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

The hon. Gentleman is taking us, once again, into the broader area of middle eastern security and to the question of how on earth we can secure any improvements in future, after having failed to produce them in the past. The next report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs will look into that. Although we do not claim to have the ultimate wisdom, that will be the opportunity to raise such points.

The fourth observation of our immediate report on refugees was that the strains which have fallen on the ODA, which has struggled excellently to meet them, have fallen also on the international relief organisations. Our report points to ways in which the burdens and pressures on those organisations have led, despite much dedicated work by the people who work in them, to breakdowns in co-ordination and to a lack of effectiveness. We have outlined a number of suggestions and proposals about how the international relief organisations can be strengthened.

That leads me finally to the three questions that we raised beyond our observations. First, how can the international relief structures be better organised? A number of agencies are involved, including several United Nations' agencies led by the UN Disaster Relief Office. We questioned whether that agency could perform its task in the way that it should. We welcome the idea that was suggested by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in concert with the German Foreign Minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, that an individual should be appointed co-ordinator for disaster relief work in the United Nations —a sort of overlord—to begin to bring together the different strands of work that some of my hon. Friends who visited the area found sadly disconnected and, in some places, disordered.

Our second question is, can the international organisations, especially the United Nations, deliver help on the scale that is required when humanitarian disasters occur, such as the man-made or dictator-caused disaster in Iraq? The difficulty is that the United Nations is now being asked to deliver security as well as supplies, help and succour to refugees on a scale and with a prominence and effectiveness that, in its present form, it is simply not equipped to meet. The time may well have come to rethink the structure of the international relief agencies so that they can co-ordinate their efforts, work more effectively with the different donor nations and meet the now big demands of the international community more effectively.

The third question is even bigger and leads to the edges of the refugee report and to wider political questions. It is whether it is possible to clarify the powers of the United Nations and its blessed agencies or direct agencies to intervene. That is the question at the edges of this tragic saga. The sticking point or the original base point is chapter 1, article 2, paragraph 7 of the charter of the United Nations, as qualified by chapter 7, which lays down the degree to which, if at all, there can be intervention in the domestic and internal affairs of a nation. Certain derogations are suggested relating to humanitarian aid if there is a threat of genocide or if—this is a loose definition —the peace, security and stability of the surrounding area and the international order is threatened. That is not a question that we can consider fully in a report on refugees, but our report concluded: if clearer rules were established"— in relation to intervention by the United Nations and its agencies— …not only might grinding, endless and bloody conflicts all over the world be brought to an end but also the refugee relief process could be simplified. We hope that our views will be of use to the House. The time has come for a new agenda for looking at the key problems of disaster relief. I am sure that the whole Committee hopes that its short report will start the thinking processes and the answering of the questions, which will lead to a more effective ability to respond both nationally and internationally—despite all that has been done in tremendously difficult circumstances—to the disasters that we must realistically, if pessimistically, admit lie ahead. There have been many disasters in the present global order and it looks as though there will be more. We shall need more vigorous co-ordination and more effective means to meet them.