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Sudan

Volume 727: debated on Thursday 5 May 2011

Question

Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the Government of south Sudan about their resettlement policy for urban migrants from north Sudan to smallholdings in the south.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Chidgey, and with his permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, around 300,000 people have left north Sudan for the south in the past six months. Around three-quarters have settled in rural rather than urban areas. There have been two meetings in Khartoum with South Sudan Caucus Ministers to discuss reintegration needs and regular meetings with the Government of Southern Sudan. A major meeting on reintegration needs will take place in Juba on 17 to 18 May.

My Lords, the United Nations Secretary-General estimates that that figure of 300,000 will have increased to 550,000 by the end of the interim period. If three-quarters of them are to be resettled in rural areas, what provision is being made by the UN for training and support for people who may have no previous experience of agriculture and horticulture? Is UNMIS prepared to offer protection to those returnees who have resettled in areas of conflict, particularly in Abyei and in Unity state?

My noble friend is right: this is a serious problem. There are various estimates of the numbers concerned. These are voluntary refugees heading south and there are enormous problems. Some 24 per cent have settled in urban areas, 76 per cent in rural areas. The problems of their reintegration and resettlement and of how they can adjust to new conditions are the top priority for the constant discussions that are going on, both those that I have mentioned and the regular ones that the troika of the UK, the US and Norway has fortnightly with the United Nations. These worries are being addressed but the numbers are large and the process is difficult to manage. However, we will make progress.

My noble friend also mentioned Abyei, which is on the border and was not able to join South Sudan. There have been ugly and violent developments there. We urge consultation and careful support from both Khartoum and Juba to ensure that militias and armies are not heavily involved and that proper consultation takes place, but these, along with South Kurdufan and the Blue Nile province, are all very difficult areas where there is considerable political tension.

Is the Minister aware that, with the advent of the rainy season, the problems of returnees will be severely exacerbated, particularly if they have not been resettled with adequate shelter? The rainy season also brings increased vulnerability to diseases such as malaria and gastrointestinal and respiratory tract infections. There is as yet inadequate healthcare for the existing population. Will DfID be able to assist the Government of Southern Sudan with these escalating problems?

As the noble Baroness knows extremely well, because she is very close to this problem, DfID has got substantial programmes. We do not assist with the funding, transportation and movement of refugees, but we most definitely invest heavily in the problems of solving reintegration that I have already described to my noble friend. That is what is being done. DfID is now committed to providing assistance over the next four years at the rate of £140 million a year for both north and south; £90 million each year for the next four years will go to the south. A very substantial proportion will go into precisely the problems the noble Baroness has raised.

My Lords, will the Minister comment on the intransigence being shown by the SPLM in allowing political space to opposition parties? How are the UK and other international donors responding to this? Is there any intention to invest in the capacity of political parties in Southern Sudan and increase their legitimacy, and to encourage the Government of Southern Sudan to loosen their grip and prepare for a broad-based Government in that country?

The noble Baroness is most definitely right. Of course we want to see more political activity and a downgrading and standing back of the militia wings of these political parties. It is the militias that lead to violence and difficulties, within both Southern Sudan and the three provinces I have already named. That is what we seek to do. The more we can move away from militias, killings and violence and have a proper political process, the better chance there is for this new nation of Southern Sudan to prosper, which we all want to see and should welcome and encourage in every possible way.

My Lords, are there any plans to establish diplomatic relations with South Sudan and to recognise that country?

Yes, there are indeed. We are moving ahead on that front. South Sudan will have an independence celebration on July 9, where there will be senior ministerial attendance; I cannot say precisely what it will be. This will place South Sudan in the comity of new nations. I am also glad to say that one of its aspirations—it is not for us to decide—is that it should join the Commonwealth of Nations. This encourages me, although it is of course a matter for all 54 members to decide and not just the UK.

Does the Minister agree that Juba, the capital, has some of the features of an old frontier town with the promise of oil revenues and a get-rich-quick mentality? Thousands of people are coming into this town, and yet DfID is wholly concerned with health and education. Those are good priorities, but what about employment, especially in the small business sector? Many of these northerners have skills that can be employed.

It is not quite true to say that DfID is wholly concerned with the two areas that the noble Earl mentioned. DfID has an elaborate programme which takes account of the need for economic development for smaller business enterprise. It is very concerned with the reintegration of the thousands coming from the north. It is a wide programme. There is a big and very effective team of 35 people from DfID in Juba, who provide the platform on which my department—the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—also works. This is not a backward or diminished operation. It is a very strong one. We are determined to support this new nation as effectively as we can in all sectors.