Photo of Lord Fowler

Lord Fowler (Conservative)

rose to call attention to the position of refugees from the conflict in Iraq; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Trumpington for allowing me a short time from her debate, which would have otherwise gone the full five hours. Actually, with the noble Lord, Lord West, replying, that was probably about what was needed.

The issues surrounding the conflict in Iraq are of the utmost importance. They have been thrown into sharp relief by the fact that this week is the fifth anniversary of the invasion. In our debates, nothing should be more important than the plight of the 4 million refugees that the conflict has caused. They often live in appalling conditions, having been driven from their homes—men, women and, most tragic of all, children.

I last raised Iraq in a debate in the House on 24 January. I argued then for a full-scale inquiry to be set up and I repeat that call today. I do not intend to repeat all the arguments that I used then; suffice it to say that the impact of the conflict on the people of Iraq has been catastrophic. Probably 100,000 or 150,000 people have been killed in the violence that has followed the invasion; some would put the figure higher. Torture has become commonplace. Over 2 million people have had to flee the country altogether to surrounding states such as Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, while another 2 million have been internally displaced in Iraq itself, forced to flee their homes and manage as best they can. In January, the Minister said that the Government accepted the case in principle for an inquiry. The noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, frankly said that there were "enormously important" questions to be answered and that the issue was not whether there should be an inquiry but when it should be held.

Since then the Prime Minister has repeated his acceptance of the case for an inquiry, as reported by the Independent earlier this week, but has again refused to commit himself to when. Although we are now at the fifth anniversary and our troop commitment is down to 4,500 and reducing, Mr Brown argues that an inquiry would "divert attention" away from the need to rebuild Iraq. That argument should not be accepted. If there are lessons to be learnt from this tragedy, that is best done when memories are fresh and when the need for an inquiry is agreed as urgent both by the original opponents of the invasion and by those who supported it. History is also against delay. If the Asquith Government in 1916, in the midst of the First World War, could have an inquiry into the Dardanelles when Britain itself was directly threatened, we should be able to manage an inquiry five years after the start of the Iraq conflict. Above all, the Prime Minister's argument should not be accepted, because some lessons need to be learnt now if action is to be taken to help to deal with the problems identified. Top of that list is the welfare of 4 million refugees.

The Middle East faces the worst refugee crisis since 1948. Ironically, it is the neighbouring countries to Iraq—Syria, Jordan and Lebanon—that took no part in the invasion that now have to cope with some of the most serious consequences. There is an obvious strain on resources and capacity, and the result is that children are being brought up without education or stability and often in fear. We should not forget either that young people are being radicalised by those experiences. An excellent Channel 4 report on Sunday night contained an interview with a young teenage boy. In spite of the continuing violence, he wanted to return to Iraq. Why? So that he could join the struggle against the Americans. Refugees can easily be turned into extremists, as I remember from the 1970s when I reported on the position of two Palestinian camps in Lebanon. The sub-editors put on my report the headline "Camps of Hate", which I thought at the time was too loud. In fact, that was exactly what they were. We allowed that position to fester and had no adequate response, and we have seen some of the consequences.

I shall give the basic position so far as the Iraqi refugees are concerned. I take the figures from the UNHCR and Amnesty International, and pay tribute to both organisations. Syria has taken the greatest number of Iraqis forced to flee their country, 1.4 million. According to Amnesty, most of them experience acute economic difficulties, mainly because they are not allowed to work and are at risk of detention and deportation for overstaying their visas. Some have been forced to return to Iraq, but Amnesty says that,

"many of those who returned found that their homes were occupied and they became internally displaced ... UNHCR warned that Iraqis were once again leaving Iraq for Syria in greater numbers than they were returning".

In Jordan, there are a further 500,000 Iraqis. Of course, Jordan already has a formidable problem of Palestinian refugees. I saw something of their conditions a few months ago when I was there. There is inadequate housing and overcrowded classes for the children—although at least they have schooling from some dedicated teachers. Jordan is not a rich country and understandably is concerned not only about the influx but about the violence spreading. When I met one of the senior Ministers in Jordan, he was quick to correct me when I used the word "refugees". The Government regard them not as refugees but as temporary "guests", who they hope will be able to return to Iraq as early as possible. In the mean time, however, it is Jordan that has to cope.

In Lebanon, there are estimated to be a further 50,000 Iraqis. As Human Rights Watch reports, Lebanon is a country of only 4 million people including, again, over 250,000 Palestinian refugees. It is a reluctant host and treats many Iraqis as illegal immigrants.

Then, of course, there are the internally dispersed people inside Iraq itself. Once again, I point the House to Marie Colvin in the Sunday Times, whose reports from Iraq have been in the highest traditions of British journalism. Last Sunday she reported that children in one camp are,

"grubby, bundled up in as many clothes as their parents can find to ward off wintry temperatures in the tents on a rubbish dump in northern Iraq that they now call home. They wrap their feet in plastic bags to walk through the mud to school".

That is part of the position there.

On any analysis, the position is desperately serious. The question for the House is how well we in Britain are responding to it. Has the response from the Government matched the gravity of the suffering? Have we who were partners with the Americans in the invasion recognised and met our responsibilities? Those are questions for us all—those who opposed the invasion from the start and those who, like me, supported it and want an inquiry to see among other things whether the information that we were given at the time was inadequate and whether the process of government itself was deficient.

Let us look at the present. I fear that the answer to the question whether we are doing enough is, frankly, no, we are not. My attention first came to this issue because of the plight of the interpreters who worked for the British forces and the British administration in Iraq. I raised the issue on the Floor of the House in April and again in June because I felt that, if ever this country had a direct responsibility, it was in relation to them. Ministers came to the Dispatch Box and frankly stonewalled, but then there was a media campaign in July and August by the Times and the BBC. Suddenly the Government became engaged and a carefully confined scheme was announced.

Any inquiry set up should urgently examine whether that scheme meets our responsibilities to the men and women who have worked for the British in Iraq, who often face danger to their own lives and whose families share that danger. Is it a generous response to people who have helped us or is it the least that the Government can get away with? An inquiry should examine whether the limit of 600 on staff and dependants to be helped is an adequate response and whether the condition of 12 months' continuous employment after January 2005 is unduly restrictive. I believe that an Iraqi interpreter who has worked for the British for, say, seven months is in just as much danger as the official group. I doubt very much whether the would-be assassin makes too many discriminations so far as length of service is concerned. If you work for another British organisation, such as a newspaper, you also place yourself in peril of attack. Perhaps—I put it no higher—we owe some debt to those Iraqis who have directly helped our understanding of what is happening in Iraq.

