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Syria Crisis: UK Response

February 8, 2016

Mark asked the following question of Development Secretary, Justine Greening, as she addressed MPs in the Chamber on our humanitarian response to the crisis in Syria:

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I wholeheartedly support what the Government are doing. A critical part of our strategy is to ensure that the two small nations nearby, Jordan and Lebanon, are able to cope. It must be incredibly difficult, given the huge number of refugees compared with their overall populations. Will the Secretary of State give some detail on the work we are doing to encourage those two nations, particularly in economic terms, through customs unions and the idea of economic co-operation—perhaps not just with the UK but within the EU as a whole—to try to ensure that they do their best in this regard? We must recognise that many hundreds of thousands of these Syrian refugees are likely to be in Jordan and Lebanon for many years to come.

Justine Greening: I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has mentioned this historic step forward in getting agreement to start creating jobs for refugees. For many years, they had been unable to work legally, and that forced many into working illegally to try to support themselves. They might have left Syria with some assets, but over the weeks, months and years those assets were depleted, and reaching the end of them led many to decide that they had no alternative but to try find a life somewhere else. This therefore matters. In essence, countries such as Jordan and Lebanon decided to allow work permits so that greater numbers of Syrian refugees can work legally. These were big decisions for them to take, but they were right to do so as they cope, and indeed often struggle to cope, with the refugees who are temporarily, but in large numbers, within their countries.

What are we doing? On the Jordanian and Lebanese side, particularly with Jordan, we are setting up economic zones with advantageous tax rates to encourage investment. Some of this will be, in effect, the Syrian economy in exile. I have met business leaders who are re-establishing their Syrian companies, but in Jordan. That is not just good for Syrians who can get back into work; it is also providing work for local people who are unemployed. This is complemented by the investment coming from the World Bank and the European Investment Bank; and crucially, as my right hon. Friend mentioned, by reform at the European Union level and making our own trade barriers that much more flexible so that countries such as Jordan can more easily sell their goods into the huge market that is the European market.

We should be really proud of the work achieved with both Jordan and Lebanon at the conference. It was home-grown UK ideas that were put on the table and they got international support. Most importantly, they gave us the chance to work directly with the Governments of Jordan and Lebanon to help with the long-term provision of jobs and growth that will be there long after their generous hosting of refugees temporarily.