Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, makes a statement on the situation following the major earthquake that struck south-eastern Turkey and north-western Syria on Monday.
Turkey and Syria Earthquake
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement to the House on the situation in Turkey and Syria.
On Monday morning at 1.17 am UK time, a major earthquake struck south-eastern Turkey and north-western Syria. Measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, the quake’s impact was felt hundreds of miles away in Lebanon, Cyprus, Greece and Israel. Just nine hours later at 10.24 am London time, a second major earthquake struck the same region, with a magnitude of 7.5 on the Richter scale. The first tremor centred on the Turkish city of Gaziantep, some 150 miles north of the Turkish-Syrian border. The epicentre of the second quake was approximately 80 miles further north.
Earthquakes of this severity have not been seen in that region for 80 years. The effects of the two earthquakes have been devastating. At least 2,291 deaths have already been confirmed by the Turkish authorities, and at least 15,834 people have been reported injured. Those numbers are, I regret to inform the House, highly likely to rise significantly. I know that the House will join me in offering our sincere condolences to the people of Turkey and Syria.
Across the region, which is inhabited by more than 12 million people, more than 6,000 buildings have collapsed. Electricity and gas infrastructure has been severely damaged. Many of the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey reside in the affected provinces. Turkey’s outstanding disaster relief response capability has been severely tested by the sheer scale of the catastrophe. The Turkish Government have declared a state of emergency, and they are requesting international assistance on a scale that matches the enormity of the situation that they are facing. Turkey will lead the disaster relief response in the areas of Syria where it has a presence.
As of this morning, we know that three British nationals are missing. The Foreign Office’s crisis response hub is working to support the at least 35 British nationals who have been directly affected by the earthquakes. We assess that the likelihood of large-scale British casualties remains low. The Turkish Government have contacted His Majesty’s Government to request support, and we are working closely with our Turkish allies to provide them with the help that they need as swiftly and as effectively as possible.
I have been in direct contact with my Turkish counterpart, and I plan to speak to the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordination this afternoon to discuss future steps. Our 77-strong urban search and rescue team, with four dogs and state-of-the-art equipment, is due to arrive at Gaziantep later today. I have also authorised the deployment of a UK emergency medical assessment team.
In Syria, the UK is in contact with our partners on the ground to establish their need and decide how best to help them. The conflict stability and security fund will provide an uplift to the opposition Syrian civil defence, commonly known as the White Helmets, to support their emergency response operations across north-west Syria. We are also providing support to Syria through the International Medical Corps, Save the Children and, of course, the United Nations agencies.
We will continue to stand by the people of Turkey and Syria. We will deliver aid to those in need, wherever they are, and as we do so, we will work with our allies and partners around the world to ensure the most effective humanitarian response. I undertake to keep the House updated on the situation in Turkey and Syria as it evolves. I commend this statement to the House.
I call the shadow Foreign Secretary.
The massive earthquakes that struck southern Turkey and northern Syria on Monday have caused utter devastation: more than 5,000 people are likely killed, tens of thousands injured, and vast numbers of buildings and much infrastructure destroyed. A frantic rescue effort is under way, with courageous first responders combing through rubble to try to find those buried in debris and dust.
The Labour party, along with the whole House, sends our deepest condolences, thoughts and sympathies to all those whose lives have been devastated by this tragedy. It struck at night, when families were sleeping. It struck in winter, with biting winter temperatures and ice and snow hampering relief. And it struck a part of the world that has already known great tragedy and suffering in recent years. Not only have thousands of lives been lost, but it has caused anxiety for all the people of Syria and Turkey, with towns cut off as roads have been split in half. The people of Syria have faced a decade of conflict and violence, and there is simply not the infrastructure to cope with the fall-out from this disaster.
Turkey, of course, is a close ally of the United Kingdom, and there are many close ties of family and friendship between Britain and the people of Syria. My own constituency is home to a thriving Turkish, Kurdish and Syrian community. There are an estimated 500,000 people of Turkish origin living in the United Kingdom. I know the pain and anxiety that they are now feeling. They will want to know that we have in place all that we can to support and help them.