I am pleased to read that seven interpreters are being resettled here but, in all conscience, that is a small number. The reports that I am receiving indicate that even those whose applications have been accepted face months of delay before resettlement takes place—delay when they remain named targets as spies. I am told of other cases where the applicant has certainly worked for the British but where the application has been turned down. One such case was that of the tailor on one of our Army bases, which has now been closed down. "A tailor?", I can hear people say. Yes, a tailor who put himself in danger by working for us but whom we do not intend to help in any way. He now lives in exile in Syria. At the beginning of March, he wrote a letter to Dan Hardie, who has done much to help in this area, saying that, day by day, his money is running out. He is caught in a position where he can neither go home nor live in Syria. The final irony is that, as he said, one day he found by chance an Iraqi translator working with British forces. He told the translator that there was a United Kingdom programme for former Iraqi translators—the translator had had no idea. The translator asked how to send an application and the tailor gave him the details. The net result was that he helped the Iraqi translator to resettlement in this country, but not himself.

I wonder just how generous and welcoming we are being to people who have directly helped us and put themselves in danger. I was in no way encouraged by the story in the Guardian this week that 1,400 rejected Iraqi asylum seekers are to be told that they must return to Iraq or face destitution in Britain, as the Government now consider travel back to Iraq to be both "possible and reasonable". The story said:

"The Secretary of State considered that travel to Iraq from the United Kingdom is both possible and reasonable. Therefore these Iraqi national no longer qualify for support under",

the criterion under which they were originally staying with us.

Let us remember that the cases of the interpreters—and even the 1,400 asylum seekers—are only the tip of the refugee iceberg. They are important in themselves and they are important for the attitude that is revealed of the British Government, but we also need to know just how much we are helping refugees in other countries and those living elsewhere in Iraq. Again, the evidence is not remotely encouraging. According to the ministerial reply on 21 January, in 2007 the money specifically targeted to help displaced Iraqis was 15 million to help 4 million refugees. The United Nations Refugee Agency tells me that, in 2007, it sought 62 million to help in the Iraq region; the British contribution was 3 million. The agency also had a health and education programme with the WHO and UNICEF; the British contribution was zero.

For these reasons, this very day, Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, the International Rescue Committee and the Refugee Council have sent a joint letter to President Bush and Mr Brown, expressing their deep concern that so little has been done by their Governments to address the desperate plight of Iraqis who have been forced to flee their homes as a result of the ongoing conflict. Their letter summarises the case. Obviously, I pay tribute to the efforts being made in Iraq to restore some kind of stability. I pay tribute to the bravery of our troops, who are in a difficult situation. However, we cannot ignore the fact that most of those currently returning to Iraq are doing so not because of the improved security position but because their money has run out or their visas have expired. We cannot rely on an overnight transformation of the position that will set us all free.

The refugee crisis will continue. We need to recognise our duty to deal with this in as humane and as generous a manner as we can. If we do, perhaps some good can still come of this situation. It seems to me that we have a responsibility for what has happened and that we should not in any way seek to run away from it. My concern today is that we are not fulfilling our duty. I beg to move for Papers.

2:45 pm
Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Labour)

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on his impeccable timing, five years after the war, and on his persistence in a good cause. He has been assiduous in his campaign on behalf of the interpreters and others, a good example of what an individual Peer can do with positive effects. My only quibble was with his point about including the plight of the refugees in any inquiry relating to the course of events leading up to the war. If one adds to "refugees" "and their plight in different countries", one could almost go on indefinitely. It would perhaps be as long as the speech of the noble Lord, Lord West, which he mentioned.

It is also true that we in the UK must shoulder our responsibility in terms of hosting refugees in this country, financial assistance for refugees and the financial bill for internally displaced persons and others. I only suggest that if we look at the total contribution made by the United Kingdom under various headings, and compare that with some of the regional powers, such as Saudi Arabia and others, we in the UK would not be doing too badly.

The context in Iraq was clearly set out in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees global appeal 2008-09, published last November and headed "Iraq Situation". The document stresses the sheer complexity of the operational, logistical and political environment in Iraq, which makes it difficult for the UNHCR to implement its programme both within and outside the country. It describes the insecurity and immense economic and social challenges facing neighbouring countries, most of which have not acceded either to the 1951 refugee convention or to the 1967 protocol.

The UNHCR report states that Jordan and Syria have been most affected by the exodus. Syria has between 1.2 million and 1.4 million refugees, Jordan between 500,000 and 750,000. In addition, there are more than 2.2 million internally displaced persons. This massive movement to neighbouring countries has led to great strains on the infrastructure and social services, particularly education—as the noble Lord said about Jordan—and has led to both Jordan and Syria introducing visa restrictions on Iraqi refugees.

Understandably, our media concentrates on other matters, such as the surge in US troop deployment, the stalemate in Iraqi national politics and the date for the withdrawal of UK forces. However, the refugee exodus continues and the numbers mask individual tragedies such as the cases contained in Marie Colvin's report of 16 March in the Sunday Times, mentioned by the noble Lord.

For the UK and other host countries, there are the usual problems in ascertaining the strength of individual claims, hence the number of refugees given exceptional or discretionary leave to remain. It is particularly difficult to find the right dividing line between those who understandably escape turbulence in their own country for a better life for themselves, and political refugees under the convention criteria—and, of course, to ascertain when it is safe for the refugees to return. The noble Lord is to be commended for his campaign of behalf of Iraqi employees of our Government and Armed Forces, including interpreters. Clearly, each case has to be judged on its merits, and I agree with the noble Lord that some of the criteria appear to be particularly restrictive. From the point of view of the assassin, any service counts: one week can be as relevant as one year. This should be re-examined by the Government. If a tailor worked for British troops, was that sufficiently proximate? Where does one stop? There has to be sufficiently proximate responsibility to give a person a reasonable case to be considered as a refugee.

