Skip to main content

Humanitarian Situation in Mosul

Volume 627: debated on Wednesday 12 July 2017

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on my Department’s continued support for the people of Mosul.

On Monday, Prime Minister Abadi declared Mosul to be liberated, three years after the city fell to Daesh. Victory comes after three years of unimaginable oppression by Daesh—three years of fear, executions, abductions, forced marriages and the destruction of Iraq’s ancient heritage. It comes after nine months of heavy fighting by the Iraqi security forces, who faced brutal Daesh tactics, including the use of human shields and suicide bombers. My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary will provide the House with a more detailed update tomorrow on the ongoing military campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, and the UK’s role in this effort.

The declaration that Mosul is once again free is a great victory for the people of Iraq and a great stride forward for global security. I am sure that the House will join me in commending the extraordinary bravery of the Iraqi security forces, who have put the protection of civilians at the heart of their military campaign, acting to reduce civilian casualties wherever they could and risking their lives to help to evacuate civilians fleeing the bullets of Daesh fighters. We should recognise their professionalism, courage and significant sacrifice. They have been backed up from the air by the international coalition forces, including the RAF, who have taken all reasonable precautions during the planning and execution of airstrikes to reduce the risk to civilian life.

We should also recognise the bravery of the people of Mosul: children who have been out of school for years are now back in the classroom and sitting exams; doctors who had to stop working under Daesh are once again giving life-saving treatment to their fellow citizens who were injured in the fighting; and volunteers are clearing the rubble from the streets and public buildings.

However, we must be realistic about the challenges ahead. Almost 50,000 homes have been destroyed and although 200,000 people have returned to their homes in eastern Mosul, over 700,000 people are still displaced and in need of continued humanitarian assistance. Explosive remnants of this war will be a problem for many months to come.

After winning the battle for Mosul, it is important to win the peace, and now starts the painstaking task of rebuilding and reconciling so that families can return home as quickly as possible, communities can live peacefully alongside one another once more, and citizens can start to rebuild their lives. Needs in and around Mosul will not fall immediately, even as the fighting ends.

As a global humanitarian leader, the United Kingdom has been at the forefront of efforts to support the humanitarian response and will continue to stand alongside the people of Iraq in the months ahead. From the very start of the Mosul military operations, the UK has provided shelter, medical care and food to those who have either lost their homes because of the fighting or been forced to flee for safety reasons.

The UK is the largest donor to the Iraq humanitarian pooled fund and we are providing practical, life-saving support, including water in camps for over 166,000 displaced people, cash assistance to over 50,000 vulnerable people, and life-saving healthcare, including a trauma hospital to treat the victims of the fight against Daesh.

Today I am pleased to confirm that the UK will provide £40 million of humanitarian funding this year, taking our total commitment just in Iraq since 2014 to £209 million. This funding will help to ensure that displaced communities and people will receive much- needed shelter, food and medical support, and it will also provide protection services for the most vulnerable, including minorities, women and girls. Already, £18 million of this funding has been allocated to partners who are working hard to deliver assistance around Mosul.

The United Nations has set funding requirements for Iraq in 2017 at $984 million. The UK is stepping up, and I continue to call on my colleagues in the international development community—the donors—to follow Britain’s lead. The international community must continue to support the people of Mosul and Iraq.

As people return home to liberated areas, they will need support to rebuild their lives. Humanitarian and stabilisation partners are helping to re-establish basic services, including by distributing food in areas where markets are not yet functioning and providing cash assistance so that vulnerable people can buy what they most need.

In east Mosul, the Department for International Development’s humanitarian funding to the International Organisation for Migration and UNICEF has already helped to reopen health facilities and provide clean water in liberated areas, which is essential for people to be able to return home. DFID will also provide £6 million this year for stabilisation efforts. That funding will help to restore basic services and infrastructure in liberated areas, including in Mosul. Through the United Nations Development Programme, UK funding has already helped to rehabilitate the al-Qasour water plant in eastern Mosul. Over 750 schools have already reopened, allowing 300,000 children to sit exams. Our funding will also support local reconciliation, helping displaced people to reintegrate back into their communities when they return home. Across Iraq, over 1 million people have returned to their homes in areas where UK-funded stabilisation projects are working.

