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Geoffrey Clifton-Brown meeting the head of a household at the Nizip camp

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown is MP for the Cotswolds, Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party and AECR Board Member.

I returned from Turkey having led last week a delegation of British Conservative Members of Parliament on a Social Action project, Project Maja, at Nizip Refugee Camp on the Turkish/Syrian border.

The project was organised in association with the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, the AECR, our party in the European Parliament. Eight colleagues from the House participated. They were Brooks Newmark, Stuart Andrew, Steven Metcalfe, Nigel Evans, Jonathan Djanogly, David Mundell, Guy Opperman and myself. Wendy Morton, Conservative Party Vice-Chair for Social Action also participated in the project. The whole delegation came to 46 people at the camp from 13 countries, mostly sister parties from around Europe. I would like to thank colleagues from Poland, the Czech Republic, Norway, Romania, Serbia, Belarus, Finland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Denmark, Belgium, Turkey and the UK for joining us in the Social Action project.

The purpose of our trip was three-fold; First to cement our relationship with our new sister party, the AK Party in Turkey; second, to be briefed at first hand by the interim Prime Minister of the transitional Syrian Government and senior figures from the Free Syrian Army about the situation in Syria; and, third, to carry out a Social Action project in a Syrian refugee camp.

We flew to Istanbul where we received an initial briefing by Dr Ghalioun, the first President of the Syrian National Council, and Eyad Kudsi, the interim Deputy Prime Minister. We then flew to Gaziantep in South East Turkey where we were based. We were bussed for about an hour’s journey towards the border with Syria. Nizip-2 is a Syrian refugee camp housing about 6,500 people.

This is probably amongst the best refugee camps, with families of between two and nine people living in small metal containers with running water and electricity. They were provided with about a pound a day each for food. The Turkish call them “guests” – specifically not refugees, as they hope they will return to Syria, and indeed that seemed to be the wish of the many Syrians we met.

Syria is one of the worst humanitarian disasters seen in the modern times, with little prospect of the conflict ending. Well over one 150,000 people have been killed, at least nine million people are internally displaced and two and a half million refugees, out of a total population of 22 million – so a much larger proportion than Iraq with a similar population. These figures disguise some indescribable suffering.

On the first objective, the project was closely co-ordinated with the Turkish Government through the AK Party and because a number of them were present throughout, including local MPs, Governors and party activists, we succeeded in building a stronger relationship with them.

On the second objective, we were honoured that the interim Prime Minister of the Transitional Syrian Government, Ahmed Tu’mah and Colonel Abdul al-Oqaidi, of the Free Syrian Army, gave us a detailed briefing.

Having made a good contact with the interim Prime Minister of the transitional Government, I have discussed the possibility of him coming to brief colleagues in the Commons on the implications and subsequent actions of Geneva-2 once it has been concluded.

On the third objective, our Social Action project was to build a five a side football pitch which included moving 30 tonnes of sand on to the astroturf, painting, erecting goal posts, fences etc. The project was welcomed and enjoyed by those in the camp.

Finally, a football match took place between a team of Syrian refugees and Parliamentarians and Turkish politicians. The score at the end was vague depending on which team was expected to win!

All in all, this was a thoroughly successful project, meeting all three objectives and cementing many friendships and relationships between sister parties. The Social Action project was thoroughly worthwhile, and built a relationship with many Syrians and a better understanding of the dire situation.

There is no doubt that from the briefings we had and from the Syrian “guests”, who gave us firsthand accounts, that the conditions in many parts of Syria are absolutely appalling. Syrians believe that Assad will not go of his own accord. Until he does, they do not believe their country will return to normal so they have no idea as to how long they will be in the camps, but I think they accept that it is likely to be a long stay. They also think that many more of their kinsmen are likely to want to cross over into Turkey and other border countries before the conflict is finally resolved.

The work of the UK Government, through DFID, to alleviate some of the harsh conditions in some of the camps is also greatly appreciated. We have contributed £500 million which until recently was more than the rest of the EU put together. Even in Nizip-2, the contributions that DFID makes to the UN, through programmes such as the World Food Programme and UNICEF, are incredibly welcome in making life better.

Turkey has done a fantastic job in taking these Syrian ‘guests’ and it is worth taking a brief reflection on Turkey itself. One of my colleagues asked me on the bus on the way to the camp, looking at some virtual slum housing, whether I thought Turkey was ready to join the EU. At the moment it is a country of two extremes and even in the one city of Gaziantep this was obvious. Poor slum housing on the outskirts but a vibrant city circling the ancient centre. Turkey is one of the fast growing MINT countries (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) countries. The modern motorways being built and the hydroelectric dam on the Euphrates river next to the refugee camp show that the economy of Turkey and consequentially its infrastructure are advancing at a huge pace.

We certainly plan to repeat Project Maja, and given the success of this one I have received a large amount of interest in another trip. Given the organisation involved in such a project I think it would be difficult to repeat this more than once a year. I therefore hope it will become an annual event. We will be open to suggestions as to where we do another one, however given the AECR’s remit this will have to be within the greater European area.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the participants, Dan Hannan MEP and all the staff at the AECR for all the work they did on the European side and all our British staff. They all worked very hard to collaborate the whole project of which the Conservative Party should be proud.

If you would like any more details about the trip please visit the AECR website where there will also be further images of the visit.