I shall briefly raise the problem of another group whose claim is clear, but is often overlooked; namely, the Christian community in Iraq. I do so not in a spirit of asking for special privileges for that community, but rather to highlight its plight, which should be recognised. The Christian community is not mentioned in the UNHCR appeal. Christian communities are under pressure in many other countries in the Middle East, including the Maronite Christians in the Lebanon and even in the Palestine Authority, where many have been forced to leave because of increasing Islamic fundamentalism, measured in part by the wearing of the headdress and the way in which the secular Palestine Authority, rather like Gaza, is becoming Islamised to a greater extent than heretofore. These Christians share many of the same concerns as other Iraqis who also live outside the Iraq, below the poverty line, but there are special features of the Christian community that have helpfully been highlighted for me by Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

Christians are subject to physical attacks and social pressures from Sunni, Shi'ite and jihadist militias as well as from Kurdish nationalists in the Kurdish areas. They are left largely unprotected as they are the only group without its own militia. Hence, they form the largest proportion of refugees. In a NewsMax article on 24 October last year, Kenneth Timmerman alleged that Muslim caseworkers for the UNHCR often discriminate against the Christians they meet, and he cites various cases. I have also been given information by the World Council of Churches. It says:

"Although Christians represent only 4 per cent of Iraq's population, they make up 40 per cent of its refugees. Their fate speaks twice, informing overseas churches about both the general humanitarian needs in Iraq and the urgency of saving Iraq's Christian communities".

On 13 March 2008, under the headline "Christians besieged in Iraq" BBC News said:

"The charity Barnabas says one of its partners in Iraq conducted research into 250 Iraqi Christians displaced to the north of the country a year ago and found nearly half had witnessed attacks on churches or Christians, or been personally targeted by violence.

Nobody knows how many of Iraq's Christians have now fled. Before the war there were estimated to be about 800,000 and Chaldeans were the largest Christian community in Iraq.

It is thought about half the Christian population of Iraq has moved - the majority to Syria, fewer to Jordan and some to northern Iraq.

Of the 1.5m Iraqi refugees in Syria it is assumed around 20% are Christian, but firm figures are hard to come by.

That means, as a proportion, Christians are massively over-represented in the Iraqi refugee population".

The Jubilee Campaign also has alarming reports of ethnic and religious cleansing of Christian families in Iraq following threats. Whereas other groups with their own militias—the Sunnis, the Shia and the Arabs—have places to go in Iraq, that is not the case for the Christians who receive threats from Islamic militants demanding that they convert to Islam, pay Islamic tax levies on non-Muslims or leave the area. There appears to be a strategy by Muslim fundamentalists systematically to convert Christians to Islam or to drive them out of Baghdad. The ChaldoAssyrians make up more than 95 per cent of Iraq's Christians, and they are the indigenous people of Iraq. We know that earlier this month the body of the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop was found. He had been kidnapped at the end of February and was only the most dramatic recent example of these pressures.

The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, posed the question of how we in the UK are responding. Are we doing enough in this refugee crisis? Turning to the situation of Iraqi refugees in the United Kingdom, on 13 March, the Guardian quoted a leaked letter from the Border and Immigration Agency of 6 March, signed by Claire Bennett. As the noble Lord said, it suggested that more than 1,400 rejected asylum seekers are to be given a deadline by which to go home or face destitution in the UK as the Government now apparently consider that Iraq is safe enough to return these failed refugees. Is that report accurate? Is it fair that these 1,400 people now face the threat of deportation? What is the policy of the Government? What is their assessment of the security situation in Iraq generally and in its different regions?

I notice that the BBC quotes the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Guterres, who told it that it was time to start thinking about the possibility of returns, but it had to be established that conditions were right before going any further. It is the latter part—whether conditions are right—that is particularly relevant. How confident are the Government that their sources within Iraq relating to the reception of returning refugees are accurate? What is the Government's assessment of the security situation? I mentioned the BBC and the UNHCR. The Red Crescent has apparently confirmed that up to 28,000 Iraqi refugees have returned home since mid-September but, as the noble Lord said, many of them have effectively been forced home by destitution or other pressures from the neighbouring countries. How many special charter flights to Erbil from the UK have there been since 2005 to return failed asylum seekers? How many failed asylum seekers have returned? In short, how do the Government see their policy evolving in the immediate future and are they confident in terms of meeting the claims of those who served us in Iraq in various capacities and those who have sought sanctuary in our country that we are responding adequately to our responsibilities?

2:59 pm
Photo of Lord Avebury

Lord Avebury (Spokesperson in the Lords (Civil Liberties), Home Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Africa), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I echo the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, that were expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for raising the plight of Iraqi refugees five years to the day after the launching of the disastrous war that caused nearly 5 million people to flee their homes. We have heard the figures: there are 2.5 million internally displaced people—1 million to 1.5 million refugees in Syria, 450,000 in Jordan and some 500,000 in other countries in the region. Those are the ones who survived. The estimates of civilian deaths range from the 82,000 enumerated by Iraq Body Count up to the 1 million given in the Lancet, plus the 800,000 people who were severely wounded, as given in yesterday's Guardian. The Americans learnt from Vietnam not to count civilian deaths, so there will be never be exact numbers, but we do know that 4,230 coalition soldiers and 1,020 contractors' staff have died so far, including 174 Britons.

The situation is not that much better today, as a number of recent reports demonstrate. Amnesty International says in its report, Carnage and Despair, that the security situation is not improving and that there is no incentive for people to go back. Indeed, they are still leaving Iraq in droves. A UNHCR survey showed that the flow of refugees to 43 industrialised countries, having slackened for a while, began to accelerate in 2006 and doubled between 2006 and 2007. As the countries in the region close their borders to Iraqis—particularly Syria which, although paradoxically not a signatory to the convention, has always allowed free entry from all other Arab countries in the past—there will be even greater pressure on European countries, including Britain. Egypt, with 130,000 Iraqi refugees, has closed its borders, and Jordan discourages refugees by making them pay for basic services. Only Lebanon recognises Iraqis as refugees and grants them full rights, including the right to work.

Here in the UK, Iraq was top of the list of asylum source countries in the last quarter of 2007, and that is likely to be the pattern of the future. Yet in these circumstances, as we have heard from both the noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord Anderson, the Border and Immigration Agency has written to lawyers and other agencies acting on behalf of refugees saying that because there is now a viable route for return, failed asylum seekers are to have their Section 4 support cut off, even though, if they return, they may risk serious harm as defined in Article 15(c) of European Council Directive 2004/83/EC,

"by reason of indiscriminate violence in situations of ... armed conflict".

There are court cases in the national courts of Germany and the UK and in the European Court of Justice on the construction of this provision, and it may well turn out to be unlawful to have made these persons destitute. Equally, it may be unlawful to hold them in detention, as in one case in which the destination was Baghdad, even though the Foreign and Commonwealth Office says that it is not safe for any British citizen to travel there. The effect is that no escort can be provided for this person to return, which may be the reason for the delay.

There is an incompatibility between the policies of the FCO and the Home Office that needs to be resolved, and we suggest in the mean time that the BIA letter of 6 March should be withdrawn pending discussions between the two departments. We also ask that the detention of all Iraqis other than Kurds, who may be returned safely to the northern governorates, be reviewed.

