Religious minorities within the Syrian refugee crisis

International Development Select Committee, Oral evidence, Tuesday 15 September 2015

Q38 Fiona Bruce: How can we ensure that minority religious and ethnic groups, who are fleeing persecution from radical forces such as ISIS, are not left behind?

If I can set this in context by relaying some concerns from the region, reports from the camp areas say that the current systems fail to protect these minority groups. One of the reasons is that refugee camps in the Middle East are run by the UN, which tends to group refugee communities together, rather than taking into account racial, ethnic or religious tensions. As a result, there are tensions experienced by refugee minorities, both Christian and Muslim. They have faced persecution and violence even within the camps and, subsequently, often, they have chosen to settle outside the camps and outside the reach of UN aid.

This is concerning, particularly if we are looking to select perhaps most of those 20,000 from within the camps, although I am encouraged to hear that you have said that they will not all be from within the camps this morning. How can we ensure that these people are not further disadvantaged in the way that we approach this crisis?

Justine Greening: You have set out some of the challenges that the UN agencies face in being able not only to provide the life‑saving support and assistance to people, but to do that in a way that is appropriate and, critically, keeps them safe and does not put them in a different kind of risk to the one they have just tried to escape from. When I was in Iraq last summer, in Irbil, I went to a church where many of the Christians who had been displaced had gone to, to be kept safe.

The key is to have all of this very clearly in mind as we work with agencies and for us to be very clear that our assistance should be based on need. It also absolutely needs to reflect on the clear risks that particular groups might face, and sometimes that is because of their religion. We are going to come on to discuss the global goals. One of the reflections that I have on that is that this “leave no one behind” concept more broadly is a central part of that, but, explicitly within that, the recognition that religion can be one of the reasons why people are discriminated against.