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Iraqui Kurdistan (Refugees)

Volume 885: debated on Wednesday 29 January 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make funds available for humanitarian aid to refugees from the war in Iraqui Kurdistan.

No, Sir. British official assistance is given only in respect of a request from a United Nations agency or an overseas Government, and no such request has been made in this case.

Does the Minister accept that many people will regard the total inactivity of the British Government in this area as deeply to be regretted, particularly in the light of claims that there are now up to half a million refugees and that 10 children are dying of malnutrition and disease every day in parts of Kurdistan? In these circumstances, will the Minister of State bring pressure to bear on the Turkish authorities to open their frontiers for humanitarian aid? Will he invite the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to investigate at least the plight of hundreds of thousands of homeless and suffering people?

All hon. Members would regret a situation in which there was human suffering. Certainly my figures show that there are upwards of 120,000 Kurdish refugees who have crossed the border into Iran. As for representations to the Turkish Government, it must first be recognised that we have no status in this situation. It is also very doubtful whether if we made representations they would bring the required result. As for the border, my information is that it is not officially closed, but I do not have further details on that.

Will the Minister of State stop pontificating about our status? Will he recognise that this is a brutal genocidal war, that we have a historical responsibility as the country which established Iraq and that we have a humanitarian duty to aid the refugees and to protest insistently at what is being done?

However strongly the hon. Member may feel about the situation, he must recognise that this is an internal matter. I cannot accept that the Government have a responsibility in this respect other than a general humanitarian concern, which we would show. We have not been approached by the United Nations or any other member State to give assistance.

Is it not incredible that on a humanitarian issue such as this involving up to half a million refugees the Government are not prepared to make a diplomatic move? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that British voluntary agencies, including War on Want, have made an on-the-spot investigation and are appalled at the extent of the human suffering? Is it a fact that the Government are making arms available to Iraq? If that is so, will the Government reconsider the position and try to induce a change in a situation which has appalled all those who have had the opportunity of witnessing what has happened?

The hon. Gentleman refers to 500,000 refugees. As far as I know, there are 120,000 refugees. [Interruption.] I have no figures of those who are in Turkey.

The hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend said that the frontiers were closed. I was asked whether I would bring pressure to bear to see that they were opened. The refugees in Iran are being looked after by the Iranian Red Lion and Sun Society and, as far as I know, are being well looked after. The hon. Gentleman is coming to discuss the matter with me in a few days' time, when I shall be happy to consider further any points he wants to put to me.