When an international humanitarian emergency arises like this, Britain of course must play its full part, so will the Foreign Secretary set out what additional financial support will be made available to relief efforts in the region, and when are those funds likely to be made available? Will he also set out what discussions he has had with international organisations working on the ground to ensure that that aid is delivered, and whether our sanctions regime for Syria will hamper some of that delivery?
The Foreign Secretary has said that, sadly, he expects the number of British nationals involved to rise. Does the figure take into account the vast number of dual nationals in our country? He has explained the efforts being made by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to ensure that concerned Turkish and Syrian families in the UK are kept informed. Will there be a constituency hotline to support that?
In December it was reported that the FCDO Syria team had been instructed to cut between £6 million and £8 million from its overall budget. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm whether he intends to pursue that cut in the face of this disaster? As well as updating the House on the immediate response—we are grateful that he has done so today—will he also come back with a long-term plan?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his tone and the points he has made. He is absolutely right, and reflects the mood of the whole House, in saying that we pass on our thoughts not just to those in the affected region but to people here in the UK and further afield whose friends, families and loved ones may have been affected by this terrible situation.
With regard to financial support, as I have said, we have already given an uplift to the Syrian civil defence, the White Helmets. We will assess what other assistance will be needed, in close co-ordination with the United Nations and other non-Government delivery partners on the ground.
The right hon. Gentleman mentions sanctions on Syria. The response will predominantly be led by the Turkish Government in the areas that they control, and through Syrian non-Government agencies and international agencies. I will check that this is the case, but my estimation at the moment is that our ability to support will not be hampered by our sanctions regime.
On the future allocation of funds for Syria and further allocations of official development assistance, we are working through that process, as we do each year. I am not able to give the right hon. Gentleman a complete answer at the moment, but of course we will look at all allocations in response to what we are sadly seeing unfold on the ground. I will, of course, endeavour to keep the House updated.
I call the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
My heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones, those who are still searching for loved ones, and the British nationals affected. The people of Syria have lived through 12 years of bombardment, chemical weapons, barrel bombs and rape. But how does Assad, who has already decimated healthcare services by double tapping and bombing, respond? Yesterday afternoon he bombed Marea, an area affected by the earthquake, in a truly callous and heinous attack and an opportunistic continuation of his attempts to destroy the moderate opposition. This is truly heinous, and it was something I warned about yesterday afternoon.
First, can the Foreign Secretary confirm what we are doing and what repercussions there will be for Assad for these appalling acts? Secondly, how will we shame Russia and China into reopening the humanitarian corridor that has now been closed for two years? Finally, when we look at the integrated review refresh, where Syria has been notably absent as we tilt towards the Indo-Pacific, will he look at the fact that Syria has turned into a narco state because we have not kept our eyes on it? Those drugs are making their way to Europe, whether we like it or not.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the completely unacceptable bombing of areas in the immediate aftermath of this natural disaster. Sadly, it speaks to a long-standing pattern of behaviour by the Assad regime, which we condemn and have sanctioned. We will continue to bring about sanctions, working with our international friends and partners, to try to prevent such behaviour occurring again. Sadly, she and the House will know that the behaviour of Assad and the Syrian Government, in this as in so many other areas, is completely unacceptable. I assure my hon. Friend that we have not lost interest in this. The situation in Syria and the response of the Assad regime is a topic of conversation that regularly comes up when I speak to interlocutors in the region and beyond.
I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.
The earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria yesterday are truly devastating and have been on all our screens. I have just heard from Sky News that at least 5,000 deaths have been confirmed, and that toll will undoubtedly rise in the coming days. Our thoughts, prayers and sympathies are with all those affected. Footage shows acute and widespread destruction across central and south-eastern Turkey. In Syria, a country still suffering from more than a decade of war, the cost to human life and infrastructure is unthinkable. Reports have emerged of survivors calling out to rescue teams, texting loved ones and sending voice notes to journalists for help. Many of them cannot be saved due to a lack of rescue equipment. This is truly tragic.
