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Volume 128: debated on Wednesday 2 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if, in the light of recent events, he will make a statement on the relationship between the United Kingdom and Somalia, with particular reference to those parts of that country having historic links with Britain.

The relations between the United Kingdom and Somalia are very friendly. When I visited Mogadishu last April, I met President Barre, the former Foreign Minister and other senior Ministers and discussed British aid in Somalia, including northern Somalia, and other matters of interest to both our countries. I hope that a senior Somali Minister will be able to visit the United Kingdom later this year.

The Minister may be aware that there is a significant Somali community in my constituency — and in others—and that the Somali community has made a significant contribution, particularly to our maritime tradition, to our economy and to the community in general. Is the Minister aware that there is a great deal of concern among members of the Somali community in this country about several aspects of the position in Somalia at the moment? Will she accept that there is also a feeling in the Somali community in this country that Britain should continue to bear some responsibility and take an interest especially in those parts of Somalia that were previously Britain's responsibility? Will she assure us that that interest will continue and tell us how it will be pursued?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we continue to take an interest. For example, we brought pressure to bear with regard to the trials of certain prisoners, including prisoners from the north, who had been held for several years without trial. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that our ambassador was instructed to protest when the death sentences were passed. I am pleased to say that on 11 February those death sentences were commuted to terms of imprisonment or house arrest.

This year we gave about £5·1 million of aid to Somalia. That aid is directed to a number of projects in the north, including projects for overhauling power stations.

It is good news that the already excellent relationships with Somalia have improved yet further following my right hon. Friend's visit to that country. Is Somalia still having to feed, clothe and house refugees entering the country from Ethiopia, or has the problem eased?

I am glad to say that the refugee problem in Somalia has eased. Some refugees still cross the border from the Ogaden region. Where possible we help with that. We have helped children from the Ogaden region who have been orphaned. I thank my hon. Friend for the kind remarks that he made at the beginning of his comments.