Ethiopia Refugees

– in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 18th December 1984.

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Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport 3:30 pm, 18th December 1984

(by private notice) asked the Minister for Overseas Development what urgent steps are being taken to fly in aid to the refugees from the Tigre province of Ethiopia who are now in camps in Sudan?

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

Eleven thousand, seven hundred and fifty tonnes of cereals aid from Britain for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees were landed at Port Sudan in late November. We have just received a further appeal from the High Commissioner, and I have today decided to give £1 million to help him with this extremely serious problem.

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

While £1 million is helpful, does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that supplies are now urgently needed, as day by day the number of people in these camps increases and no extra food is scheduled to come in through the ports until the end of January? Is not there an urgent need for Hercules aircraft to be made available to fly in from Cyprus, through Egypt, to Sudan and which could land at the airstrip at Kassala? That should be done in the next few days if we are not to see a repeat of terrible hardship.

Will the Minister also comment on the stories that these refugees are being bombed by MIGs of the Ethiopian air force and that those who are supporting the liberation force in Tigre are being compulsorily moved south? One of the reasons for moving into Sudan is their fear that they will be unable to continue to live in Tigre. They are being compulsorily moved into the south of Ethiopia in order to take them out of the province of Tigre. This is a serious humanitarian issue which is getting worse day by day. I hope that the Minister will make RAF aircraft available as urgently as he can.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

I accept that this is a serious problem, to which I am giving close attention. One must think cautiously about whether it is best to move substantial quantities of grain by aircraft. The important thing is to get the supplies there, and that we aim to do.

As to the attacks that are reported to have been made on people coming from the Tigre area, I have today asked our Ambassador in Addis Ababa to make it clear to the Government there that we hope that they will do nothing to damage the movement of people or food in these areas. I discussed resettlement with General Mengistu and others when I was in Addis Ababa recently, and I made it clear that we would watch cautiously anything that was happening in this regard. We are absolutely right to do so, and I was right to resist his plea for endorsement of their resettlement policy.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson , Ruislip - Northwood

At the outset I wholeheartedly welcome my right hon. Friend's timely initiative. Having visited the camps concerned with my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) only three weeks ago, I know that the situation on the ground is truly desperate. In the first camp we visited there were 25,000 Eritrean refugees and we were told that they were bombed by the Ethiopian air force, harassed by the Ethiopian army and driven from their homes by the Ethiopian armed forces. The Tigrean refugees were in a hideously desperate state. Unless the western Governments can find some way of dealing with the problem at source, and can get aid into those two provinces—huge areas of which are controlled by the Liberation forces and not by the Ethiopian Government — it will be difficult fully to alleviate the problem. Nevertheless, the Government of Sudan require every assistance, and what my right hon. Friend is providing is timely and welcome.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

There is no doubt about the difficulty of getting food to these areas. I believe that the right way to get it there is through the medium of the experienced voluntary agencies. As for the bombing, I have already made my position clear on that point.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

If the Minister has not already done so, will he take steps to estimate the total likely drain of refugees into the Sudan in the next two to three months or more?

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

The best estimate I have is that arrivals by 15 December totalled 110,000 and that a further 150,000 to 160,000 might be expected by the end of March. Those are very substantial figures.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Davyhulme

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the only possible excuse for the vast grain mountains which are being piled up in Europe under the common agricultural policy would be the adoption of a policy of the utmost generosity towards not only the Sudan and Ethiopia but also the other countries of the southern Sahara which are desperately affected by the present famine and drought? Will my right hon. Friend consider the suggestion that Hercules aircraft should be provided? It is not just a question of supplies but of getting them there in time.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

I accept entirely the point made by my hon. Friend that it is imperative to find ways of getting supplies to where they are most needed in time. We are considering carefully the best way to do this. As for the European grain mountain, I am sure that my hon. Friend will have noticed the recent decision of the European Community to provide no fewer than 1·2 million tonnes of grain before the next harvest. That is a very substantial quantity.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

Is the Minister aware of the scale of the wheat surpluses not only in continental Europe but in Britain? Authoritative estimates suggest that 3 million tonnes of surplus wheat will be carried over from the current year into the crop year after the next harvest. Can the Minister not make a virtue of this surplus and ensure that before it is too late sufficient of this vitally needed food is transported to the areas where it is desperately needed.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

I really do believe that the total of 1·2 million tonnes to which I have just referred represents a very substantial quantity of grain. It will be supplemented by very large contributions from the United States, Canada and other large scale grain producers.

Photo of Mr James Lester Mr James Lester , Broxtowe

My right hon. Friend's announcement is indeed to be welcomed, but will he also recognise from his visit to Ethiopia that not only food but blankets and all sorts of medical supplies are urgently required in these camps? The figures which my right hon. Friend has been given of the number of people on the move from Eritrea and Tigre into Sudan are only part of the problem. My right hon. Friend probably knows that 150,000 refugees from within the Sudan have moved to the Gezira region. It is a much bigger refugee problem than we realise.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

I believe that I do understand the vastness of the problem, and I hope that I am taking appropriate action to deal with it. I accept my hon. Friend's point that it is not just a food problem. Immediately upon my return from Ethiopia I ordered a further consignment of 18,000 blankets to help to deal with the very severe problem of cold in some of these areas.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

How many trucks has Britain sent?