The SNP welcomes the FCDO’s decision to send a team of search and rescue specialists, equipment and rescue dogs to Turkey and the co-ordination with the UN in support of those in Syria. The international community must continue to listen to those on the ground—such as the UN, the Red Crescent and the White Helmets—in the coming days and weeks, so that the best possible relief and assistance can be delivered.
A main barrier will be access to Syria in the first place, with only one crossing point on the land border between Turkey and Syria. What are the UK Government doing at UN level to try to open additional crossing points for humanitarian assistance? Additionally, getting aid and humanitarian relief across frontlines and rebel-held areas will require a humanitarian corridor. Can the Minister detail what negotiations are taking place to agree that for affected communities?
Furthermore, Turkey and Syria are in the middle of a brutal cold snap, with many roads and cities already covered in snow and now damaged in the disaster. Is the FCDO organising food supplies, further medical aid and, in particular, cold weather equipment for survivors and affected communities? Finally, given that thousands have been left homeless and lost everything, are the UK Government considering short-term family scheme visas for those survivors with families in the UK to support them?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the point he made about the speed of our technical response. The urban search and rescue team that we have dispatched are world-class, and they have world-class equipment. With regard to the humanitarian access routes, I will be speaking to Martin Griffiths at the UN later this afternoon. I know that at both ministerial and official level we will be liaising with our international partners to ensure that we co-ordinate on what Turkey needs for the response. I have already authorised the deployment of a medical assessment team. We will work closely with our international partners to make sure we address the further stages of requirement, and the requirement will evolve over time.
In Syria, we will deploy support by working through organisations such as the Red Crescent and the UN. On what more we can do for those dislocated people, we will co-ordinate with the Turkish authorities and those active in Syria as best we can, and we will make any decisions in due course.
Yesterday I was able to contact my opposite number in the Turkish delegation to the Council of Europe. He described the situation in Turkey as “overwhelming”. He has written to us to thank us for all that we have done. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should do as much as possible to help the Turks in this terrible situation?
My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. The scale of this catastrophe is one that we are unused to. Sadly, this situation is almost unprecedented for the very reasons mentioned: the fact that this part of Turkey and Syria—particularly Syria—has been on the receiving end of a huge amount of violence already; the time of year; and because we are seeing multiple shocks and it is entirely feasible that there may be more. We will, of course, work very closely with our Turkish friends and allies and our international partners in the ongoing assessment of need and our response to that.
The human toll of this disaster is immense. I thank the Secretary of State for the speedy dispatch of British search and rescue and medical teams. Like many members of the British Kurdish-Turkish community, my family, after waking up and hearing the news yesterday, were trying to find out whether our relatives in Malatya in Turkey were safe. We are very lucky that the majority of our family are safe. I spent the whole day with Turkish-Kurdish members of the community in the local community centre. Hundreds of people were desperately trying to find out if their loved ones are safe. The Foreign Office has provided a helpline, but only for British citizens stuck in this disaster. Thousands of British people have been impacted, so what support, if any, will be available to British Kurdish people who are trying to find out about family in Turkey? What can he do?
The hon. Lady makes an important point about how disconcerting this is for those with friends and loved ones in the region. Obviously, the responsibility of the FCDO is to provide support for British nationals overseas—that has to be our priority. If people, whether in the UK, in the region or beyond, are fearful for British nationals who may be caught up in this, our advice is to get in contact with the FCDO. As the hon. Lady said, a team has been set up to respond. I appreciate how disconcerting it is, but we do not have the capacity to extend that support to non-British nationals. However, we are working very closely with the Turkish authorities and organisations on the ground in Syria to try to provide the maximum support that we can for those non-British nationals who, sadly, have been caught up in this terrible situation.