But ultimately, to win the peace in Iraq, the Government of Iraq will need to unite all Iraqis against extremism, address the grievances that led to Daesh’s rise and persuade all Iraqi communities that they have a fair stake in their nation’s future. The UK will continue to be steadfast in our support for the Government of Iraq’s efforts to drive forward reform, reconciliation and stabilisation.

This week’s victory against Daesh in Mosul marks an important moment in the campaign to defeat this terror group and its poisonous ideology. We join our Iraqi friends in celebrating the liberation of this historic city. The UK will continue to provide much-needed humanitarian and stabilisation assistance to those who have been affected by the conflict, and to support the Government of Iraq’s efforts to build a stable, secure and prosperous Iraq. I commend this statement to the House.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, and I particularly welcome the news of Mosul’s liberation after three years of oppression. It is important to defeat Daesh’s violent ideology wherever it emerges. I would like to pay tribute to the Iraqi security forces and the people of Mosul, who have shown remarkable courage in the face of Daesh’s continued oppression. I pay particular tribute to the role of the UK Government in their important work to provide critical aid and emergency support. The UK’s continued role in the coming days and weeks, and the significant funding commitments announced by the Secretary of State, which I welcome, will save lives and help to rebuild Mosul. This commitment also demonstrates the important role that UK aid plays not only in standing alongside the people of Iraq, but in contributing to long-term peace and stability.

I would like to ask the Secretary of State a series of questions about her announcement. First, although there is cause for real celebration in the liberation of Mosul, Amnesty International has identified countless human rights violations on all sides—both by Daesh and, possibly, by the Iraqi forces—in the fight for Mosul. These include the use of civilians as human shields by Daesh fighters and violations of children’s rights. Amnesty International has called for a thorough investigation of all human rights violations and possible war crimes carried out during the liberation of Mosul, and the UN human rights chief has called for a strong culture of accountability now that the city has been liberated. Does the Secretary of State support those calls and will she tell us how we can help?

Secondly, while I welcome the UK Government’s aid response to the situation in Mosul, the forced displacement of numerous refugees in and around Mosul as a result of the past two years of Daesh occupation requires widespread action, not only on rebuilding, but on the resettlement of those displaced. Will the Secretary of State update us on how we will be able to help all those who have been displaced? I thank the Secretary of State again for her welcome statement to the House.

I thank the hon. Lady for her generous comments and support for what has been achieved in Mosul. I absolutely agree that we should pay tribute to all the forces involved, and also to the people of Mosul, who have suffered considerably at the hands of Daesh.

The hon. Lady is right to point to Amnesty International’s report today, which makes allegations and raises concerns about the coalition—well, Iraqi—forces and human rights violations. It is important to stress that the security forces and the coalition have made every effort to protect civilians during operations. Now that we are hearing of alleged violations or abuses, it is quite right that they are thoroughly and transparently investigated, and those found responsible must be held to account. We also welcome the previous statement by Prime Minister Abadi on this and encourage reporting on the outcomes.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of the displacement of people. Hundreds of thousands of people have been affected by what has happened in Mosul and in Iraq more broadly. The focus now has to be on resettlement and the reunification of the country as a whole.

The hon. Lady will have heard me speak briefly about the stabilisation efforts which, of course, have to be the focus right now. UK aid, and my Department in particular, are working with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, others across Government and the international community not only to support UN stabilisation efforts in Iraq and secure the liberated areas, clearing areas of explosives and making them habitable again, but, importantly, to provide the basics to people by putting in water facilities, power networks, clinics and schools. We also know that 1.8 million people have been displaced in Iraq since 2015 and have returned to their homes when possible, so it is important to focus on resettlement and stabilisation, and how we can bring prosperity and stability back to Mosul and the outlying areas of Iraq.

