Alison McGovern: We must listen to call of starving Syrians and drop aid over Aleppo

Alison McGovern


This is the speech given by Alison McGovern after tabling an urgent question on the plight of the Syrian people yesterday. 

Last week, I and the hon. member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) welcomed the head of the Syria Civil Defence force, the White Helmets, to Parliament. Raed Saleh told us of the terrible situation in Aleppo: the lack of food, the lack of medical supplies, and the constant bombing by Assad and the Russians. Since then, the situation has worsened. A renewed assault by Assad has recaptured a large part of the city, as the Minister described, forcing thousands to flee with just the clothes on their backs.

This morning, I was sent a statement from the White Helmets, which read:

“Dear Friends in Britain,

“Aleppo is in a state of emergency. 279,000 people have been under siege for 94 days. In the last 13 days the Syrian Regime and Russia have launched more than 2,000 airstrikes and unleashed a variety of banned weapons…

“We are calling on you, as the friends of the Syrian people to act. The Syrian Regime and Russia are refusing to let aid into the city so we are calling on you to airdrop aid to provide urgent relief to the starving civilians trapped…

“We can not believe that one of the world’s most powerful countries, in the full glare of the media, will allow 279,000 people to be starved and bombed to death.”

My question is this: is the counsel of despair that we heard this morning from the defence secretary on the radio really all we have left? There is something we can do. We can airdrop aid into the besieged areas, as the White Helmets are calling for and as a cross-party letter signed by 126 members of this House has demanded. I ask the minister to respond to that letter to the prime minister here. We can renew the push in the UN for the creation of a humanitarian corridor to get help to civilians. Will the minister confirm that he raised that in his conversations with our ambassador?

The government have always said that airdrops are a last resort and I understand that, but Gareth Bayley, the UK special representative for Syria, has tweeted about Aleppo today, saying:

“Situation in #Aleppo could not be more dire: every hospital out of service; official food stocks run out; nowhere for civilians to run”.

He called Aleppo “a coffin”. Does the minister agree that the government need an urgent strategy to protect civilians? When hundreds of thousands of civilians are being starved and bombed into submission, we must consider airdrops. It is time for the last resort.

What Britain stands for on the world stage is being challenged. This is a test. There is no risk-free course of action left, but I believe there is a right course of action. Let us not stand and watch as one of the great cities of the world is destroyed. Let us not allow 100,000 children to starve in eastern Aleppo.

When Kosovo was under attack, Britain led the response. When people in Sierra Leone cried out for our help, Britain led the way. The people of Syria need us to show that leadership. Jo Cox said that our response to Syria would be “emblematic” of our generation, and “how history judges us”. Her words are ever more true today, so let us not fail.

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