I commend the Foreign Secretary for his speedy response and that of his Ministers and officials. He will know that the tragedy is still unfolding. There have been stories of great courage and survival, but there has also been an opportunity for international co-operation and diplomacy from perhaps unexpected sources, such as the Government of Greece, who sent 21 firefighters and other humanitarian and rescue workers, and the Government of Armenia. Does he agree that this is the time for the region to come together in a common effort to save their fellow human beings?
My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. We are seeing over and again real acts of solidarity with the people of Turkey and Syria who have suffered so much as a result of the earthquakes. I have no doubt that a number of terrible stories will unfold in this awful situation. I also think this is an incredible opportunity for us to demonstrate our shared humanity and our desire to maximise the effort to prevent further loss of life. I commend those countries in the region that have put aside whatever difficulties they may have, to come together and support Turkey and Syria in their time of need.
It is hard to imagine a worse place in the world for this disaster to have happened. Gaziantep is only about 100 km from Aleppo in Syria. I know that the Foreign Secretary and all Ministers, like Opposition Members, will be thinking of those refugees who fled the horrors of Aleppo and Idlib, only to be faced with a horrendous natural disaster. Can the Secretary of State think again about the White Helmets? I wholeheartedly welcome what he has said, but that brave organisation has really struggled to maintain its sustainability. I know that he will be sympathetic, and I implore him to look again at funding for the White Helmets and ensuring we do all we can to help.
I would like to take this opportunity to commend the hon. Lady for her long-standing commitment to that part of the world and the refugees there. We have been a long-standing supporter of the White Helmets, as she will know, and we have given a financial uplift in direct response to this situation. We will look at the longer-term implications of the earthquakes as we assess what our international support will be in future. I cannot give her a hard commitment at this point, but we will look very seriously at the implications of this terrible situation.
The situation is truly horrific, and it is good to know that the UK is contributing not just manpower but expertise. We know that, without further help, thousands more people will die. I see that an appeal was launched this morning by Oxfam, the British Red Cross, Christian Aid, Islamic Relief and ActionAid. Will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging the British people to dig deep into their pockets, because every pound will make a difference?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the long-standing tradition of generosity, and I have no doubt that the British people will provide a huge amount of philanthropic support to those affected. The UK Government have already made a commitment to fund direct support to people in the relief effort. Our teams of experts will be a force multiplier, working with state-of-the-art equipment and techniques and some of the best urban search and rescue teams in the world. We will have an ongoing assessment of what further needs Turkey and Syria have.
I thank the Secretary of State for coming to the House so that we can express our sorrow and solidarity with the people of Turkey and Syria, and with families up and down this country who are desperately worried about those back home. I welcome the support offered and the potential offer of more, but may I press him on Syria? Organisations on the ground are ill-equipped to hand out the support that is desperately needed. Many of them are also affected by the earthquakes. The Foreign Secretary said that this is exceptional—one in 80 years—so although we are not planning to send personnel and equipment into Syria itself, I urge him to think as creatively as he can to make whatever exceptions he can, so that we do not hurt those who have already been hurt so much.
As the Development Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), said this morning, we are working closely with the United Nations. We will look creatively at what we can do to support it and our partners on the ground to maximise our ability to get humanitarian aid and support to the people who need it most.
I commend my right hon. Friend for coming so swiftly to the House and for the action that he and the Department have already taken. This would have been a terrible enough set of circumstances on their own, but to be overlaid by a brutal civil war in the same area and a very terrible winter makes it worse beyond almost imagination.
Like many Members of the House, I have many Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot constituents who are very worried about their families and are finding it difficult to get proper information. I know that my right hon. Friend has set up a hotline. I am being contacted, as I am sure are colleagues across the House, so may I suggest that it might be helpful to have a specific MPs’ hotline, so that we can help our constituents to find out as much information as possible and put their worries at ease?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. We will, of course, look at the most effective way of providing information. One of the learnings from past consular challenges or acute situations such as this is that having one point of convergence is often most effective. I will not be hide-bound, though, and whether it is people in the UK trying to get information about British nationals or people of Turkish or Syrian heritage trying to get information about non-British nationals, we will look to facilitate that. Obviously, we do not necessarily hold the information for non-British nationals. I will look carefully at what he says about ensuring that parliamentary colleagues have swift and accurate access to information and update the House on that in due course.