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

I shall write to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr James Spicer Mr James Spicer , West Dorset

Will my right hon. Friend accept that although he is being implored by all sides of the House to send more and more aid, this country and the western world have to remember that the root cause of many of these problems is not just the drought but the viciousness of the regimes and complete administrative collapse. If we continue on this course, will my right hon. Friend accept that we shall be sending aid to almost every country in Africa, not just for one year but for the foreseeable future?

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that the problems of Africa owe a great deal to maladministration and occasionally to viciousness on the part of the Governments concerned. But the fact remains that the human need is so enormous that we have no alternative but to respond as effectively and quickly as we possibly can.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

Is the Minister aware—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Boo."]—that this year the Government are likely to spend some £30 million on storing grain for no good purpose whatsoever — [Interruption.] Will he tell the House exactly how much money is being spent on food aid this year to the African countries that are suffering drought? Is not the continual production of grain for stockpiling in Europe an insult— [HoN. MEMBERS: "The hon. Gentleman is an insult"]—to the poorest people in north Africa and should not his Government in future be diverting resources to development aid to those countries that are suffering so badly this year?

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

I have already given the House an idea of the substantial quantity of grain that is being committed to the support of Africa in the coming year. One fully understands that grain in store appears to be instantly available for dispatch, but there is a real cost to that. The cost of storing a tonne of grain for one year is about £25, but distributing it on the ground in Ethiopia is about £245.

Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells , Hertford and Stortford

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that 80 per cent. of aid from the EEC is allocated to francophone countries and none to Sudan? If that is so, will he make certain that those decisions are reversed?

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

I very much doubt whether that is the case, but I shall certainly make sure that in discussions about how to use community aid in the coming year we shall ensure that it goes where it is most needed.

Photo of Mr George Park Mr George Park , Coventry North East

Is the Minister aware that my constituency has one of those grain warehouses stuffed to the roof with food grain? My constituents cannot understand, and neither can I, why that grain should remain there when there is famine in Africa.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

As I have just said in reply to an earlier question, we must realise that there is a substantial cost in moving grain. Nevertheless, the Community, and our other major Western partners, have agreed to the shipment of substantial quantities of grain over the coming months.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford

Will my right hon. Friend explain why only 1·2 million tonnes are being released from the European intervention stocks, n view of the cost of keeping it there, when I was told by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the other day that 10 million tonnes are currently in surplus in intervention stocks?

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

The point that I have just been making is that the cost of moving the grain is incomparably greater than the cost of storing the grain. We cannot doubt that fact. The 1·2 million tonnes which will be provided by the Community will make a major contribution to the problem that faces us.

Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber

Is it the case, as reported in The Times today, that voluntary workers have been critical of the way in which the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has conducted affairs in southern Sudan? Has the right hon. Gentleman made any representations on that? I urge the right hon. Gentleman to be generous with grain, but will he point out that if many of the hon. Members who have been making the point about it had their way, there would be no grain in surplus to distribute?

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

It is certainly true that the surplus stocks produced by the common agricultural policy do enable us to get hold of grain fairly easily when the need arises.

I have not had detailed complaints about the operations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Sudan, but if there are feelings that he is not doing his job properly, I should be willing to take that up with him.

Photo of Mr Ivor Stanbrook Mr Ivor Stanbrook , Orpington

Of all the causes of mass starvation in Africa, including overpopulation and bad government, there is one—famine—which is not now beyond the capacity of man to overcome. What are the United Kingdom Government doing to lead an international campaign to eliminate famine?

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

We have this year, either bilaterally or through our membership of the EC, provided over £66 million of drought-related assistance to Africa, and we intend to continue, in conjunction with our partners—the Community, the World Bank and so on—to play a big part in trying to tackle the enormous development problems which face the African continent.

Photo of Mr Stuart Holland Mr Stuart Holland , Vauxhall

The Minister must be aware of the judgment by War on Want and other agencies that, if there were no war in this area, there need be no famine. Why is he still washing his hands of the war? When he saw General Mengistu, did he or did he not ask for the Dergue Government to declare a cease-fire in response to the offer of safe passage made by the liberation fronts? Surely he is aware that the British public are scandalised by the fact that, while through aid efforts we are seeking to save life in Ethiopia, the Addis Government appear ready to take it.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

I said to the Ethiopian Government that I hoped that they would do all that they could to allow the movement of aid to those areas where it is most needed. As I have told the hon. Gentleman and the House before, I believe that the best way of dealing with the problem is by working through the voluntary agencies and the International Red Cross. To ask the Ethiopian Government to do something that they certainly would not do will not really help to deal with this very difficult problem.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I shall take points of order afterwards.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

There is no "with respect" about it. I shall take points of order afterwards.