The Refugee Legal Centre has dealt with a number of cases in which Iraqi clients have been detained pending deportation but who have then been found to have valid legal claims to remain. These cases, which the centre must generally undertake within very short deadlines, take up a great deal of time and show that the initial examination of claims does not work properly and that the procedures need to be reviewed in consultation with agencies such as ILPA and the RLC.

The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, mentioned that 24 international NGOs are calling on the US and UK to face up to their responsibilities and to deal with the humanitarian needs that we engendered by the reckless folly of the invasion. They are asking for a substantial increase in aid to the internally displaced and to the refugees in the region. It makes obvious sense to give far greater priority to creating the conditions that would enable the internally displaced and returnees to get back to a normal life, and the OCHA appeal for 2008 calls for a budget of $265 million for that purpose. The International Organisation for Migration says that its two-year appeal for IDPs is only 28 per cent funded, and presumably other agencies are in the same boat. Will the Minister say what contributions we are making to the OCHA appeal, to the IOM appeal and to the UNHCR appeal, and whether we are helping to mobilise proportional contributions from other states, particularly from members of the coalition? What is the Government's response to the International Rescue Committee's calculation that the response to the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world has been wholly inadequate and that the amount needed is some $3 billion to $4 billion, of which the US should pay half? No doubt the Minister can work out what our proportion of that money should be.

Of course, the effective delivery of aid not only requires the progressive improvement in security, which will rely increasingly on Iraqi forces over the coming year as the coalition withdraws, but, as the Brookings-Bern meeting in January recorded, relies on a number of factors such as the willingness of the Iraqi Government to acknowledge the rights of IDPs; the capacity of their Ministries to deliver on the ground; the permanence of the separation between ethnic and religious communities, or of accommodation between the communities in some mixed enclaves; the stability of the Governments in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt; and the willingness of those states to continue accommodating large numbers of Iraqis. Brookings has also just published an important study on the future of Kirkuk, which is home to 20 per cent of Iraq's oil wealth and a region with a mixed population of Arab, Turcoman, Kurdish and Christian communities, to which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, referred.

Last week, I met Abbas al-Bayati MP, general secretary of the Islamic Union of Iraqi Turcomans, who told me that his party was opposed to the referendum that is proposed for the region and that was intended to be conducted before the end of last year under Article 140 of the constitution. Unfortunately, Article 140 is unclear on a number of points, including the precise area to which it applies and whether it should give voters the option to designate Kirkuk as a separate region as opposed to becoming part of the Kurdish region or remaining under the control of Baghdad. Mr al-Bayati wants the former, but he says that the referendum is not really the answer because unanimity is needed on the detailed legislation to put it into effect.

As of March last year, 132,000 property claims had been made by IDPs to the claims commission, including 50,000 from Kirkuk alone, and only a fraction of them had been decided. The IOM estimates that, at the present rate of progress, it will take 30 years to deal with the existing case load, and that probably thousands more claims would be lodged if there were any confidence in the process. Do the Government have any ideas on how to remove the constitutional impasse of Article 140 and how to accelerate the settlement of property claims?

On the neighbours, we understand that Iraq has voted a mere $25 million for assistance to their refugees in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, which is only a tiny fraction of the help that they, particularly the women, need to survive. There have been several reports of desperate women and girls—as many as 50,000, according to one Iraqi women's group—being forced into prostitution in Syria. The UNHCR says that because the Syrians do not allow the refugees to work, the refugees starve if they have exhausted their savings and have no family to send them money from abroad. Some tens of thousands did return home, but many women fled with their children after their husbands were killed, so if they go back, they have no support or protection.

The EU voted €50 million to pay for the health and education of Iraqi children in Syria and Jordan, and UNICEF has just allocated $5 million for Iraqi refugee children and women in Syria. But first they need to eat, even if that means working illegally for $1 a day, as many children do. I was glad to see that the World Food Programme was distributing essential items to 145,000 targeted refugees who had been identified by the UNHCR. But the World Food Programme said, which the UNHCR confirmed, that it was $113 million short of its targeted appeal for the year.

Jordan also needs a lot of help. On Tuesday, their Government officials asked for $416 million for education, $248 million for health and $423 million for the expansion of Jordan's oil refinery, all to enable them to cope with the estimated 450,000 refugees that they are hosting. Those sums dwarf the amounts which have been allocated by the international community, let alone actually paid over. But why should the Jordanian people have to foot the bill for a crisis that was not of their own making? Does the Minister accept that huge burdens are being placed on neighbouring countries as a direct result of our invasion of Iraq? Does he accept that if there had been no invasion, the 4.5 million people who are now destitute and rootless would be living peacefully in their own home and benefiting from the infrastructure that we destroyed, which is now having to be replaced at a cost of billions of dollars?

Is the Minister satisfied that the many demands for humanitarian assistance within Iraq and in the region are being met effectively by the many agencies involved now that the UN has appointed Mr David Shearer as humanitarian co-ordinator? What extra staff will the UN provide him with in Baghdad to back him up? Finally, do the Government accept that we need to do more by way of widening the scope of our resettlement programmes, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, beyond those who were employed by our Government? Will the UK comply in the first place with the request made by the UNHCR for 131 resettlement places under the Gateway programme, carefully confined, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said, to former employees of the Ministry of Defence? Is that really the best that we can do? I know that we have not lifted a finger to help the couple of hundred Iranians in the so-called Temporary International Presence Facility, which indicates that there may be a lack of sympathy for many other vulnerable people. The International Rescue Committee calls for an increase in the number of Iraqis accepted for settlement in the US from 12,000 to 30,000 and a proportionate number for European countries. Will we discuss that with our friends in Washington and Brussels?

The invasion of Iraq was a crime against humanity that resulted in the deaths and disablement of a very large number of human beings—men, women and children. We cannot do anything to bring back those who have died or to restore the mutilated victims of our military operations and of the terrorism that it evoked to their former health and strength. But we can and should make amends to the survivors for their suffering over the past five years. We and the Americans should do far more to help Iraq create the conditions for everyone to return to their home and resume a normal life.

3:13 pm
Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs; Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, not just for securing this debate but for the determination with which, as I was reminded while going through the press cuttings in preparing for this debate, he has pursued this issue over considerable time. I am sorry that in a Conservative debate of this sort he is so thinly supported on the Conservative Benches. This is an important issue, which I hope that he and others will continue to push on all sides.