I thank the Minister for his statement, and I want to express my condolences for all those who have lost loved ones. My thoughts especially are with the large Turkish diaspora who call Edmonton their home. Will the Minister commit himself to giving regular updates in the House for those who are worried, and will he update us on what additional aid will be provided once the initial assessment has been done?
The hon. Lady makes a sad but important point. This situation will evolve, and sadly, it is highly likely to get much worse before it gets better. I will make sure that my office liaises with Mr Speaker about the most effective way to provide timely updates to the House, whether it be via the Dispatch Box or in some other format. I recognise that over the next few days and next week, when the House is not sitting, the Dispatch Box might not be the most effective way of doing so. I also recognise that this situation will be coming to its peak over the next couple of days, and Members, rightly, will expect to have updates, so I will try to find a way of most effectively facilitating that.
A situation of this sort in a fellow NATO member would seem to be tailor-made for military assistance from us to their civil powers. Do we not have any Royal Navy ships in the area, and are there not Royal Marine contingents that could be put quickly to work, with the agreement of the Turkish authorities?
I will take the ideas that my right hon. Friend put forward very seriously. The initial assessment of need is very much in urban search and rescue, and the UK, along with a number of NATO and non-NATO partners, is putting forward that capability. I suspect medical assistance will be next, but we will continue liaising very closely with the Turkish Government and the United Nations about what is needed on each side of the border.
My heart goes out to all those who have suffered and continue to suffer in this dreadful earthquake. The loss of humanitarian aid routes to north-west Syria, which went down from four to one in 2020, has had an immeasurable impact on the effective delivery of aid to the area. It has meant virtually no resources and help for those in what was already a dreadful humanitarian situation and who are now coping with the impacts of this truly awful earthquake. How will the Secretary of State ensure that aid gets to the people who need it?
The hon. Lady makes a very important point, and it is one that I raised in my last bilateral meeting with Martin Griffiths. As she said, this has had a significant detrimental effect on the international community’s ability to provide humanitarian support to some of the neediest people in the world, particularly in winter and in the light of these earthquakes. I can assure her that when I speak with Martin Griffiths later today, this is one of the topics we will discuss.
This is a stark reminder of the importance of resilience and our ability to deal with these acute events if they happen to us or to help others. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement. As he knows, the first 72 hours are critical. Military assistance has been mentioned. We have assets in Cyprus, including rotary systems, that could be put to use. Could we offer those to the Turkish authorities in this critical period?
We have been in close contact with our Turkish counterparts from very early on in this situation. Obviously, we have a very close military relationship through NATO. Turkey has a large and sophisticated armed forces in its own right. What it has asked us for most is in one of the areas where we provide world-class capability, and that is our urban search and rescue teams. As the situation evolves—as I say, sadly, there is a high likelihood that it will deteriorate—we will listen carefully to what further requirements Turkey has and respond in due course.
In just a matter of weeks, the holy month of Ramadan begins, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, yet Muslims and others in Syria and Turkey are in the middle of harsh weather conditions, with many roads and cities covered in snow and now damaged by this disaster. Does the FCDO plan to work with international partners to organise the provision of hygiene products, including sanitary products, as we know that natural disasters disproportionately impact women and girls? Will the Foreign Secretary join me in commending charities such as Islamic Relief, which has mobilised teams in both Syria and Turkey and since Monday has already raised over £1 million to help those affected?
I am happy to pay tribute to Islamic Relief and other charities and non-governmental organisations that are active in the region. The hon. Lady is right that, sadly, whether it be natural disaster, conflict or man-made disaster, women and girls always bear the brunt; it is one of the sad truisms of development and humanitarian relief, so she is right to raise the specific needs of women and girls. I am very proud to say that, throughout my time as a Minister and as Secretary of State, the plight of women and girls has been at the heart of our foreign policy and development policy. We will seek to ensure, whether directly or through partners, that we put forward plans to specifically address the needs of women and girls in these incredibly difficult circumstances.
