Iraqi Refugees

Part of Constitutional Reform – in the House of Commons at 6:14 pm on 3rd July 1991.

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Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney 6:14 pm, 3rd July 1991

Like many of my colleagues who visited the camps, I came away with a number of impressions. Many observations have been made by hon. Members who visited the camps and I do not want to repeat them.

I should like to draw to the attention of my hon. Friends and the Minister one or two observations about the position of the refugees before dealing with the broader issue, which is that the Kurdish and Shi'ite refugee problem is not only an aid problem but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) said, a political problem. It is a problem of international order and political decision.

We must not let the House forget that the potential for a further huge influx of refugees is considerable. The Iran-Iraq border was heavily fortified during the eight-year war and, ironically, the bombing of all the bridges made movement of people across that border almost impossible. That has meant that the refugee problem in the south could be understated.

It is sickening to realise when one visits the camps that every refugee crisis, even if it is three quarters solved, leaves behind yet another residue of permanent refugees. In one of the camps that we went to see there were many thousands of Kurdish refugees who had been there since 1975. The Iranian authorities reminded us—I had forgotten but I am sure that other hon. Members have not —that they are permanently maintaining under their refugee programme 2·5 million refugees from the Afghan war. We have had many quarrels and differences with the Iranian regime, but we must compliment the Iranian authorities on their work in refugee camps. The Iranian Red Crescent is one of the most efficient and compassionate organisations. Iran opens its borders to large numbers of people.

It was pointed out to us by people representing United Nations agencies that, curiously, national Governments now feel a desperate need to respond to crises in a macho and virile way. There is almost an aid race in which every Government want to show their electorate that they are responding to the latest crisis. As a consequence, there is often a lack of co-ordination, duplication and considerable waste.

In an eloquent appeal, my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley said that we need a form of investment in United Nations agencies so that we can co-ordinate our activities through the United Nations rather than conducting the aid race in a macho and virile way while Governments are attempting to prove that their aid programme is bigger, better and more effective than anybody else's.

The plight of the Kurds and the Shi'ites represents a broader political issue. We must admit that until we saw on our television screens the plight of the Kurds on the mountains there had been remarkably little interest in their dilemma. They have been a mild embarrassment to the international community for generations because they do not fit into an easy, tidy, nation-state pattern. They have been a special embarrassment to Iranian, Turkish and Iraqi Governments for some time. I must say—I hope that I do not enter a jarring note into a consensual debate—that that attitude was exemplified by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. When he appeared before the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on 30 January, I pressed him on the Government's attitude to autonomy for the Kurds and he could barely conceal his impatience. At the end of our exchange, the Chairman said: I think the Minister is telling us we have enough on our Plate! On 30 January, the Kurdish issue was not of great ministerial concern.