Mosul was home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the region, but religious minorities suffered dreadfully at the hands of ISIS. What can DFID do to ensure that such minorities are able to return to their place of origin?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her question and for once again raising the issue of minorities who have been persecuted and displaced in the conflict. We know that what has happened, particularly for Christian communities and others, has been absolutely abhorrent. We are now focused on stabilisation, and also on ensuring that Iraq as a whole can be rebuilt and reunified so that all communities can come back to their homes and feel that they can contribute to a new Iraq following the conflict.

We very much welcome the military defeat of Daesh in Mosul, but for the victory to be truly complete, it is imperative that we address the now critical humanitarian needs of the people of the city and the surrounding region. As we have already heard, Amnesty International has described the horrors that the people of Mosul have witnessed and the disregard for human life by all parties to the conflict. That must not go unpunished. Entire families have been wiped out, many of whom are still buried under the rubble today. The people of Mosul deserve to know that there will be justice and reparation so that the harrowing impact of this operation is fully addressed.

The UK Government must finally learn the lessons from Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. It cannot be allowed to happen in Mosul, as it has happened in so many places before, that the cost and impact of UK military action dwarfs the relief and reconstruction efforts that follow. How are the Government working with civil society on the ground to alleviate the suffering of those in the refugee camps who lack sufficient food, water and electricity to survive the scorching desert heat? Will the Government support the creation of an independent commission, as recommended by Amnesty International, to investigate the killings of civilians by all sides in the conflict, including by air strikes carried out by the UK?

I reiterate the comments I made to the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) about the Amnesty International report, the violations that may have taken place and the need for investigations. It is right and proper that all attention is given to the investigations and that people are brought to justice in the right way, but we must also recognise that there have been horrific attacks across the whole of Iraq because of the poisonous ideology of Daesh. The conduct of Daesh, the displacement of people and the atrocities that have taken place are absolutely unforgiveable and will no doubt scar generations to come.

It is important to stress at this time when many have worked to liberate Mosul, in particular coalition forces and the Iraqi security forces, that our priority is to continue the humanitarian support we provide through UK aid to the displaced and to support the stabilisation efforts. Of course that is the focus of not just the British Government but all our international partners, including the United Nations. We will continue to stand up for those who have been displaced and work collectively to bring peace and stability to Iraq.

I warmly welcome the tone of the Secretary of State’s announcement, and in particular the extra funds the UK is giving to the wonderful people in Mosul. However, she will know that if the experience of Fallujah and elsewhere is to be followed in Mosul, the vicious tactics of Daesh will mean that every single house, street and public place will be booby-trapped and mined, and it will take many years to clear that. Will she therefore commit the Government to doing what we can to help on the technical matter of removing the explosives? Secondly, it is not the scorching heat of today that we should be worrying about; it is the cold of the Mosul winter, which will come in only three or four months’ time, by which point we must have found decent accommodation for these people.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I referred to the fact that we will spend a great deal of time, resources and effort in rebuilding not only Mosul but Iraq as a whole through the stabilisation approach that we will put forward. But there is no doubt that we will have to invest to reclaim land, and particularly to de-mine huge swathes of the country. The British Government announced earlier this year a substantial commitment to our de-mining efforts in countries that have been unstable through conflict.

My hon. Friend is also right to say that the weather conditions in Mosul will change in the latter part of the year—they will become much harsher—so all of us in the international community will have to not just step up our efforts, but focus our resources on those who will be in need in the harsh winter to come. Importantly, we need to rebuild, put houses in and start building infrastructure sooner rather than later.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, and particularly welcome the additional humanitarian assistance she has announced and what she has just said about de-mining. When the people of Mosul do return, many will be deeply traumatised. What will the Government do to ensure there is the mental healthcare and support for those families when they do return?

The hon. Gentleman is right to speak about the psychological, mental and physical trauma involved in recovering and rebuilding after what has happened across Iraq, and in Mosul in particular. I spoke about the fact that we will obviously need to rehabilitate the country at every single level—infrastructure, water, schools and health centres. It is also vital that we work with our colleagues and counterparts internationally and in the health community to ensure that the medical assistance, support and expertise of those who can give the necessary help to those who need it is provided.

