Iraqi Refugees

Part of Constitutional Reform – in the House of Commons at 5:06 pm on 3rd July 1991.

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Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Secretary of State for International Development 5:06 pm, 3rd July 1991

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I remember well that in 1988 he, I and others argued in this House that the Government should not double export credit guarantees to Iraq. Our pleas were totally ignored and the Government went ahead and doubled export credit guarantees. Too often, one Government Department has said one thing while another has done precisely the opposite with regard to countries controlled by oppressive tyrants.

The Select Committee highlights the problems of the refugee crisis. I saw for myself the terrible suffering of the refugees who had fled in their millions to the border between Iran and Iraq. The freezing cold, rain and mud have gone and the heat and dust have taken their place. Thankfully, most refugees now have shelter, food and safety.

Save the Children Fund gives its observations and experiences in an interesting report on Iraq, and notes that the death rate was high in Turkey, with deaths estimated at 50,000, whereas in Iran the death rate was, by all accounts, slight. While Turkey continued to receive massive support from many Governments, including aircraft, millions of pounds of material supplies and hundreds of medical personnel, Iran—with the bulk of the refugees—received very little. Iran did not receive the assistance that it should have been given to deal with a much larger number of refugees.

Estimates of the number of refugees who have returned to Iraq vary widely. The Iranians believe that up to 750,000 people will stay behind in Iran even if an agreement between the Kurds and the Iraq Government is reached. The remaining refugee camps now need to be equipped for the winter conditions to come. Aid organisations are concerned that the present tent accommodation in the north-west provinces would be totally inadequate for those conditions.

Displaced Kurdish people in the regions of Iraq bordering the north-east frontier with Iran are reported by many people to be facing dire health and nutritional conditions. It is still not clear how many Shi'ites have been displaced in southern Iraq. Aid agencies are concerned, as is the Select Committee, that between 400,000 and 600,000 people many have taken refuge in the marshes and that they have not received the same humanitarian attention.

As the Chairman of the Select Committee said, the refugee crisis is far from over. Up to a million refugees are still in Iran and tens of thousands of others are in Iraq. They are in no man's land, camped out on the rubble of the towns destroyed by Saddam Hussein in 1987. They still need medicines and food and it is regrettable that the British Government could not provide safe havens for them because of American opposition.