The migrant crisis engulfing Europe is likely to last for 20 years, the government minister in charge of Britain’s international response warned on Thursday.
Justine Greening, the Secretary of State for the Department for International Development, said the humanitarian crisis in Syria was such that many refugees would be unlikely to return home in two decades.
It came as the European Union predicted that the worst of the crisis is yet to come, with three million people arriving by the end of 2017. It said the economic boost many had hoped for is likely to be negligible.
She said that Russia’s recent intervention in the war would lead to even more people fleeing the country, and that more had to be done to stop them seeing Europe as their only hope.
Ms Greening, whose department is in charge of Britain’s £1.1bn aid package to Syria, spelt out the scale of the problem as new figures emerged from the European Union that dwarf previous estimates of the scale of the crisis.
Brussels now estimates that three million more migrants could arrive in the 28-nation bloc by the end of 2017.
Ms Greening said that Britain and other countries that have agreed to take in Syrian refugees now had to realise that the crisis would take decades rather than years to be resolved.
“In the 1980s, the typical time that someone spent as a refugee from conflict was about eight years, whereas today that estimate is around 20 years,” she said.
“Therefore it is not good enough just to provide food and water and refugee camps where people can live.
“If people are going to be refugees for 20 years, they need good education for their kids and a job and livelihood for themselves. It is clear now that unless we support them to do that, they will take a longer term choice, which is to leave the region for good.”