The people who wish to return to Mosul have been traumatised, as we have heard from many Members, but while the ones who stayed in the area want to go home, there are very few homes to go to. What exactly is this country doing to help to rebuild the infrastructure and put a roof over people’s heads? Is the Secretary of State also encouraging other countries to support the people of the area?

My hon. Friend rightly highlights the immediate needs of the more than 1.8 million displaced people in Iraq who have returned to their homes. We are working with the Iraqi Government on stabilisation, as well as with UN stability programmes in the areas where they are working to provide necessary infrastructure—renovated water facilities, power networks, clinics, schools, and also homes. The destruction that has taken place is incomprehensible to us. Vast swathes of land and homes were deliberately destroyed by Daesh, and it is our responsibility through UK aid, and working internationally with our partners, to ensure that we rebuild and rehouse the many millions who have been displaced.

I welcome the statement and thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of it. Tens of thousands of children have been without education in Mosul for many years, so it is good news that 750 schools have reopened, but what work is being done to assist schools to tackle the very particular and sensitive challenge of helping older children, teenagers and young adults to plug the significant gap in their education and prevent there being a lost generation?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to speak about the lost generation. There is a high level of displacement, including a horrifically high number of displaced children, across the whole region affected by conflict—Syria and Iraq. Many children have lost their education; they have been out of school for several years because of the extent of the conflict. The hon. Lady knows that the United Kingdom is an enormous supporter and big funder of the Education Cannot Wait programme, which focuses on exactly this in areas of conflict, as well as host communities—Jordan and Lebanon, for instance. We are providing resources to introduce a double-shift system of education. She also mentioned older children, and it is important, with the funding we put in through the partners with which we work, and particularly through Governments directly, that organisations provide education—they are—as well as technical and vocational training opportunities.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) is obviously a man of taste.

The Government have previously acknowledged that the cutting of the food coupon in the Syrian refugee camps in the summer of 2013 led to the mass exodus thereafter. While acknowledging the UK’s proud track record on humanitarian aid, will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the House that the international community must step up to the plate on the funding of any temporary arrangements with regard to displaced people, and that we must learn those lessons?

My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. On lessons learned, effectively it is now about the implementation of a lot of the programmes for those in humanitarian crisis situations, in terms of food provision, water and other essentials. We have learned many lessons through the Grand Bargain work; partner organisations on the ground delivering services and provisions are working collectively, in a way that they were not in 2013, to bring vital aid and food to those who need it.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on her measured and comprehensive statement. I have a friend in Baghdad who was an MP in Mosul and who was also Culture Secretary; for her, the devastation of this historically very important city will have been awful, but I am glad that the Secretary of State is focusing on the humanitarian needs right away, because as Members have said, the traumatisation, particularly of children, in the area needs to be addressed immediately.

The Secretary of State talked about the importance of peace. Of course, we all want to see peace in the region, and I congratulate the Prime Minister of Iraq on hopefully getting rid of Daesh, at least from Mosul, but Kurdistan is a very important part of the country; does the Secretary of State agree that it is important that the Parliament of Kurdistan, which has not met for over a year, should meet as soon as possible?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her thoughtful observations on how we need to work together to bring peace and stability to Iraq and the region. This is not something that one country can do on its own; the international community can provide guidance, support and, in particular, assistance with getting the democracy functioning again. That would be the ultimate symbol of beating Daesh and the poisonous ideology that it has been propagating across the region. She is right to highlight the fact that stabilisation, peace and, ultimately, a functioning democracy should return all over again. This is a long-term objective, and we know that it will be difficult because of the levels of conflict, instability, destruction and displacement that we have seen. Our immediate focus is on putting people, including children, first and rebuilding the country in the best way we can through the international coalition.

In all my elections, I have proudly stood in support of our manifesto commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on international aid, although many people have criticised it. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in situations such as these, such a commitment is not only morally right but enables us to invest in Iraq? A lot of the situation with Daesh in Mosul came about because the residents were worried about divisions in the Baghdad Government. It is investment from this country through my right hon. Friend’s Department that allows people to be educated and ensures that that Government will work for the entire country to prevent this happening again.

