Westminster Column

7th February 2014

This week I received a letter from a couple whose children have grown up and left home. The purpose of the letter was to offer their home to a child forced, by war, from its own home in Syria. This - along with the many other letters I have received from the people of Sutton on this issue - reaffirms both my belief in the inexhaustible good will of the British people to alleviate the suffering of others around the globe and my opinion that a political solution is the only solution that will truly address this devastating humanitarian crisis.

The sheer scale of the crisis, with over two million refugees, six million internally displaced persons and nine million in need of humanitarian aid – more than half of Syria’s population – demonstrates the pressing need to focus all our efforts on putting in place a political process that will end the civil war. While the sentiment behind the small-scale resettlement initiative under discussion in Westminster this week is laudable, it will barely scrape the surface of the task facing governments and aid agencies and risks drawing attention away from where it really needs to be.

To this end I welcome the progress being made in Geneva this week. No one thought that this would be a quick or an easy process, but the announcement that the Syrian regime will allow vulnerable civilians to leave Homs is certainly a positive step. The plan proposed by the Syrian opposition at Geneva to find a way to get a humanitarian convoy to enter the besieged city is another sign of progress, and one I hope the Syrian regime accepts. That is not to say that humanitarian access in Syria should be used as a bargaining chip. Alleviating the suffering of its population is the obligation of the Syrian Regime, not a tool to be used in negotiation. This should be the key focus of all those involved in the ongoing peace process.

The international community must continue to demand unfettered access for all humanitarian agencies and hold to account any who seek to deny it.