Alan Duncan MP: Positive developments but Middle East prognosis is bleak

Opinion.
Opinion.

While Parliament has been in recess for the party conference season, the Prime Minister has this week been at the UN General Assembly in New York meeting, among others, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for the first time since the signing of the agreement designed to curb its nuclear programme.

It also comes in the wake of the UK re-opening its embassy in Iran after four years of closure.

Iran being brought back into the fold of international relations can only be a positive development. Yet the prognosis for the Middle East remains bleak. The past few months have seen the impact of the Syrian civil war transfer from our television screens to the heart of mainland Europe, as governments have been forced to deal with an enormous movement of refugees.

Our own approach must be compassionate but pragmatic. We are witnessing the spilling over of years of chaos in Iraq and Syria – the impact of that conflict cannot be solved by Europe accepting unlimited numbers of refugees. It is clear though, that where we can help more we should.

I support the Government’s plans to accommodate 20,000 refugees over the coming years. I think it is important, too, that we have committed to relocating refugees who are still in the region rather than incentivise even more to make the dangerous journey to Europe. There are those who say that 20,000 is too many or too few. The point, I would argue, is that we make sure we can properly accommodate those that we do admit. This means ensuring councils and schools can cope with the additional numbers and that those who come have somewhere to live.

We must remember too how dire the conditions remain in Syria and Iraq. I have seen for myself the human impact of the civil war in the refugee camps the Department for International Development helped to fund during my time as a Minister. Indeed, in the discussion about how to respond to the refugee crisis we should not forget that the vast majority of those displaced by the war remain in the region. It has been the UK that has stepped up to meeting the humanitarian crisis over the past four years- as the second largest individual country donor - while others frankly have not put their money where their mouths are.

Despite the lack of positive signs both in Syria and elsewhere, the importance of our engagement in the issues swirling around the Middle East is greater than ever. The refugee crisis of recent months has shown that we are not immune from the consequences of unresolved conflict, and the Director of MI5 this month confirmed that the scale of the terrorist threat we face is the most severe it has been for a decade.

It is vital, therefore, that we continue to engage with the problems facing the region as the Prime Minister has been doing his week at the UN.