I thank my hon. Friend for re-stating the importance of UK aid and our commitment to the world’s poorest through the 0.7%. We have been undertaking urgent humanitarian support for a number of years, but we are also looking ahead to the stabilisation that we will work to achieve collectively within the international development community. We can see UK aid making a difference to people, and bringing peace, stability and global influence to countries such as Iraq in the way that we would all expect our aid budget to do.

Following the comments from the Scottish nationalist spokesman, the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law), does the Secretary of State agree that the crucial difference between the actions of the British and coalition forces on the one hand and Daesh on the other is that we go out of our way to minimise civilian casualties, while Daesh does exactly the opposite? At a time when one of our colleagues is being hideously bullied and threatened over her vote in favour of the action against Daesh, do we not need to send a clear message that this House was absolutely right to take the decisions to carry out military action against Daesh, both in Iraq and in Syria?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that we did the right thing, and we will continue to do the right thing by standing up to those poisonous ideologies and the conduct of those awful groups around the world. The liberation of Mosul speaks volumes about the sacrifices that the people in that community—and those who fought against Daesh—have made.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement. Sexual violence is one of the consistent horrors of war, both conventional and unconventional. It is a deliberate act, and a recognisable but repugnant tactic designed to shatter the cohesion of oppressed people, as well as being a grotesque example of individual human rights abuses. Will the Secretary of State assure us that she will look at what DFID can do to mitigate this vile form of violence and to support the Yazidis and other fragile, damaged communities? Moreover, will she tell us what DIFD can do to deter would-be oppressors from using this form of violence in future conflicts?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention the abhorrent sexual violence against women and girls, particularly in the Yazidi community. He is also right to highlight the fact that Britain has been calling this behaviour out, and standing up for and giving a voice to many people who have been subjected to horrific abuses and attacks by Daesh. In countries of conflict, it is women and girls who suffer such atrocities and acts of violence, and we will continue to stand up for them through our work with the United Nations and with our partners in other countries. In answer to his question on what else we can do, we will follow through the prosecutions of those who are responsible and hold them to account.

I visited the outskirts of Mosul last October during the conflict and met counter-terrorism personnel. I also visited six camps for refugees and internally displaced people and saw the huge humanitarian operation, which I was very impressed by. I note that on Radio 4’s “Today” programme this morning, the deputy commander of the coalition forces, General Jones from the United Kingdom, said that everything had been done to protect citizens. However, he went on to describe Amnesty’s report as “naive” and reckless. This is in the week in which the Amnesty report on Saudi Arabia arms sales—

Order. We are all very interested in the contents of the Amnesty report, but there is no need for a verbatim regurgitation of its contents. I just point out that so far, progress has been lamentably slow. That is not just the fault of the hon. Gentleman; it applies much more widely. We have got through only about 10 Back-Bench questions in 15 minutes, but I am sure that he is reaching his peroration, which we eagerly anticipate.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was going to say that we need a new democratic settlement in Nineveh province. What are the Secretary of State’s Department, the Foreign Office and our ambassador, Frank Baker, doing to ensure that we include minorities in that settlement?

The Iraqi and coalition forces have made every effort to protect civilians. On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, we are working with the Iraqi Government and with all partners on the ground on stabilisation and support for the rebuilding of Mosul.

I call the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy); he can be the author of the brevity textbook.

I pay tribute to the Iraqi security forces and the British armed forces for their work. Will the Secretary of State update us on another humanitarian threat to the people of Mosul, namely the Mosul dam, which is in an incredibly dangerous condition and, being upstream of Mosul, threatens the city?

That is a very serious situation and, again, we are working on stabilisation and are making every effort to provide the support required in that area. We will continue to do that; this is an ongoing situation. We are not only monitoring it but are being very active in the support that we can give.