I have watched, as everyone across the UK and around the world has, with horror and heartbreak the scenes from the earthquake in Syria and Turkey. Whenever a disaster happens, the UK always steps up, and people are so generous in wanting to help. Could my right hon. Friend confirm what steps people in Watford and across the UK can take to donate so that it reaches the frontline and helps those who are currently suffering the unimaginable?
We have already discussed Islamic Relief, Red Cross and Red Crescent, and I have no doubt that a number of organisations will be putting forward appeals. We recognise that, for many people in the UK, the economic situation is difficult, but I have no doubt that notwithstanding the domestic circumstances, the British people will do what they always do, which is rise to the occasion and support people around the world who are in even greater need than they are.
Like the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Feryal Clark) and others, members of the Kurdish-Turkish community in Newport are desperately worried about family members and friends, and our hearts go out to them. I reiterate to the Secretary of State the need for clear channels of communication to help us make urgent inquiries for constituents, whether it be drop-ins upstairs or other means, and support in-country for UK citizens and dual nationals, as well as the need for us to do everything we can on a humanitarian level.
I completely recognise the desire of Members of the House to be kept informed and to be able to provide a service to constituents who, quite understandably, will be very worried about friends and loved ones. I will take that on board, and my team will be making a note of what the hon. Member and other Members of the House have said on this.
Having spent a considerable amount of time in Turkey during my lifetime, may I share in the comments that the Foreign Secretary has made and say how much I agree with them? I echo calls for the White Helmets to continue to receive funding in the long term. I met them in October last year, and they said that British funding was absolutely key to their continuing their good work.
On the statement, may I ask how many people the Foreign Secretary is intending to deploy from the medical assessment team? May I also commend all the volunteers who have gone from our rapid response unit in the Foreign Office to help in Turkey at such short notice? Following on from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell), may I ask that we signpost where and how the British public can give money and aid to people in Turkey? Lastly, will the reporting mechanisms coming out of Turkey be given in real time, so that Members of Parliament can help constituents to find out about loved ones and how to help most effectively?
On my hon. Friend’s specific question about the size of the medical response team, I do not have that figure at the moment. It is inevitable that the numbers—both, sadly, of fatalities and injuries, and of British experts that we put in to support—will change over time. Indeed, I strongly suspect that the figures I outlined at the Dispatch Box at the start of the statement are now, sadly, already out of date. I completely take the point that he and others have made about the need for accurate, ongoing and timely information, and I will endeavour to make sure that I provide that to all Members of the House.
I send my thoughts and condolences to all those who have suffered and lost loved ones in the tragedy in Syria and Turkey. This horrific disaster does not discriminate in its victims, and political obstacles must not be allowed to define who receives our support. Can the Secretary of State explain what he is doing to secure humanitarian corridors to ensure all Syrians receive humanitarian aid, and will he respond to appeals for more heavy lifting equipment and fuel to run those machines?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that disasters like this do not discriminate, and neither will we. We will work closely with the United Nations. Obviously, we do not have a relationship with the Assad Government in Syria, but notwithstanding that, we will work with those organisations—whether the White Helmets, the United Nations or others—that are on the ground in Syria. Of course, we will also work closely with the Turkish Government in response to that.
My thoughts are with my constituents who are so desperately worried about loved ones. I echo the comments made by Members across the House about the need for that timely and accurate information to help Syrian, Kurdish and Turkish nationals living in the UK who have been affected by this. Can the Secretary of State say what representations the UK is making to drive humanitarian access to Syria from Turkey up the international agenda and open new flows of aid to north-west Syria?
I will be raising this specific subject with Martin Griffiths when I speak to him later this afternoon. Humanitarian access routes have been constrained over recent years, which has caused more suffering, and it is something we will seek to address.
