Whenever I've met Syrian refugees they have told me the same thing: they want to go home and rebuild the country they love. Last month I was in Jordan and Lebanon meeting Syrian men, women and children, some of whom are now spending their fifth winter under a tent. One family told me that when they left they thought they would be home in weeks, perhaps months. Instead it's been almost five years with no end in sight. Meanwhile, the situation for those left inside Syria today is unspeakably bleak. People are under siege, starving, sick and unable to access basic medical care.
With 18million people in need, Syria is the world's biggest, most urgent humanitarian crisis and it needs an unprecedented response from the international community.
That's why on Thursday the UK is bringing together world leaders, UN agencies, charities and NGOs, civil society and business leaders to galvanise a new global response on behalf of Syria and the region. With our co-hosts Germany, Norway, Kuwait and the UN, we are calling for billions of dollars in international aid not only to meet people's basic needs inside Syria, but to provide jobs for Syrian refugees and an education for Syria's children. This is a historic moment for the world to come together and make a real and lasting difference to the lives of millions of people affected by the Syria crisis.
The UK has been at the forefront of the response to the crisis, pledging more than £1.1billion in aid to date - making us the second biggest country donor after the US. Aid from the UK is helping to provide food for people inside Syria every month, as well as clean water and sanitation for hundreds of thousands of refugees across the region. We are supplying blankets and cooking sets and all the other basic things people need to survive and get by day to day. I've seen for myself how this support is really proving the difference between life and death for Syrian refugees. I've met some of the brave humanitarian workers risking their lives to get aid into Syria. On Thursday we can, and must, raise crucial new funding from around the world to meet the immediate and longer-term needs of those affected by the crisis.
But Thursday is not just about raising more funds. During my time as the UK's international development secretary it's become increasingly clear to me that we need a dramatic shift in the way the world responds to protracted crises like this one.
Traditionally our humanitarian responses focus on immediate, live-saving relief but for a conflict like this it doesn't make sense to apply the same principles that we would to responding to an earthquake or a typhoon. It's as if we were a hospital trying to function with just an accident and emergency department. The sad truth is that the length of time people spend as a refugee is now, on average, 17 years. Refugees stuck in a permanent emergency situation need more than food and water - they need the dignity of work and an education for their children who may well grow up in exile.
One of my top priorities for the London Conference is a global commitment to provide greater access to education for children inside Syria and for refugee children. I've met Syrian children who have lost everything to conflict - their homes, their schools, their friends and even, in some cases, their families. If we don't take action they will be robbed of an education and a future as well.
That's why in 2013, along with Unicef, I launched the No Lost Generation Initiative which, through UK funding alone, has helped over a quarter of a million Syrian children get back into education. If other countries join our efforts, we can get all Syrian refugee children into education by the end of the 2016/2017 school year.
As well as education, the London Conference will mark an ambitious new approach to livelihoods and jobs for refugees. We want countries like Jordan and Lebanon to open up jobs and opportunities to refugees. In return the international community will invest in their economies and businesses. In this way we can create more jobs, not just for refugees, but for local people, and leave a legacy of stronger economies for those countries that have so generously taken in Syrian refugees.
By taking these actions we're investing in what is overwhelmingly the first choice of Syrian refugees: to stay in the region and closer to their home country. Helping Syrian refugees to build a life for themselves in the region is not only the right thing to do, it is also clearly in Britain and other countries' national interest. If we can give Syrians hope for a better future where they are, they are less likely to feel the need to make perilous journeys to Europe.
It is peace alone that will give Syrian people their future back, but while we strive to find a political solution we must keep up our vital humanitarian work. Again money alone is not enough: this is a man-made disaster. Many are suffering from the inexcusable targeting of civilians, often in schools and hospitals, by the Assad regime. Those unfortunate enough to be living in areas controlled by Daesh are suffering unspeakable violence.
The UK lobbied hard to secure UN Security Council Resolutions that enable the UN to deliver aid into Syria across borders, without the consent of the regime. This Conference is also the world's opportunity to restate our fundamental commitment to international humanitarian law and to hold those responsible to account.
I believe the London Conference can be a turning point for the Syrian people who have endured so many horrors since war engulfed their country.
One conference can't end the fighting or undo the suffering but it can be the moment when we rise to an unprecedented challenge with an unprecedented response. In London I want the world to offer a different story on Syria and a new vision of hope to its people.
This is an historic opportunity and the whole world must grasp it.
Justine Greening is Secretary of State for International Development, Conservative MP for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields