David Cameron has visited a refugee camp in Lebanon to see for himself how British aid is being used to help Syrians who have fled their country’s civil war.
At the tented camp in the Bekaa Valley, less than a mile from the Syrian border, the British Prime Minister met a family who are due to be flown to new lives in the UK, following his announcement that Britain is to take in 20,000 vulnerable refugees over the next five years.
And he was invited into the tent of a Syrian mother who told him she had just five dollars a month to keep her 10 children.
Mr Cameron announced he is appointing Richard Harrington as minister for Syrian refugees to ensure the arrivals are given a “warm welcome” in the UK.
Some 1.1 million Syrians have found sanctuary in Lebanon – the equivalent of more than a quarter of the country’s population – after being forced to flee the violence meted out by dictator Bashar Assad and the Islamic State terror group.
Lebanon is to receive £29 million of the additional £100 million in UK aid for Syria and surrounding countries announced by the PM earlier this month, which will pay for food packages for thousands of refugees, as well as clean water, blankets, stoves, mattresses, counselling support and play areas for children.
Mr Cameron, who was making his first visit to Lebanon as PM, said: “I wanted to come here to see for myself and to hear for myself stories of refugees and what they need.
“Britain is already the second largest donor to refugee camps, to this whole crisis, really helping in a way that many other countries aren’t with serious amounts of money.
“We will go on doing that including increasing the amount of money we are giving to educate Syrian children here in Lebanon and elsewhere. I think that’s absolutely vital.
“I’m also appointing a specific minister for Syrian refugees to make sure that the 20,000 that we have promised to resettle and give a good warm home in our country, that that happens rapidly, it happens well, and the whole country pulls together to deliver that.
“I think it was vital to come here to see for myself what needs to be done.”
He added: “I want to focus on how we help Syrian refugees here in Lebanon, in Jordan, how we make sure we discourage people from making this dangerous journey to Europe but instead we take people from these camps and we make them welcome in the United Kingdom, in our country.
“We make sure there are homes for them to go to, schools for their children, a warm welcome in Britain.
“Twenty thousand people we are taking... I want that to be done well, I want it to be something the whole country can be proud of and I wanted to come here today to hear their stories for myself.”
The UNHCR-operated camp visited by the PM, one of 1,500 in the Bekaa Valley, is less than a mile from the Syrian border.
Some 500 people, including many children, are crowded into 90 tents laid out in ranks behind a breeze-block wall.
Mr Cameron’s visit comes amid continuing pressure for Britain to open its doors to some of the refugees who have arrived in Europe in their hundreds of thousands after making perilous journeys across the Mediterranean.
The UK has refused to join an EU scheme to resettle 160,000 of the migrants around the continent, and Mr Cameron stressed that – despite the scenes of refugees massing at railway stations and border crossings in Europe – the vast majority (97%) of displaced Syrians remain in their own country or neighbouring states in the Middle East.
“Around 3% of the 11 million Syrians forced from their homes have sought asylum in Europe, and without British aid, hundreds of thousands more could be risking their lives seeking to get to Europe, so these funds are part of our comprehensive approach to tackle migration from the region,” said the PM.
“For thousands of refugees, this money means a meal for their families, the security of a home with basic sanitation and clean water, and for children it means an education, so we don’t lose a generation to the Syrian conflict.”
Mr Cameron also witnessed the enrolment of pupils on the first day of the academic year at the Sed el Boucrieh school in the capital Beirut, where Syrian children are joining classes alongside Lebanese as part of a drive – part-funded by UK aid – to integrate refugees into the wider society.
He is also due to hold talks with Lebanon’s prime minister Tammam Salam. Some £60 million of the newly-announced British aid is going to the United Nations and charities to support displaced people in Syria itself, with a further £6 million going to Jordan and £5 million to Turkey.