Post-invasion Iraq is one of the major failings of British and American planning. Since the Minister may say this, let me say for him that we all recognise that the previous regime was dreadful and that it created refugees and internally displaced people. Saddam Hussein's behaviour towards the Marsh Arabs, the Shia and other minorities was appalling. But Prime Minister Blair told us that we were going into Iraq to make things better. As we can see from the opinion polls, many people in Iraq think that we have made things worse. That is a huge failure of a misplanned invasion, whose implications were not thought through and whose consequences have not been dealt with. Previous speakers have talked about where the refugees are. As we all know, they are primarily in Syria and in Jordan, with a significant number, particularly Christians, in the Lebanon.

Part of the continuing failure of American and British policy for the region is the extent to which different policies are being pursued towards different countries. The United States, above all, is pursuing an Israel/Palestine-led policy towards Syria, Jordan and the Lebanon. Even in the past few days, I have read in the American press that the Americans are thinking again of moving in against Hezbollah in the Lebanon and that the rest of the Lebanese population would turn against Hezbollah if the Americans started to bomb civilian infrastructure. That is a disastrous approach to the region.

The United States is refusing to talk to Syria. One needs to talk to Syria about a number of things, including the refugees. Similarly, the United States has just sacked a very senior admiral for suggesting that it needs to deal on a rather more intelligent and open basis with Iran. Anyone who knew the smallest bit about Iraq knew that removing Saddam Hussein would directly increase the influence of Iran on Iraq. The refusal to recognise the very evident link between those two is part of what has been wrong with American policy, which all too often, sadly, our Government have followed.

I read the Washington press and get cuttings from Haaretz and other media in Israel. I read about the Israeli-American determination that we need to support the Sunnis against the Shias across the region because Hezbollah and Hamas are supported by Iran: therefore, there is a Shia conspiracy and, therefore, we need to arm the Sunnis. The most disastrous development for the Middle East as a whole would be to encourage what my noble friend Lord Ashdown described the other day as a Middle East civil war between Sunni and Shia that would stretch from Afghanistan to Egypt. However, that is what some people in Washington are encouraging at the moment. In approaching policy towards Iraq—the territory where the Sunni-Shia conflict has been most acute—we should recognise our responsibilities for the whole region and the need, as Liberal Democrats have been strongly arguing, for a policy towards the whole region, into which policy towards Iraq, Iran, Syria and Israel/Palestine needs to fit.

As part of the refugee problem, we now have no-go areas in the cities in Iraq—above all in Baghdad but also in Kirkuk and Basra—which means that people cannot go back to their old homes. That is part of the problem of internal displacement and of refugees. Unleashing sectarian fundamentalism has been one of the most unfortunate results of the invasion. It distresses me that there are still those within the Washington international community who think that harnessing the forces of sectarian fundamentalism for western aims is what one should be doing.

Then there is the Kurdish issue. Some internally displaced people are being created—noble Lords have particularly spoken about Kirkuk—about whom, again, we have no coherent policy. There is one policy towards Turkey and another towards Iraqi Kurdistan. The two have just got very badly across each other with the recent Turkish incursion into northern Iraq. There are other minorities such as the Chaldean Christians, about whom the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, spoke powerfully. Evidence suggests that a disproportionate number of these refugees—Christians, Sunnis, Turkomans and Shias—are professional; they are the middle classes on whom we would wish the Iraqi economy and society to be rebuilt. We all understand that safe return requires law and order to be re-established, the economy to be revised and—if, sadly, people cannot go back to their own homes—new areas to be developed.

The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has usefully and doggedly pursued the issue of interpreters who worked for the British forces. The noble Lord, Lord West, said last October in Answer to a Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler:

"I agree entirely that we have a moral obligation to look after people who have worked with our forces abroad".—[Hansard, 8/10/07; col. 2.]

We are failing to fulfil that moral obligation. I hope that the Minister, in answering the debate, will give us some useful figures on what is happening under the gateway scheme. Reading through some of the earlier Answers to Questions on the gateway scheme, I was extremely confused. If I understand correctly, there has been only one formal application so far—that was according to one Written Answer. Another Written Answer said that no applicants have yet been resettled. Yet another Written Answer said that the UNHCR has submitted 131 applications. We are being very slow and reluctant in our approach to a scheme for these people. The Foreign Secretary said last October that Her Majesty's Government have directly employed many thousands of Iraqis over the past five years. Well, bully for her Majesty's Government if they have accepted their responsibilities towards one of those people, but that seems to me rather slow.

We read that the Danes, who have had a smaller effort in Iraq, have directly airlifted out of Iraq to Denmark some 400 people with their families. Incidentally, I know that many on the Conservative Benches have criticised other European Governments for not pulling their weight on a number of things, but the Danes and others have pulled their weight pretty well. The Danes were in Bosnia and are now in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are areas in which some of our European partners put us to shame.

On the overall responsibility towards refugees, Sweden also puts us to shame. The last time that I saw the Swedish figures, Sweden had accepted some 50,000 refugees from Iraq. If one multiplies that relative to our population, we would be talking about a quarter of a million Iraqi refugees in Britain. Again, our record compares badly with those of our European partners who did not participate in the decision to overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime.

I have a specific question for the Minister. How many applications both from people who worked for British forces and from Iraqi refugees has the United Kingdom so far accepted and how does that compare with other European and North American states? This is, after all, part of the legacy of the invasion. We broke it, so we have to pay for it and repair it. This is a Labour Government; it is the Government of a party that used to stand for international co-operation and for the acceptance of responsibility. However, it seems to us that we have here a denial of responsibility and a backsliding on obligations to refugees.

3:24 pm
Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford

Lord Howell of Guildford (Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Shadow Leader, Parliament; Conservative)

My Lords, I offer my warmest thanks to my noble friend Lord Fowler for securing the debate and to all other noble Lords who have spoken. My noble friend, in his tireless fashion, raised the issue of Iraqi refugees. In this short debate we have heard what have been to my mind extremely impressive speeches from the Benches of all three political parties, and one just has to hope that what we say this afternoon will do some good and move the thinking forward in a positive way.

This is a story which is certainly five years old today, as has been said. The timing is excellent, and it is a story which is both shameful and tragic. It is called the "hidden crisis" because, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminded us, the public do not seem to be fully aware of the sheer scale of the misery and horror, as well as the numbers involved. That is in part because the refugees and their problems are scattered throughout the Middle East and not concentrated in one visible, media-viewable site. I shall deal with the shameful side of this issue first. It concerns the way in which Iraqi citizens who were formerly employed by the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development are being treated. The matter has been raised by my noble friend Lord Fowler and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, in considerable detail. I shall come to it myself in a moment.

