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Burundian Refugee Safety

Volume 612: debated on Wednesday 29 June 2016

2. What assessment she has made of the safety of people from Burundi in refugee camps in neighbouring countries. (905509)

May I associate myself with the remarks of the shadow Secretary of State about the Secretary of State, and with the remarks about standing in solidarity with Istanbul?

More than a quarter of a million Burundians have fled their country since 2015. We remain very concerned about their wellbeing, which is why we are the second largest bilateral donor to the regional refugee appeal.

My hon. Friend will be aware of reports over recent months of Burundian refugees being followed over the border into camps and attacked by those from whom they have tried to flee, often to punish remaining family members or silence those with stories of abuse. What are the Government doing to offer support to authorities and non-governmental organisations running refugee camps in Rwanda, Tanzania and other neighbouring countries to ensure that those fleeing Burundi are safe?

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that question. We are aware of the reports. Indeed, I have spoken personally to a number of Burundian refugees in camps, and we have made it very clear to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that we expect it to protect all refugees, and in Rwanda we have funded it to provide additional protection in the Mahama region refugee camp.

May I welcome what the Secretary of State said about Jo Cox? We particularly miss her today, as she had a track record on these important issues.

There is concern in all parts of the House about the crisis in Burundi. Can either the Department for International Development or the Foreign Office come to the House soon with a full statement on the crisis and how we can best address it?

If that is the wish of the House, I am sure that both Departments will listen to it carefully. We are extremely concerned about the situation and have been for very many months. I am in regular contact with the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), who has responsibility for Africa, about what he is doing on the diplomatic front and what we are doing in terms of planning contingencies in the event of an escalation of the humanitarian crisis.

Young people from specific communities are being taken from their homes, tortured and then killed. We have a deep crisis in Burundi: a President in denial who refuses to accept the validity of the Arusha peace process. What can the UK Government do to encourage other neighbouring African countries to take this matter even more seriously than they appear to be doing at the moment?

I share my hon. Friend’s concern and passion about this situation. I assure him that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I work together extremely closely to put whatever pressure we can on countries that may have influence, and to ensure that we are in a position to do the right thing in providing support for the Burundian people.

May I too associate myself with the remarks about showing solidarity with Turkey?

In 2012, the UK Government closed DFID’s office in Burundi despite the history of electoral turmoil in the country and an understanding that the next election would be just three years away, in 2015. The election was identified as a key possible flashpoint for future violence by many NGOs and the International Development Committee, which criticised DFID’s decision to close the office. As the refugee crisis in Burundi escalates, will the Minister assure me that DFID has in place clear and effective measures to ensure that it identifies where crises may occur and is fully able to react and respond to them?

Yes, I think I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. This has been an issue that has been glowing red on our radar screen for some time now. As I have said, we are the second largest bilateral donor to the regional appeal. We have contingency plans in place. We have announced an additional £15 million to support Tanzania in its preparedness for an escalation and we have released money and technical expertise to be deployed in Burundi to support any escalation in the humanitarian crisis.