Thousands of Syrians will no longer receive legal support, leaving many “in utter destitution” without documents they need to work, travel or return home, after the British government pulled £4m in funding from a charity programme, run by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), supporting refugees and internally displaced Syrians.
Jan Egeland, the secretary general of the NRC, said: “This cut means we need to stop legal and protection assistance for 65,000 displaced people in Syria and Lebanon. Syrian children will no longer get help to get birth certificates, students and schoolchildren will no longer get help to get exam or training documents and we can no longer help people with housing, land and property rights.” It could also lead to people having to stay longer in camps, he said. “For some people, who hoped to be integrated into Lebanon, that hope has gone,” Egeland said. “It’s utter destitution when you are paperless.”
The cuts runs counter to the UK’s ideals and interests, he said. “The UK has been a champion of legal advice for refugees for many years, so that people can one day return to working life as productive citizens.”
Bahia Zrikem, of NRC, said staff had reported increased child labour, and families reduced to eating two meals a day. “Humanitarian needs are increasing, not falling” she said. A decade of conflict has left more than 90% of Syrians in poverty, 12.4 million facing food insecurity and 12.2 million without access to clean water.
One executive of a development charity said: “It’s no exaggeration to say there is an atmosphere of fear in the aid sector at the moment. The cuts are going to cost thousands of lives and yet we are being pressured by some quarters of the FCDO [Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office] to not discuss them publicly as it could compromise ongoing funding decisions. You can dress it up in legalese, but it feels as though the sector is being silenced in order that these cuts can be forced through with little or no scrutiny. The public have a right to know about the damage this decision will do, and the thousands of lives they will cost.”
Stephanie Draper, chief executive of Bond, the NGO network, described reports that people were being warned against speaking out as “very concerning”. “Policymakers and the public need to understand the serious implications of this political decision,” she said.