In turn, it is part of a bigger and deeply tragic picture of millions of Iraqis, some say that the figure is 4 million or so, of whom around half have been displaced while the remainder have fled the country. They are now living in absolutely desperate circumstances in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. That in turn is part of an even bigger tableau of disaster into which the Iraq scene has been allowed to develop, with the latest twist in the pattern of indecision being the announcement here in London of a change in plan for our brave troops. They have acted so valiantly, but apparently they are now to stay on in Basra airport in larger numbers after earlier announcements that they would be run right down in accordance with Operation Overwatch, which many of us thought from the start was a foolish and unreliable plan.

Let us start with the shameful part, which covers the most direct and prominent issue for this country, the Government and this Administration: the position of the interpreters. The situation is both unclear and, echoing what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, rightly reminded us of, morally reprehensible. These are people who served our forces dutifully and are now in fear of their lives. Some have fled to Damascus and Aleppo, while others have gone to Amman. Policies were announced last August to give them asylum, and the question is what has been the result of those announcements. Parliamentary Answers given recently in the other place confirm that of the supposed 400, which may be an unreliable figure, employed by the British authorities, 74 former MoD employees have been screened by the Border and Immigration Agency, as have eight former FCO and three DfID employees. The question, naturally, is how many of these people, having been screened, have been granted indefinite leave to come here for protection under the Locally Engaged Iraqi Staff Assistance Scheme? The answer to that is that up to yesterday, apparently none has been granted such leave. I am told that not one local employee has been evacuated for resettlement in the United Kingdom.

How many have come here under the so-called Gateway Protection Programme, which in some complicated way involves applying through the tireless staff of the UNHCR? We learn that 131—I think I heard the figure of 121 mentioned, but the numbers are always uncertain—Iraqi citizens, including dependants, have applied. How many of those have reached safety? I have here the correspondence of desperate family men who have served us well, but who are now lost in the bureaucratic labyrinth of eligibility questions and conditions. These papers have been supplied by the excellent Dan Hardie who has done a great deal of work in this area and was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Fowler. One of them says that there is no chance of him getting a sensible answer out of the British authorities. He sent off all the papers, but has been told to wait. Another has been told that he was not employed directly by the British authorities, but he insists that he was. Another is still waiting hopelessly for a reply. A fourth says his friend and his uncle have already been killed and he waits in fear, but he is told that he is not qualified because he does not satisfy the 12-month criteria.

All this is shocking, frankly; it makes me ashamed of what our Government have done or have failed to do. Even so, this pales into insignificance when set beside the larger question that has been described by your Lordships of the plight of the 4 million or so Iraqis scattered across the Middle East or displaced within Iraq itself. No one who saw the recent Channel 4 programme "Iraq's Lost Generation" could fail to be moved by the sight of disfigured and hungry children and of people trapped without hope, without money and without work in Syria and Jordan—the dreadful harvest of the Iraq situation. Regrettably, as my noble friend Lord Fowler reminded us, some of them blamed not Saddam Hussein but the Americans and the British for having taken away their homes and their security.

The UNHCR has said that the ability of these countries to handle these large numbers is just about exhausted, so what are we going to do now to help? There are reports that some refugees have returned, but these reports are very hard to verify. Of course, for those who have returned, there are many more still trapped.

We are told also that nearly all Christians have had to leave Iraq, a point rightly raised by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. It would be interesting to know whether that is correct. But this is just one dreadful aspect of the still wider scene of misery into which, after all the high hopes for Iraq with the removal of Saddam, the country has subsided. I do not know whether the surge strategy is going to be sustained. It is said to be working under General Petraeus, but it may or may not continue to work and it may or may not be sustainable. In Basra, which was our area, we have come upon bad days, to use the phrase of Sir Hilary Synnott, our man, for a time, in south Iraq who has written a very telling book upon the subject.

His book is not the only one. Accounts and memoirs are now pouring out, on both sides of the Atlantic, about what has gone wrong and how, again in the words of Sir Hilary Synnott,

"hardly any Whitehall Departments got involved in Iraq".

That is a very serious indictment. Account after account confirms how we failed to influence the Americans, failed to learn from our own past experiences and failed to plan properly after the military invasion.

I agree with other noble Lords who say that the time has come—and, indeed, is overdue—for a full inquiry into what went wrong, why we were misled, how intelligence failed and how policy failed after the invasion. We have heard this view more than once today, both in Questions and this debate, from my own party and the Liberal Democrats. The cost has been titanic in lives and injuries to our soldiers and in resources. The latest estimate for the UK is said to be about 6 billion on the military side. Large though that may seem to us, it seems almost minuscule compared with the cost to our American allies which is said to be in trillions of dollars. More than 3,000 American troops have been killed, as well as 174 British troops.

We need this inquiry now and not later. We owe it to our fighting men and women, to the frightened personnel who loyally served us and feel betrayed, and to the lost millions of refugees about whom we have heard today in this short debate. For them there will be no Easter break, no happy family reunions; only sickening fears, hunger, insecurity and misery. Having done what we were led into doing as a nation by the previous Prime Minister, by his Government and by his convictions, however much they were in good faith, we must now take our full and proper share of responsibility for repairing the consequences of this almighty tragedy.

3:34 pm
Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton

Lord Bassam of Brighton (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)

My Lords, I join in the general congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for initiating this debate today, when we acknowledge the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the conflict in Iraq. It has been a timely and well informed debate and we have had some powerful speeches. I do not discriminate between the contributions, because they have all contained powerful points.

The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has repeated many of his powerful pleas on behalf of Iraqi refugees. He now has a parliamentary reputation for taking up their cause, to his great credit, and I am sure his continued interest in the subject will not cease with the close of today's debate. That is a good thing.

My noble friend Lord Anderson called, as have others, for our country to shoulder its part of the burden. He drew attention in particular to the plight of Christians in Iraq, who have become, if you like, internal refugees. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, echoed the call made by other speakers for the stepping up of humanitarian aid and the need to support neighbouring countries. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, with his extensive experience of Middle Eastern policy matters, focused on what he described as our post-war policy deficiencies—I am summarising the noble Lord's position.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, with all his tremendous experience in the field, again echoed those earlier calls for a full inquiry, as he put it, into the war itself, its causes, intelligence failings that noble Lords believe to have occurred in the preparation for war and the post-war settlement, and the response to the issues that have been focused on during the debate, particularly humanitarian concerns.

