Justine Greening is Member of Parliament for Putney and Secretary of State for International Development.
A significant part of my job involves meeting people in refugee camps or temporary shelters who have had their lives devastated through conflict, persecution, or natural disasters. It’s impossible to do that without being hugely affected by the things you see and the stories you hear. And now, in the same way that the British public are so often touched by the humanitarian crises as we’ve seen in Nepal and the Philippines, the human face of the migration crisis is really hitting home too.
Britain has been supporting people affected by the Syria conflict right from its start four years ago. With the help of Britain’s fantastic aid workers, NGOs and colleagues across government, our aid is helping thousands rebuild their lives in host countries in the region: ensuring people don’t go hungry, children get an education and families have access to medical help and trauma counselling. Over the last four years we’ve given more than £1 billion, making us the largest bilateral donor after the United States. The funding still falls woefully short of what is needed in the region, and we must look to other countries to pull their weight. We’re doing our bit, and it’s having a huge impact.
It really is no coincidence that just three per cent of the 12 million Syrians forced from their homes have sought asylum in Europe. Without UK Aid, hundreds of thousands more could be risking their lives seeking to get to Europe. And not just from Syria. It’s worth bearing in mind that well over 80 per cent of displaced people in the world are located in developing countries. We’re directing our aid to other source and transit countries in the Horn of Africa – to help Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan with the difficulties they face in dealing with refugees. I also recently announced over £200 million of aid in Africa to help 2.5 million refugees and vulnerable people in the countries that the majority of migrants are travelling from or through, including the Sahel region, South Sudan, Kenya, Sudan, Central African Republic and Nigeria.
And while all eyes are on Syrian refugees, we continue to address those would-be migrants fleeing poverty and searching for jobs. The World Bank has predicted an extra 600 million jobs will be needed globally over the fifteen years to keep up with the rapid growth in the number of young people in developing countries. Our focus at DFID has been creating the right environments and opportunities for jobs and business. In Somalia, we’ve helped create 45,000 long-term jobs through support for key employment areas such as agriculture; in Nigeria we’ve raised incomes for nearly 700,000 of the poorest between 2011 and 2014; £540 million of our bilateral aid to Africa is targeted at economic development.
Britain and the international community do have a moral responsibility to help the refugees, just as we have done so proudly throughout our history – and we will very shortly welcome the first of up to 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees from the region. But the long-term solution is a thought-through, long-term, comprehensive plan, which means helping the countries from which the people come to reduce the push factors; building stability and creating livelihoods; and going after the criminal gangs and trafficking networks that profit from this human misery. And above all, helping the huge majority of refugees still in the countries around Syria to have a real option of rebuilding their lives there, where they overwhelmingly want to stay.
While it may be politically expedient to call for quick fixes, tackling the root causes of migration – conflict or economic – will take time to resolve and our action surely must aim to make things better not risk making them worse. That’s why our strategy for Syria and UK Aid’s work in some of the poorest and most fragile parts of the world is so important. We can reflect that it took a Conservative Prime Minister to show true leadership in making a binding commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GNI on aid: which is proving in these highly unpredictable times to be not just the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. Let’s redouble our efforts to push other countries to now live up to their commitments too and we will be in a far better position to see some real success.