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British govt commits to Syrian refugee aid despite cost cutting budget

Peter Harrison

Published: Updated:

The British government has said it remains committed to the multimillion dollar spending it recently pledged in funding for aid for those displaced by the crisis in Syria despite its cost cutting budget on Wednesday.

On July 2, Britain’s Department for International Development announced an additional £100 mln ($155.5 mln) in aid for Syrian refugees. The money includes £20 mln in aid for education in Lebanon in preparation for the start of the academic year.

This latest round of funding increases the UK cash pot to a massive £900 mln - making it one of the largest contributors to the Syrian refugee cause.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening said at the time of the announcement of the extra funding: “This new support forms part of a wider approach by the UK government to tackle the migrant crisis and will focus on the fragile and vulnerable states from which the majority of migrants are leaving.” She said this included Syria and its neighbors.

“Millions of refugees and vulnerable people affected by conflict and instability will benefit from immediate, lifesaving support such as food and clean water,” she added.

“The new support will also help to create jobs and opportunities, provide protection for vulnerable groups, and address underlying causes of conflict and tension so that people are able to build their lives in the region.”

But on Wednesday, July 8, the British Chancellor George Osborne announced a series of cost cutting measures, which critics say has left many on low incomes in the UK worse off. The budget also included a commitment to two percent defense spending as outlined by Nato.

A Department for International Development spokesman told Al Arabiya News: “The Official Development Assistance target Act 2015 means that the UK Government has made it the law that 0.7 percent of gross national income (GNI) must be spent on international development. This is also referred to as official development assistance (ODA).

“UK investment in overseas development is creating a world that is healthier, more stable and increasingly prosperous. This is something British people can be proud of and is firmly in Britain’s interest.”

Millions displaced

It is well documented that the situation in Syria has long been at crisis point, with people fleeing their homes in a bid to escape the fighting and in many cases the expansion of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s rapid expansion across the country.

Activists say that more than 230,000 people have been killed in the four years since the uprising began.

According to the U.N. more than four million Syrians - one-sixth of the entire population - have fled from the country since the start of the uprising in March 2011, with the majority crossing the borders into Lebanon and Turkey. A further seven million people are said to have been displaced within the country.

According to the BBC Syrians made up approximately one third of the 137,000 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean in the first half of 2015.

With nowhere else for these people to go - their country torn apart by warring factions and taken over by ISIS militants, the UK Government spokesman said Britain was duty-bound to help - but it was also in the country’s interest.

He said: “We believe in being a country that shapes the world. Tackling poverty overseas means tackling the root causes of global problems such as disease, drugs, migration, terrorism, and climate change. This is not only the right thing to do, it is also firmly in Britain's own national interest.”

The funding for Syria and its neighboring countries will be spent on initiatives to provide vulnerable people with food, clean drinking water, relief assistance, health support and shelter.

There will also be a focus on education, vaccinations and nearly 60,000 cash transfers for refugees living in Lebanon and Jordan, so they can buy goods they need.

UK Aid infographic (UK Government)
UK Aid infographic (UK Government)