Last Friday, the curtain concealing the Syrian city of Raqqa was finally flung aside. The devastated city was formally liberated by Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of militia factions, from the grip of Daesh, or Islamic State as the BBC still insists on calling them.
Most of us will be unable to imagine the appalling conditions endured by the people of Raqqa for the past few years as they were squeezed between the iron claws of Daesh’s campaign of bombings, landmines and insane violence.
For hundreds of thousands of the city’s people, enduring the hell of the city was too much, so they left with nothing except – for many of them – life-threatening injuries. But now they can return and join the countless numbers of those previously hiding in the city or held hostage by Daesh.
Now, of course, the work of rebuilding must begin. This requires supplies, facilities, medical help and so on. And that means hard cash.
The UK recently reaffirmed its commitment to spending 0.7% of GDP on foreign aid and this is an occasion when that aid is able to swing into action.
Britain has announced a package of immediate aid to be delivered by UN agencies and the World Health Organisation, including clearing landmines and lethal explosives, restocking hospitals and mobile surgical units, providing 145,000 medical consultations, 31,000 relief kits including cooking equipment and blankets, improving access to clean water for 15,000 people with jerry cans and water-purifying tablets, plus 1,000 delivery kits for pregnant women and psychological support for thousands of people traumatised by their experiences.
Our aid money has been providing equipment and services along these lines for the past five years. Now, in a liberated city, we can work harder and smarter. But we do need others in the international community to step up to the plate. And, of course, we need to work on the politics.
As chair of the British Council All Party Parliamentary Group’s “Inquiry into Building Resilience from Violent Extremism”, I’m delighted that our inquiry report will shortly be published. I’ll share more about that in the coming weeks but I hope it has an impact, and I hope in the meantime we can continue to help those who still suffer.