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Nigeria: Persecution of Christians

Volume 673: debated on Tuesday 17 March 2020

10. What representations he has made to his Nigerian counterpart on the persecution of Christians in that country. (901586)

The UK condemns all attacks by terrorist groups in north-east Nigeria, including those against Christians, but communities of all faiths have suffered; in fact, the majority of victims are Muslims. The Prime Minister discussed our concerns and UK support with President Buhari in January. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), the Prime Minister’s excellent special envoy for freedom of religion or belief, who is in his place, also discussed the violence recently with President Buhari’s chief of staff and has had a number of other meetings, including briefing the full ministerial team last week.

I thank the Minister for his response. Given that recommendation 2 of the Truro review states that the UK should:

“Articulate an aspiration to be the global leader in championing FoRB”—

freedom of religion or belief—and that the UK Government have committed to all its recommendations, what more does the Minister think the Government can do to assert pressure on the Nigerian Government? Will he also be considering the claims of asylum seekers from the Nigerian community?

As the hon. Lady says, we accept in full the Truro recommendations. I am meeting the Prime Minister’s envoy again to discuss progress—I think we are about halfway through. The point I gently make is that the situation is quite complicated. Religious belief is central to the identity of many in Nigeria, but the underlying drivers of conflict go beyond to ethnic rivalries, criminal banditry, competition over land and water, and the settled community and the nomadic Fulani community. There is a lot of complexity to work through, but I will continue to do that with the Prime Minister’s envoy. I am more than happy to work with the all-party group on Nigeria, of which I was once secretary, as well as the hon. Lady and other interested parties.

I thank the Minister for that answer. On the question posed earlier about the United Kingdom being a leader and champion on freedom of religion or belief, will the Minister clarify that the UK, not just bilaterally but through other forums such as the International Religious Freedom Alliance and the International Contact Group in Geneva last week, has raised the issue of Nigeria? As the Prime Minister’s envoy, I can say that the UK is taking forward with ministerial colleagues the issue of Nigeria at every level. Recommendations 12 and 13 of the Truro review, as well as recommendation 2, cover the work we do on Nigeria with non-governmental organisations, both in the UK and with our counterparts around the world.

My hon. Friend demonstrates his excellence in this area and makes the very valid point that it is about not just bilateral activity, but multilateral activity and the leadership role we have, particularly now as the chair of the Commonwealth and in handing over the baton in Kigali to the Rwandans. We will continue to raise these issues, which we do not see in isolation. These are thematic issues that we raise consistently, both bilaterally and multilaterally.

During the recent discussions, did the Nigerian authorities hold out any hope or prospect that Christian groups and other faith-based groups can look forward to the immediate prospect of a cessation of violence, and some safety and security for the future?

All parties are looking for a greater degree of safety and security, particularly in the north-east. It is a complicated situation that does keep coming back. As one suppresses some problems, others come out. We are working very closely with our Nigerian and international partners in the north-east and across the whole of Nigeria. Nigeria is one of our biggest partners on these and a number of other issues. I will raise them with our high commissioner again. I met our high commissioner last week and will continue to work on these issues, and I look forward to going back to Nigeria to visit friends and colleagues.