In my response I am not going to concentrate on the origin of the foreign policy aspects of the situation. That would not be appropriate because our attention has been drawn to humanitarian concerns in particular, and I will spend my time at the Dispatch Box most valuably if I focus on them; most questions were asked on that topic.

Of course, the United Kingdom Government remain concerned about the humanitarian situation in Iraq and conditions for the estimated 4 million internally and externally displaced Iraqis. We are committed to supporting those vulnerable populations. That is why we have spent over 130 million on humanitarian assistance for Iraq since 2003 and why we have just announced a further 15 million contribution this week. Twelve million pounds of that new money will support the United Nations-led consolidated appeal and Red Cross operations inside Iraq. Three million pounds will go to the UNHCR, with all its expertise, for its work with Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan and other countries in the Middle Eastern region to whom noble Lords have drawn attention and who are under pressure. The UNHCR is our key partner in responding to the needs of Iraqi refugees. It provides assistance such as financial grants, legal and food aid and subsidised healthcare. It also supports public education and health structures in countries that have taken in large numbers of Iraqi refugees; for example, by procuring medicine from local health authorities and undertaking the rehabilitation of school and educational buildings.

As a major contributor to the European Commission, the United Kingdom has also supported the EC's programmes to strengthen the Jordanian and Syrian education and health sectors. The EC allocated some €35 million for this work in 2007 alone.

DfID continues to work closely with the UN and other humanitarian organisations to ensure that they have the resources they need to respond to the humanitarian situation in Iraq and among refugees in the region.

The consolidated appeal represents a significant improvement in the co-ordination of the humanitarian response in Iraq. It is also the first appeal to cover the relief efforts of both UN agencies and non-governmental organisations. The United Kingdom has been one of the first donors to respond to this and other major appeals for humanitarian assistance in 2008. We will lobby other donors to follow with their contributions so that agencies can continue and expand their programmes to meet urgent needs.

The Government are committed to providing a safe haven for those genuinely in need of protection by enabling refugees from some of the most troubled parts of the world to rebuild their lives in the United Kingdom. Our response to the UN's call for assistance to increase refugee resettlement places for Iraqi refugees has been twofold. We have committed to increasing our resettlement quota by 50 per cent from April this year; that is, from 500 to 750 spaces. We have also committed to focusing our work for the next two years on refugees from Iraq. Two-thirds of our resettlement places—500 refugees a year—will be allocated to Iraqi refugees during the next two years. In total, this will provide permanent protection to 1,000 Iraqis whom the UN considers to be particularly at risk in their current country of refuge.

In addition to increasing our own resettlement programme, we co-signed in January a statement with five other EU Ministers that urged other member states to set up their own resettlement programmes. This will ultimately enable a larger number of refugees to benefit from a durable solution and reach safety.

For Iraqi nationals claiming asylum in the United Kingdom, we will continue carefully to consider all asylum and human rights claims on their individual merits in accordance with our obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. If an applicant demonstrates a need for international protection and meets the definition of a refugee under the terms of the 1951 convention, they will be granted asylum.

For those staff, former and current, who have worked closely with us in Iraq,we announced last October an assistance scheme in recognition of their invaluable contribution.Staff meeting the eligibility criteria set out in the Foreign Secretary's Statement to the House of Commons are able to apply for a financial package of assistance or, in agreed circumstances, for admission to the UK outside the Immigration Rules on a discretionary basis. We have received hundreds of applications from former staff who are interested in this assistance—understandably so. Much of the focus of work over the past months has been to sift through the applications and assess whether each is eligible. More than 400 former staff have now been assessed as eligible for assistance. A significant number of them have opted for the financial package, clearly believing that the security situation in Iraq is improving and seeing themselves as having a positive future there. For those opting for resettlement, the process is well under way for both former and current staff. The first former staff will be interviewed next month in a third country. The first current staff will be welcomed to the United Kingdom in April. Our policy offers the prospect of genuine assistance—

Photo of Lord Fowler

Lord Fowler (Conservative)

My Lords, will the Minister give some indication of how many people we are talking about? He has given us a general indication. He said that the first current staff will be welcomed to this country. How many people are the Government proposing to admit?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton

Lord Bassam of Brighton (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)

My Lords, I am reluctant to give detailed statistics. We are going through the numbers with some care. I have some more statistical data, which I was going to pick up when I had worked though some of the questions. There were many questions and I apologise in advance that when I do that I shall have to be somewhat selective. However, I intend to ensure that we have a compendium letter following this debate that covers any issue that I fail to cover today, as I am very conscious that the clock is against us.

We believe that our policy offers the prospect of genuine assistance to those Iraqi staff who have had particularly close and sustained associations with us, in what we all accept have been difficult circumstances, as has been extensively argued this afternoon. We accept our moral responsibility and continue to work to ensure that it is implemented fairly and efficiently.

Before I close in the next few minutes, I intend to deal with some of the more specific points that came up in questions during the debate. I have indicated when staff will be resettled in the United Kingdom and given an outline as to how that would work. We are focusing on staff who have given us dedicated service over a period of time. Staff who have not yet worked for 12 months but reach that mark in future will become eligible at that time; a 12-month requirement is not unique to the UK but it is a feature of the United States' special immigrant visa programme for their Iraqi staff.

Noble Lords made reference to delays in bringing Iraqis to the UK—and the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has just repeated that. It is worth saying in that context that many applicants have opted not for resettlement here but instead for the financial package. There is no question but that there has been considerable success with that.

The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, raised the precise question of a tailor, and I thought that he was right to do so because it was illustrative. In that particular case, the individual applied to the scheme but, as far as we understand it, he had never been employed by Her Majesty's Government and for that reason was not eligible.

The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, asked why the UK did not contribute more than 15 million in 2007 to support displaced Iraqis. In addition to the 15 million, we are one of the key donors to the European Commission, which has made substantial contributions of €35 million towards support of the education and health sectors. The UNHCR's appeal for displaced Iraqis last year was almost fully funded and DfID has pledged a further 3 million this week as part of its overall package.

The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, called for a review of the criteria on the local staff scheme. The Foreign Secretary in announcing the assistance scheme last October made it clear that we may well review the criteria for former staff in the light of experience, and most would accept that that is entirely wise.

