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Volume 767: debated on Wednesday 18 November 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what active moral and diplomatic support they have given to Turkey since the Middle East immigration crisis began.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government commend the generosity of Turkey and the extraordinary efforts it is making to host more refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East than any other country. The UK has announced a new contribution of up to £275 million over the next two years to help Turkey address the consequences of the Syria conflict. This builds on the UK’s existing funding of £34 million to humanitarian projects in Turkey since the crisis began.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her Answer, as far as it goes. While our hearts bleed for those in France who have been the victims of terrorism, is there any awareness that Turkey, our ally of more than 90 years, has, during the past four months, had something like 160 members of security forces and police and 185 civilians—a total of 345 citizens—murdered by terrorists? As well as those, almost 1,500 people have been injured. I am not suggesting that we have a volte-face like Mrs Merkel, but what are we doing to acknowledge the difficulties that Turkey has between the Peshmerga and, for example, the PKK? Are we discriminating in our support for those two organisations to try to ensure that Turkey, with its 2.5 million refugees, is not left very much on its own, as it appears to be?

My Lords, I am very much aware of the close diplomatic support provided by our embassy and our staff, not only in the capital but elsewhere across Turkey. The UK condemns the PKK’s recent attacks on Turkey, as we condemn all terrorism. Our thoughts are with the families of those who have been killed. We have called on the PKK to cease this violence. We defend Turkey’s right to defend itself against PKK attacks. PKK violence must end. We support the resumption of the peace process in the interests of Turkey and those of the wider region. We stand ready to help in any way we can.

My Lords, on his forthcoming visit to the island of Cyprus, will the Foreign Secretary consult both communities on the island about the contribution they can make to mitigating the migration crisis? Will he take the opportunity to use all influence that the United Kingdom can have in supporting what appears to be a coming-together of the two communities on the island in a forthcoming agreement?

My Lords, the House will recognise that it would be inappropriate for me to forecast in advance the exact movements of the Foreign Secretary today and tomorrow as he makes those visits, but I can echo the sentiment behind what the noble Lord says. We welcome President Erdogan’s and Prime Minister Davutoglu’s continued support for a Cyprus settlement. It is important that we talk to both communities in Cyprus about the implications of recent arrivals there. We are working very closely with the authorities over what happens to those who seek asylum and those who do not, because, naturally, it is a very sensitive area. The noble Lord can be assured that we are working closely with both communities.

My Lords, can the Minister give some more information about reports of the proposed EU-Turkey summit, which has been called to encourage Turkey to do more to stem the flow of refugees into Europe—to act, in effect, as a border guard against refugees to Europe? Can she also say why there was very little reporting or mention of the attacks in Ankara on 10 October, when two suicide bombers blew up and killed more than 100 Turks, when we have talked about other atrocities attributed to Daesh? Can she not see that not mentioning atrocities that take place outside Europe causes bad feeling and a sense that their lives do not matter? Have the Government issued condolences on that?

My Lords, we are sympathetic to all those who die as a result of violent acts of terrorism. Having spent four days last week in Iraq and a day in Turkey talking to the Syrian national coalition and people involved in humanitarian efforts, I was able to express appreciation of what the Turkish Government do. What is produced by way of media emphasis is a matter for the media, but, clearly, it is disappointing if there is not a focus on serious events such as those that the noble Baroness has described—it was a time, of course, when elections were under way throughout Turkey. On the EU-Turkey action plan, which I think is the matter to which the noble Baroness refers, we welcome that action plan, which sets out how the EU and Turkey can increase co-operation to ease the refugee burden on Turkey while preventing further uncontrolled migration to the EU. We work closely within that.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that our bonds with Turkey go even wider than the refugee issues that were rightly raised by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis? First, Turkey is seeking still to be a member of the European Union, but it is a kind of European Union that needs to be reformed and which is very much in line with our own aims—so we have much common ground there and I hope we are working together on that. Secondly, there is the Cyprus issue, which the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, rightly raised. There is real hope that, with the backing and help of Turkey, we can at last see movement on that issue, which has gone on for 50 years. Thirdly, there is a vast expansion of hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean, in which Turkey has some interest. Again, bearing in mind the interests of the Republic of Cyprus, I think we can help with that. So there is a very big agenda of work to be done with Turkey and I hope it will be encouraged.

My Lords, in discussing with our Turkish allies how to counter the threat of ISIS, will the Government take into account the fact that Turkey has very different objectives from the rest of us?

My Lords, we are well aware that every country may have its own security and future interests at heart. Turkey has been a key colleague in the fight against Daesh/ISIL and we are grateful that it allows the use of its airbases in the strike against such an evil opponent.