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Yazidi Population: Syria and Iraq

Volume 611: debated on Tuesday 24 May 2016

Britain and other countries have been appalled by Daesh’s actions against Yazidis and other minorities in northern Iraq. It has prompted us to join other countries in taking action through the formation of the international coalition against Daesh, which now includes more than 60 countries.

As the Minister will know, many Yazidi women and girls who suffered sexual slavery at the hands of Daesh experienced severe trauma, but they struggle to access the support they need. What steps have the UK Government taken under their preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative to promote access to mental health care for all those victims?

The hon. Lady is right to point to the importance of the support that we need to provide not just to the Yazidis, but to other minorities that have been affected by Daesh. We are the largest donor to Iraq’s humanitarian pooled fund and there are a number of programmes, including those of the Department for International Development and the human rights and democracy fund, to provide exactly the sort of assistance that is required immediately.

As the Minister and the questioner have made clear, the key threat to the Yazidi population and other religious minorities is the control of territory by Daesh. Does my hon. Friend therefore welcome the news this morning that a major assault has been launched to retake Falluja, and does he agree that the liberation of towns and cities is the way that such threats will finally be put to an end?

My hon. Friend is right. Little by little, we are able to remove from Daesh the territory that it has held. Falluja was one of the first cities to fall to Daesh. Along with Mosul, these will be important changes that show that Daesh is finally being removed from the territory. But as the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) pointed out, once we have defeated Daesh militarily, there is a huge amount of work to do on stabilisation and humanitarian support for the people who have suffered so much as a result of the atrocities.

The Yazidi people of Iraq were given two choices by Daesh in 2014—convert or die. Will the UK Government accept that what happened in Sinjar was genocide, and urge the Iraqi Government to work with the International Criminal Court to bring murderers and rapists to justice?

The hon. Lady raises an important point. Britain stepped forward, along with other countries, to make sure that we were able to provide airdrops and safe passage on Mount Sinjar, which were critical to support for the Yazidis. Her question has been debated at length in this Chamber and I very much support her views, together with John Kerry and the European Parliament, and this Parliament voted on the matter. However, it is not for us to make those judgments; it is for the International Criminal Court. We are helping to collect the evidence to make sure that when the time is appropriate, we can bring those people to justice.

Does the Minister agree that the money that this country spends supporting refugees in Iraq and Syria can support a far greater number of people far better than attempting to relocate refugees to the UK, and that it is right that the focus of our efforts is to support people in the region?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The Yazidis as a group are endogamous and have not grown as much as other groupings in Iraq. They want to stay together and they want to stay in the area. For every one person that we are able to support in the UK, we can support more than 20 people in location—clearly, on a different standard, but it means that our money can go a lot further and we can pride ourselves on being one of the largest supporters in Syria and Iraq.

The Minister has just repeated the arguments he made to the House on 20 April against referring the genocide of the Yazidi people to the UN Security Council, which this House unanimously rejected. The Minister’s arguments have been challenged in the other place, where the noble Lord Pannick QC pointed out that article VIII of the convention on the prevention of genocide explicitly gives the UK Government the power to make such a referral. May I press the Minister to respect the will of this House and refer the matter to the UN Security Council without further delay?

I very much join in the spirit of the hon. Lady’s remarks, but we have to work within the mechanics of such a referral. We took the initiative to bring the situation to the awareness of the International Criminal Court in 2014. Our efforts were vetoed by two permanent members of the Security Council. That will happen again unless we are able to provide the necessary evidence, which is exactly what we are doing. We will hold those people to account, but there is an order and a process that we must honour. I entirely agree with the spirit of what the hon. Lady wants to do.