First, given the immense scale of this terrible tragedy and the reports this morning that people are using their mobile phones while trapped under the rubble as they cry for help, do we have the capacity to send a further search and rescue team, because I think it seems, given the scale, that that would certainly assist? Secondly, does the Foreign Secretary expect the Disasters Emergency Committee to issue an appeal?
On the right hon. Member’s last point, I will certainly look at that and ask my officials to liaise on raising a specific appeal. What future assistance we give will be very much guided by the requests of the Turkish authorities and the feedback of the initial wave of experts that we have provided.
I realise that I failed to fully answer the question from the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson) about heavy lifting equipment and the fuel for it. Again, we will listen carefully to the requests from the Turkish authorities about that. One of the reasons our USAR team is so valuable is that we have state-of-the-art search and rescue equipment that co-ordinates closely with other equipment that is easier to get on to the ground for those partners who are physically closer to the incident.
The Foreign Secretary has been really helpful this afternoon, as has our Front-Bench spokesman and everyone. We are not experts, but when I see these pictures on television and hear the voices of children calling for help, the crisis is now. Can we get people, heavy lifting equipment and the right expertise there now—in planes, getting there now—so we can rescue these little children and their families?
The hon. Gentleman’s desire to help and help quickly is completely understandable, and I can assure him that it is shared by everyone across the House and across Government. As I say, first thing yesterday morning, I had an exchange of communications with my Turkish counterpart. Our urban search and rescue team were mobilised and convened yesterday, and the assessment is that they will be on the ground and operational by today. This is a very swift response. I recognise, however, that the challenge will be enduring. Of course, the feedback from them about what else we can do, and do quickly, will be incredibly important, and we will do that in close co-ordination with our international friends and partners.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement. This disaster has been keenly felt by the Kurdish community across these islands, and he will be aware that this region in particular has been the source of conflict between Syrian and Kurdish forces. Could he say a bit more about what the Government are doing to liaise with Kurdish charities and the Kurdish community—I am thinking, for example, of the Kurdish Red Crescent charity—to make sure that the Kurdish population get the support they need and that the aid goes to help the Kurdish people?
The hon. Member is right: the people of this region have suffered more than enough. Sadly, this natural disaster will amplify the suffering of the man-made disaster that we have seen in that part of Syria and the ripple effect that has had into that part of Turkey. I assure him that we will work with as wide a range of international partners as possible to ensure that no community is in any way disadvantaged in terms of our support. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside said that this tragedy has not discriminated and, as I say, nor will we.
I echo the words of condolence by the Foreign Secretary—the numbers of those who have died and been injured are immeasurable—and I send my condolences to everyone in that area. Scammers may use social media information to contact individuals in the UK with links to the impacted regions, using their fears for loved ones to request money transfers. What measures are the UK Government considering to ensure that such scams are highlighted and families are protected?
Sadly—the hon. Lady makes an incredibly important point—there will always be vultures who will seek to make money through the tragedy of others and the concern of their friends and loved ones. My strong advice is the same as we would give in all circumstances, which is to be very suspicious of unsolicited communications. It is far better to go to well-established avenues of support. They are often, in circumstances such as this, the most effective on the ground anyway. We urge people not to let their understandable desire to give support quickly blind them to the fact that there are those who will seek to take advantage of their good will. She is absolutely right to raise the issue.
I also very much thank the Foreign Secretary for his positive answers and for the obvious Government compassion for those who have suffered much due to the earthquake. I add my thoughts and prayers for all those who have lost loved ones. The earthquake has affected large areas of northern Syria, including the Kurdish region, where many Yazidis are still attempting to recover after the Daesh genocide. Will the UK aid sent to relieve the suffering caused by the earthquake also be sent to minority communities, rather than just to the large population centres? They all need help.
The hon. Gentleman speaks regularly and with great passion about the need to be conscious of minority groups, especially religious and ethnic minority groups. He is absolutely right to do so. I assure him that I will in turn seek assurances from my officials that our support is reaching everyone that it needs to, and not just those who perhaps have the best pre-established routes for humanitarian support.