and recovery programme, such as the one that Germany has just launched, for Daesh survivors particularly the Yazidis who are now resident outside Iraq? Following on from the question of the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), will the UK deploy its own forensics experts to examine those mass graves as soon as possible? It is not just about bringing people to justice; it is for the loved ones, from the Yazidi community and elsewhere, to be able to identify the bodies of those who have been killed.

 

My hon. Friend raises important and significant points about the mass graves. We are already providing support to the investigations that are taking place. As I said earlier, the evidence collation is challenging and difficult. On genocide and the crimes of the persecution of Yazidis, we are working throughout the system to look into the horrors that have taken place. Of course, the term “genocide” comes up against legal definitions but, as I have said, we will look at all aspects of this. The only way that we can defeat what has happened and address the horrors is by taking all the actions needed to call Daesh out and take the necessary steps forward.

 

I thank the Secretary of State for her statement, and I associate myself with all the comments about our coalition forces and the aid workers working in very difficult circumstances in Iraq and Syria. It is good news that eastern Mosul has been liberated. No doubt, western Mosul will follow. Once it is liberated, along with Raqqa, there is no doubt that Daesh will not see this as the end of the caliphate. Many fighters will be returning to their home countries so, further to the question of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson), will the Secretary of State fill the House in on the conversations she is having with our international partners to ensure that those who return to their countries are not radicalised?

 

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this point. Of course, radicalisation is exactly why these individuals and organisations exist. This is a collective effort. As I mentioned, the counter-Daesh coalition is meeting next week. The issue is an ongoing part of discussions taking place not just across our Government, but within the international community. The objectives have to be to stamp Daesh out, and to end the radicalisation, propaganda, hate and evil that it is spreading.

 

I thank my right hon. Friend for the welcome update, her unstinting personal commitment to the cause, her Department’s work and all that the humanitarian co-workers and NGOs are doing on the ground. The news of the possible famine brings into focus our commitment to what we deliver in areas of need. Six years on, Syria remains heart-breaking to my constituents, who continue to write to me about the relief effort, but they would like us to push further on other countries’ commitments to doing the same in the area.

 

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention the horrors of Syria on the sixth anniversary of the conflict, and the fact that others in the international community need to step up. As I said in my statement, the pledging conference in London last year was a great success and brought in great resources for Syria and the region, but the international community does need to step up. We are seeing famines and humanitarian crises around the world. I have been one of the first to call out and call on others to step up. Britain is out there already, providing support in Somalia, South Sudan, north-east Nigeria and Yemen, but we need to ask others to do more. We cannot deal with these challenges on our own, so the international community absolutely needs to step up.

 

Further to the previous question, the UK is one of only six countries, and the only G7 country, to meet the 0.7% aid commitment, and as with the 2% NATO commitment, we do that by making tough choices about public spending elsewhere. Will my right hon. Friend therefore confirm to those in doubt that it is by meeting that aid commitment that we are able to lead the way in helping civilians who are displaced and terrorised by Daesh?

 

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Britain stands tall in the world through our support and aid, but also through our first-class diplomacy, our commitment to NATO and our defence teams. When we see humanitarian suffering in crises around the world, Britain is leading the way and, as a result, others are following in terms of the commitments that they, too, are now making.

 

I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and the work her Department does on behalf of the British people, as the second-largest donor to the region—second only to the United States. However, the United Kingdom is under severe threat of Islamic terrorist attacks, so will she join me in paying tribute to those security services that help to keep us safe and that have foiled 12 terrorist plots since September 2013?

 

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and his remarks. He is absolutely right: we are protected in this country by amazing individuals in our security services. I also pay tribute to others around the world and to our armed forces for doing so much to counter the evil forces we have been discussing this afternoon.

 

A12/A120 Consultations

Strategic Road Network Consultations

There are two important consultations running at the moment on key strategic road infrastructure improvements - the A12 widening scheme and the upgrading of the A120. Priti has been campaigning to secure new investment in these roads and has welcomed the consultations taking place. Members of the public can review the proposals for the A12 and A120 at the weblinks below, attend consultation events, and respond to the consultation. Feel free to also contact Priti by email to: WithamMP@parliament.uk with your views too.

Widening the A12

Upgrading the A120

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