Skip to main content

Sudan: Civilian Population

Volume 830: debated on Thursday 18 May 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effects of the conflict in Sudan on the civilian population and of the number and wellbeing of displaced people.

My Lords, we are gravely concerned by the ongoing hostilities in Sudan. Innocent civilians are losing their lives and being subjected to the most terrible violence. The humanitarian situation has worsened dramatically, with the UN estimating that an additional 9 million people will need humanitarian assistance. Following the outbreak of violence, 740,000 people have been internally displaced within Sudan and more than 245,000 are now estimated to have fled to neighbouring countries.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and concur with the figures he has just given the House—that nearly 800,000 people have joined the already 3.7 million people who are displaced in Sudan and another 120,000 fleeing to neighbouring countries, some of whom will end up in small boats making dangerous journeys. Will the Minister agree therefore to provide a written response to the more than 30 recommendations in the recently published all-party parliamentary group report marking the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Darfur, in which 200,000 to 300,000 people died and 2 million were displaced, especially in the light of this week’s declaration by Genocide Watch of another impending genocide, and urgently authorise a formal joint analysis of conflict and stability assessment, or JACS, convening a high-level strategic discussion with our international partners to address this unfolding crisis in Sudan? Will he urge on the warring parties the need for a sustainable peace and a civilian-led Government?

My Lords, first, we welcome the Jeddah declaration of 11 May, which provides a degree of respite. The trajectory is moving in the right direction, but more needs to be done for a sustainable ceasefire. The noble Lord mentioned the work of the APPG, which I am well versed in. I know of the important work that has been done over the last 20 years. When I visited Darfur, I saw directly the impunity which prevailed regarding the crimes committed at that time. In a particular chapter of the APPG report, there is an extensive number of recommendations. I suggest that I write to the noble Lord outlining some of the steps we have taken, including those based on the recommendations we are considering.

My Lords, holding perpetrators to account for their actions is essential, both for the sake of those who have suffered so greatly in this conflict and to ensure that the people in charge know they will be held responsible. Does my noble friend the Minister support the call from Sudanese women’s human rights defenders and women’s groups, supported by the International Service for Human Rights, for the Human Rights Council to establish an international investigation mechanism with sufficient resources to investigate and document sexual and gender-based violence?

My Lords, as my noble friend is aware, I am the Government’s lead on, and the Prime Minister’s special representative for, preventing sexual violence in conflict. Tragically, we again see women and girls in Sudan being targeted specifically. On the issue of the Human Rights Council, my noble friend will also be aware that the United Kingdom, as penholder, led on the resolution, which we believe was practical and drew attention to the current crisis as it unfolded. It is probably the strongest statement we have seen from the HRC in this respect. I recognise the points my noble friend raised, and I assure her that the Government are very much seized of what more can be done in this area.

My Lords, the Minister has agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that the main loser is the people of Sudan. Does he agree that there is no real hint of compromise among the protagonists, both of whom see this as an existential problem—that there will be one winner and one loser?

My Lords, while I agree with the noble Lord to the extent that there can be no winners in this situation, my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have both made clear, through direct interactions with the two parties and their generals, the importance of reaching an agreement—a ceasefire, in the first instance—to allow for humanitarian assistance and a sustainable peace between the two parties. We have seen some traction. We are working very closely with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and I praise its efforts in this regard. We have seen the first agreement, which provides protections though international humanitarian law. Unfortunately and tragically, we are still seeing attacks on humanitarian workers. We are working with key partners, including the Quad, on this, and I will continue to update your Lordships’ House accordingly.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Alton raised the spectre of refugees—these people would be genuine asylum seekers coming from Sudan—potentially ending up on small boats. What discussions is the FCDO having with the Home Office about ensuring that people who are fleeing violence will be treated in a humane way in this country?

My Lords, our country has a long tradition of ensuring that we are a sanctuary for those fleeing persecution. I know that my colleagues in the Home Office are monitoring the situation very closely to ensure that we are able to respond effectively to this crisis.

My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of the growing involvement of the Wagner Group in Sudan? We are only too well aware of its appalling track record on a great many issues, not least the treatment of civilians in conflict areas. How soon can we expect the Government to proscribe that repugnant organisation?

My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord will know that I cannot speculate on his final question. However, we are fully aware of the work of the Wagner Group from emerging reports about possible activities in Sudan and wherever there is a gap, as I have said before at the Dispatch Box. We have seen that the Wagner Group is operating very effectively in the Sahel too, particularly in Mali. There is an added element: this is not just an ordinary mercenary group—it does a deal with whoever is governing or controlling a particular area, so there is a direct economic benefit. I agree with the noble and gallant Lord that this is a very dangerous development, and we certainly do not need the Wagner Group emerging as another threat in Sudan.

My Lords, the Minister referred to the humanitarian crisis and the people of Sudan suffering. One area of deep concern is the desperate need for healthcare supplies. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent has 30 tonnes of surgical supplies in Port Sudan being held up by bureaucracy. How are the Government using our partnerships in the region to unblock those supplies to ensure that the needs of the people of Sudan are met?

The noble Lord is correct that supplies are being held up. Some of them of being challenged directly; even the most basic humanitarian support is being interrupted and aid workers continue to be attacked. With the exception, I believe, of the ICRC, there is no operational body on the humanitarian side. However, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary met this week with the new president of the ICRC, and we are working with near neighbouring countries, particularly Egypt, to ensure we open up key routes. We are also working with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and partners in the Quad to ensure that essential requirements are met, including humanitarian support and medical supplies.

My Lords, Sudan was already hosting over a million refugees—the second highest refugee population in Africa—before the current conflict. The majority of those were from South Sudan, Ethiopia and other neighbouring countries. The UNHCR has called for urgent new emergency funding to help deal with the crisis. Can the Minister say what is happening to the people in camps already reliant on the aid agencies, many of whom are fleeing and going to other countries? Is any help being received there? What is happening to the displaced population of refugees already hosted by Sudan?

My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that we are looking at our full humanitarian response to the crisis, including working with Sudan’s near neighbours. We have issued a new £5 million funding package as an immediate response to the crisis, and we are looking at what other funding we can provide. However, I will be very open with the noble Baroness about the challenge. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, highlighted, there are supplies and support, but it needs to get through to Sudan. As the noble Baroness will be aware from her own work, South Sudan is also reliant on that supply route from Sudan, which presents an extra logistical challenge. We are looking at announcing new measures, and the House will be updated.

My Lords, further to the excellent question from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, and the Minister’s response, would a refugee seeking to flee this dreadful conflict in Sudan be able to find a safe and legal route to the United Kingdom?

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, we work with key agencies, including the UNHCR, to ensure that there is a validated process for those seeking refuge. During the crisis in Sudan, we also provided support for British nationals and their relatives—qualifying dependants—to leave Sudan. As I said in my answer to the noble Baroness, the Home Office is looking at what further response is necessary.