Skip to main content

Iraq: Refugees

Volume 688: debated on Wednesday 24 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What financial and logistical aid is being offered to Iraq’s neighbours to deal with the outflow of refugees from Iraq?

My Lords, we are concerned at the increasing number of people fleeing the violence in Iraq. The Government have just announced a £4 million contribution to the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide emergency assistance, including water, medical supplies and rehabilitation of the health infrastructure. This brings our total humanitarian contribution for Iraq to over £120 million since 2003. We are also considering the UNHCR’s appeal to help refugees in neighbouring countries. Above all, the first priority of the Iraqi Government must be to end the violence that is causing this situation, with the support of the international community and the region.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, I am sure that, like other noble Lords, she will be aware that one of our closest and most loyal allies, Jordan, is being absolutely swamped by refugees from Iraq, rising towards between 700,000 and 1 million people. One in eight people in Iraq have left their homes as refugees or been displaced. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that the existing position is very bad and deteriorating rapidly, and has asked for $60 million in emergency aid to be paid immediately to help in this desperate situation. Will the Government consider what donation they might make towards that sum? Will they also consider very carefully the likelihood that the so-called surge policy of the United States Administration will yet further increase this pathetic tide of refugees?

On the UNHCR, my Lords, the Government are at this very moment considering making a contribution. It is not that we do not intend to make a contribution but that, as noble Lords will know, the UN has more than £200 million of unspent resources in its trust fund under the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq. We hope that some of that money can be used for humanitarian relief. If it cannot, we will certainly make a contribution to the fund.

My Lords, what assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of the suggestion that Jordan could be politically destabilised by the influx of Iraqis? Most of the refugees in Jordan and Syria are Sunni, as the history of the Palestinians vividly demonstrates. Would the Minister agree that those communities could easily become bases and breeding grounds for Iraqi insurgencies?

My Lords, the Government are very much aware of the increasing pressure in the Kingdom of Jordan in terms of social cohesion and pressure on services, which can indeed have a destabilising effect on that country. That is precisely why we are considering making a contribution. We will be making some sort of contribution to meet the UNHCR demand for money so that we can help refugees in those countries, assist Jordan and ensure that it remains stable.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that most of those who swell the tide of refugees from Iraq are Christians who find life increasingly intolerable in Iraq, and that it would be extremely difficult for them if, because of the numbers, Jordan were forced to impose even stronger border restrictions?

My Lords, I fully agree that it would be regrettable if Jordan were forced to have even greater border restrictions. I also recognise the implications that it would have for Christians. We are of course concerned about the refugee problem, but we are also very concerned about the problem facing internally displaced people in Iraq. That is where the main focus of our work has been to date.

My Lords, do the Government accept that the situation for refugees is just as bad in Syria as it is in Jordan? Will the Government pay special attention to the particular needs of Palestinians and Kurds who have fled Iraq?

Yes, my Lords, we will certainly pay attention to the terrible problems inflicted on the Palestinians and the Kurds who have already had to flee at one stage in their lives. We welcome Syria’s decision to reopen diplomatic relations with Iraq and hope that it will result in practical co-operation not only on terrorism but on the refugees.

My Lords, the UNHCR is recording 100,000 people crossing the Iraqi border with difficulty every month. It is the fastest-growing refugee problem in the world. £4 million does not sound enough. Given the UK’s responsibility in Iraq and the lack of preplanning for what happened there, did the Government put this on the agenda when the Foreign Ministers met in Brussels on Monday—I see no evidence of it—and if not, why not?

My Lords, I do not know whether it was on the agenda for the Foreign Ministers’ meeting on Monday but I will find out and inform the noble Baroness and the rest of the House. £4 million does not sound like a lot of money, but it is something. We must remember that a lot of other money is going into Iraq that we believe can assist internally displaced people and prevent refugees having to flee. We are, for example, undertaking work on capacity building to help the Iraqi Government to better manage and distribute their money and to improve services for people in Iraq so that they do not have to flee across borders and become refugees. We are working to end the violence in Iraq and to improve the capacity of the Iraqis so that people no longer have to flee the country.