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Syria refugees 'want to stay put'

Refugees fleeing the bitter wars raging in Syria want to stay in the region rather than be evacuated to Britain, a Foreign Office minister has said in defence of the low numbers of people accepted here.

Tobias Ellwood said Britain was one of the biggest financial contributors to the aid effort helping people forced from their homes in the Middle East as they bid to escape the Syrian civil war and the battle with Islamic State.

Speaking at Foreign Office questions in the Commons, Labour MP Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) said: "The Lebanese interior minister said recently Lebanon lacked capacity to host more displaced people in the face of the very substantial number of refugees.

"Meanwhile, the UK has received just 90 Syrian refugees to date. Do you agree with me that limits our ability to press Lebanon to keep its borders open and will you have discussions with the Home Secretary (Theresa May) to ensure the UK plays its part?"

Mr Ellwood, who said he visited Lebanon and Jordan last week, replied: "I echo the comments said before about the amount of funding Britain is provided and the emergency cases we do bring across to the UK.

"I raised this with refugees in the Zaatari camp (in Jordan), 80,000 people there, whether they would prefer to be in the locality or whether they would prefer to be taken away.

"It is very much the case they would like to remain in the region, as close as possible. Britain is doing its best, we are one of the highest donors to support the countries providing refugee camps, to provide the stability those countries need during this hour of need."

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander paid tribute to the work of Lebanon receiving refugees and asked: "Given reports last week the value of (UN) food vouchers having been cut, as well as ensuring the availability of vouchers what further steps is the British Government taking to encourage international partners to provide a level of resource needed to meet this humanitarian crisis?"

Mr Ellwood replied: "This was a matter I raised in meetings I had with United Nations representatives both in Lebanon and in Jordan and I was assured that, for the moment, the funding streams are in place."

Mr Alexander added: "We have already heard of the importance of the bilateral relationship with Jordan. Beyond the humanitarian support that has been provided to refugees in Jordan and the Lebanon, let me ask what specific additional support is being provided to Jordan to maintain stability within that country, given a very significant number of these refugees are not actually camps like Zaatari but actually with host populations?"

Mr Ellwood said: "We are adopting a number of initiatives in supporting a country which... is very, very close to Britain.

"(Mr Hammond) has met his counterpart to discuss the security situation itself. I went and visited Zaatari, the biggest refugee camp.

"But we weren't simply pouring money into there as well - we are actually funding support for the local towns that feel the burden of having large numbers of Syrians come into their area.

"We are actually providing support to the Jordanian towns in the area as well so they don't feel so burdened on what is happening in the north part of Jordan."


From Belfast Telegraph