Iraqi Refugees

Part of Constitutional Reform – in the House of Commons at 4:50 pm on 3rd July 1991.

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Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford 4:50 pm, 3rd July 1991

Four months after the end of the Kuwait war, millions of people in Iraq continue to live through a horrific nightmare. The human tragedy in Iraqi Kurdistan has been vividly portrayed and we have witnessed it on our television screens. However, another tragedy that is possibly more appalling has been unfolding in southern Iraq without the benefit of the television cameras. It is, therefore, appropriate that the House should have a short debate this afternoon on the Iraqi refugee issue.

The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs is grateful that time has been made available for a discussion on the brief initial report produced by the Committee following its recent visit to nine middle east countries, including Iraq and Turkey. Some members of the Select Committee visited the Iranian refugee camps for the Shi'ite refugees and the Committee is grateful to everyone who assisted us, including the Iranian authorities, in that visit and in the associated visits in the middle east.

As the report is merely a short initial report, it seeks to do no more than to make observations and raise questions which we hope will help the House when it examines some of the enormous and awesome issues raised by the Iraqi refugee crisis and associated upheavals in the world.

Our report makes four main observations. The first is that, until and unless there are effective United Nations forces in both the north and south of Iraq, it would be wrong for the coalition forces which have been safeguarding the Iraqi Kurds and the Turkomans in the north to leave. Between the Committee reaching that view and the publication of the document, the American and British Governments have endorsed a similar view.

We were glad to hear the views and hopes of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who emphasised on 25 June that before there was any withdrawal of coalition forces there should be four conditions: clear United Nations forces on the ground, clear warnings that renewed repression would be met with the severest response, a continuing deterrent military presence in the region and, finally, the maintenance of sanctions against the Iraqi regime. In other words, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister endorsed the view held by many of us, that while the United Nations security guard force is building up—I understand that about 400 men should be in place by mid July, which is not enough—we will have to consider new structures and ways to safeguard those people to prevent another horrific round of retreats to the hills with the associated starvation and deprivation.

The report's second observation is that the refugee crisis is far from over. The Kurds continue to live in fear. Of course, there is hopeful talk of a deal with Saddam Hussein. However, all of us who have watched that man perform over recent months and years must reach the obvious conclusion about the value of any agreement, dealings or undertakings into which he may enter. We would place a very low value on such undertakings.

In the south, thousands of Shia are locked in the marshes. They cannot decide where to go and constantly fear harassment from Iraqi troops. We have received reports that 800,000 people are affected, but new information from aerial photographs is that the figure may be considerably less and that perhaps 50,000 or 60,000 people are affected. We simply do not know the correct number. However, tens of thousands of people are locked in the marshes and do not know whether to go forward or back. They are living in trembling fear. It is obvious to the House, was obvious to the Select Committee, and I hope is obvious to the international community, that there will be no lasting solution to the endless fear and terror of those people while Saddam Hussein remains in power.