Last November, I raised the plight of the thousands of Yazidi women and children who were being held in slavery by Daesh in Mosul. I asked the Government whether they would seek to provide specialist psychological care once the liberation of Mosul had been completed. Will the Minister tell me what plans the Government are putting in place, now that Daesh has been driven from the city, to tend to the specific psychological needs and physical wounds of one of the most wickedly abused communities on this planet?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the awful abuse of minorities, and of the Yazidi women in particular. I refer him to my earlier comment about the medical support we are providing. Mental and psychological support are absolutely essential, given the abhorrent nature of this conflict.

I welcome the resources that the Government are making available for the relief of the suffering following the conflict, but will the Secretary of State ensure that the international community at no stage loses focus on the politics of the settlement around Mosul? We must ensure that there is no continuation of the institutionalised marginalisation of the complex number of communities around the city, and that they all have a stake in the future.

My hon. Friend is right to talk about the political stabilisation and about inclusivity in relation to the rebuilding. We will continue to work with Prime Minister al-Abadi and the Iraqi Government to ensure that this happens.

The tributes that the Secretary of State has made were right, and the ambition is commendable, but the question is: how is this going to be achieved? People talk facilely about learning the lessons from Iraq, but is it not an example of the collective failure to reconstruct the country that many Sunni families saw Daesh as their protectors against the legitimate Government, rather than the marauding killers that they were? How will things be different, and what role will the UK Government play?

The UK Government will play their part in every way that is necessary. There are no easy solutions to rebuilding a country or to making it operationally functional again after such an abhorrent and appalling conflict. We will continue to support Prime Minister al-Abadi and the Iraqi Government and to aid in the response that is required. We will also support inclusivity and getting the politics, security and stabilisation right.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that reconstruction depends on the removal of mines and booby traps? Is she satisfied that there is adequate capacity, and that enough money has been allocated to deal speedily with that task? Is there any timetable?

We provide support for the vital de-mining and clearing up of improvised explosive devices. The British Government have provided specific resources, and we will use various Government funds and support the UN Mine Action Service. However, the task is not easy, and the level of destruction in Iraq is absolutely atrocious. Our work is cut out for us, but we will give all the necessary support to ensure that mines are cleared and that land is returned to its former use.

The liberation of Mosul is a significant step towards the defeat of this evil terror, but does the Secretary of State agree that the rebuilding and de-radicalisation of communities are just as important as that defeat?

The hon. Lady is right that de-radicalisation must be a feature of the stabilisation and rebuilding. Divided and fractured communities need to be brought back together. Once again, Britain will lead the way on this, providing all the necessary support to the Iraqi Government and doing our bit to bring stability and peace to the country.

The atrocities of Daesh have failed to deliver a caliph and the so-called caliphate. My right hon. Friend rightly recognises the role of the Iraqi forces, but will she join me in recognising the role played by the Yazidi fighters, especially the female fighters? What work is being done to ensure that their voices are heard during the reconstruction?

Taking back control of Mosul has been a hard-fought battle, and all the forces and communities should be commended for their efforts. Stabilisation obviously needs to happen, but the focus must be on bringing together the minority groups from all the communities that have been divided by this atrocious conflict.

I join the right hon. Lady in paying tribute to our brave servicemen and women. I welcome her announcement about UK humanitarian aid, but what specific funding will be offered to women and girls who have been subject to the most unimaginable sexual violence of Daesh? We must do more to support them.

I announced today that we will be providing the necessary humanitarian aid, but 46,000 vulnerable and displaced people, many of whom are women and girls who have been subject to such atrocities and violence, will also receive support through that money.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that the liberation of Mosul is a vindication of those on both sides of the House who were prepared to vote to give our allies on the ground the military support that they needed, rather than those who only wanted to offer warm words and hand-wringing in response to Daesh’s advance. Does she agree that getting people back into work is vital for getting things back to normal? What specific work will the Department be doing to bring Mosul’s economy back to life?

My hon. Friend is right that the liberation of Mosul represents a great opportunity to rebuild the country and put infrastructure in place. We need to work collectively with our partners and with the companies that will go in and help to create jobs, new economic opportunities and prosperity. That is a major feature of the stabilisation and rebuilding work that DFID is leading on with colleagues from across Government and with our international counterparts.