At the end of September Save the Children arranged for me to visit Jordan. They know I have long been a vociferous supporter of targeting aid to Syrian refugees; it costs around £29,000 to resettle a refugee in Europe, but around £2,300 to do so in Jordan. I wanted to see first-hand how the money we send in aid is spent. I visited refugee camps, educational projects and met many refugees, local officials and aid workers.
I visited some of the country’s refugee camps including Za’atari, the second largest refugee camp in the world. Za’atari is only 15km from the Syrian border and houses nearly 80,000 Syrian refugees - greater than the population of Banbury and Bicester combined - providing them with protection, food and water. From what I saw and the people I spoke to, those in the camp were safe and able to access healthcare, education, food and water. None of the refugees I spoke to had any desire to move to Europe. There want to sit out the war in the safety of Jordan, and to go home to Syria as soon as possible.
Children in the camp are given a degree of education by the global Syrian aid programme, to which the UK government has contributed over £1 billion. This year we are also funding school places for 50,000 Syrian refugee children who live not in camps but out in the community. I was able to see how some of this money is spent, and it is clear that significant progress is being made. Many of these children have reached the age of ten with no formal education.
The visit did leave me very fearful for around 80,000 refugees, who I was not able to see, who are stuck in an area known as the ‘berm’, just inside the Jordanian border. Following a terrorist attack in June, the Jordanians, who have done so much to alleviate suffering, closed their borders to new refugees. These people have amassed in this area, and, apart from one aid drop via crane in August, they have had no access to humanitarian aid at all. Only a report from Amnesty international, using satellite thermal imagery, tells us anything about the number there. They have nothing, and the weather is getting colder by the day. I am doing what I can to talk about their plight here, but we must all put pressure on the international community to help with this worsening situation.
The visit certainly gave me impetus to continue fundraising efforts to provide relief for Syrians affected by the terrible civil war. Last year the Singing for Syrians campaign raised over £100,000 for charities working in Syria. This year’s flagship Parliamentary concert will take place in St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, on Tuesday 13 December 2016. If you would be interested in getting involved in “Singing for Syrians” to raise money for those affected by the conflict, please visit www.singingforsyrians.com.