The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, rightly drew attention to the persecution of Christians. The UK continues to support the Iraqi Government's efforts to promote national reconciliation and protect all Iraqi communities regardless of faith or political persuasion. We also support protection efforts through the Red Cross and the UNHCR. We condemn kidnap and murder and particularly that of Archbishop Rahho. It was a cowardly act perpetrated by individuals who have rejected dialogue and peaceful politics, which is something that we wish to ensure is defeated in Iraq because it benefits no one and holds up the pace of improvement that is much needed in that troubled country.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, drew attention to what he saw as the inadequacies of our funding. We are offering support—and I have given some examples of that. The noble Lord asked about support from the UK from David Shearer, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Iraq. We have actively supported his efforts for a better co-ordinated humanitarian assistance scheme. We are one of the first donors to pledge support to the newly launched UN consolidated fund which brings together UN and NGO programmes in Iraq.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to the enforced return of failed asylum seekers. We enforce return only to those areas assessed as sufficiently stable and when we are satisfied that the individual concerned will not be at risk of persecution or in need of humanitarian protection. We recognise that action by insurgents has created difficult problems in some areas but we do not accept that this applies to all areas. We made it clear in 2004 that we would have a programme of enforced returns and we reached agreement with Iraq about enforced returns in January 2005, and began removing Iraqi nationals at the end of that year by charter flight. I think that the noble Lord asked specific questions about charter flights and I am happy to give some details. That was followed by two further charter flights, the first was on 5 September 2006 in which 32 Iraqi nationals were returned to the Kurdish regional government area and the second on 12 February 2007 in which a further 38 Iraqi nationals were returned to the Kurdish region.

Enforced returns will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, as is quite properly the case. Enforced returns on charter and scheduled flights operate to Erbil for those who are from the Kurdistan Regional Government area. Voluntary returns are possible to all parts of Iraq. There have been three charter flights, all going to Erbil in the KRG area of Iraq. I can give further details on some of that in correspondence and I am more than happy to do so.

We have given other forms of assistance through DfID. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about this. DfID work with the Basra Provincial Reconstruction Team has helped leverage investment of over $205 million of central funds from the national Government in 2007. By the end of 2007, DfID infrastructure projects in the south improved access to water and power for over 1 million people. DfID funded advisers going to the centre of government there and helped established procedures for effective functioning of their Prime Minister's office and cabinet and reformed human resource and procurement systems in the Iraqi Ministry of Labour. Some 132 million worth of funding for humanitarian agencies has been provided since 2003 and I gave details of more recent allocations. We have funded independent radio and TV outlets which began broadcasting in 2005. We gave particular support to Basra radio station as a credible radio station in the region. We have also helped to entrench international human rights law by training more than 200 judges and prosecutors, which has potential for long-term benefit in sustaining a system reliant on the rule of law.

Questions were asked about the operation of the Gateway scheme. It is only right that I spend a little time covering that. It is a discretionary programme which operates outside the Immigration Rules. Since its implementation, 1,208 refugees have been permanently settled here from African and Asian countries generally. As I said earlier, we are pleased to announce an increase in the Gateway quota. As I said, we have allocated 500 of the places within the programme to Iraqi refugees. Cases will be selected by UNHCR in accordance with its priority categories. That includes female heads of household, survivors of violence and torture, those with medical needs and others. Other nationalities will also continue to be considered.

On progress to date, the UNHCR has submitted 62 applications covering 184 individuals to the BIA. The first Iraqi refugees, up to 300 individuals, will be interviewed in the Middle East by border and immigration staff in May 2008 and resettled permanently from July of this year.

We also operate the mandate resettlement programme which resettles refugees with close ties to the UK. Since January 2007 we have received 78 applications covering 196 individuals from Iraqi refugees in neighbouring countries for resettlement. Twenty-five cases have been accepted and resettled, 14 have been refused and the remainder are outstanding for consideration. There is no quota for this programme but refugees must have a close tie to the UK.

Noble Lords also asked how our endeavours compared with those of other countries. Finland has a quota of 750 for 2008 and an allocation for Iraqis of 300; Norway has a quota of 935 with an Iraqi allocation of 150; Sweden has a quota of 1,800 over two years with an allocation of 600 for Iraqi refugees; Denmark has a quota of 1,500 over three years with no allocation planned for Iraq, although 200 LE staff have been assisted. Our allocation is as I have described. Ireland has a quota of 200, with no allocation yet made for Iraqis; the Netherlands has a quota of 500 with an allocation for Iraq of 140. I am happy to provide more and further international detail.

I have exceeded my time. Our policies show that we are providing significant support to those organisations that give assistance; we could all argue that there could never be enough assistance so far as Iraqi refugees are concerned. We appreciate in particular the work and support for our military effort in Iraq that has been provided by many Iraqis, who have placed themselves in a vulnerable position. We continue to seek ways to give them further assistance; our programme will at all times be reviewed to ensure that we do that. We have increased our resettlement programme to accommodate larger numbers of Iraqi refugees. We will continue to assess and grant asylum to those genuine asylum seekers. In addition, we have set up an important programme to recognise the valuable contribution that Iraqi staff have made and those who have had a particularly close and sustained relationship with our Government and their endeavours in Iraq. We will reward those staff with either a financial package or relocation to the UK, and we look forward to welcoming the first Iraqi staff to the United Kingdom in the next month and the months to follow.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. I will endeavour to cover through correspondence those points that I have failed properly to cover this afternoon. I look forward to continued discussion and dialogue on this important issue.

3:56 pm
Photo of Lord Fowler

Lord Fowler (Conservative)

My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in this short debate. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Howell, the deputy leader on the Conservative side, for his very powerful speech. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, who raised the position of the Christian community in Iraq, and he was absolutely right to do so. He also raised the question of the 1,400 Iraqis who are being asked to leave. I am not sure that we had an answer to that, but I have the letter here which is the authentic policy of Her Majesty's Government. I assure him that what the Guardian said is absolutely accurate.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who raised among other things the position of women in Syria, which is critical. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, who raised the question of refugees in general and of the interpreters in particular. I also thank the Minister. It is no criticism of him personally, but it would be better if in a debate of this kind we could have one of the relevant Ministers who are directly responsible answering the debate, particularly as we have no fewer than three relevant Ministers in the Lords—a Home Office Minister, a Foreign Office Minister and a DfID Minister—who could do so. I am grateful to the Minister, and it is no criticism of him, as I say, but the House might prefer it if it had a Minister who is directly responsible replying to the debate.

I realise the time; I will go on for two minutes, as it is so serious. The Minister in his reply made a number of points about direct finance going to the European fund and the amount being done for staff. All those contributions seem to me extremely modest. He talked about my example of the tailor who, although he was helping the British forces was unfortunately not directly employed, so we would not help him; that more or less encapsulates what we have been talking about.

Again, I thank everyone for taking part in the debate. I do not think that the Government's reply matches up to the challenge. I warn Ministers that this issue will be raised again. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.