Iraqi Refugees

Part of Constitutional Reform – in the House of Commons at 6:49 pm on 3rd July 1991.

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Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill 6:49 pm, 3rd July 1991

I am in a little difficulty, as I understood that the Front-Bench speakers wished to begin winding up the debate at 6.50 pm. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) shaking her head, so I shall continue quickly.

Other hon. Members have spoken about the future possibilities for a new international order. I hope that the day will come when we have that, but it will have to be a genuine new order, with all the nations in the United Nations, not, as we have now, an order dominated by the five permanent members of the Security Council. Some of us would have believed more readily in those countries' intentions concerning the Gulf war if we had not seen the important United Nations nations, at the behest of the United States, standing back and doing little about repression in Cambodia, Palestine and Nicaragua.

Paragraph 1 of the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs says that the resources to provide aid for Iraqi refugees are "severely stretched". Many of us wonder when the day will come when the nations of the world will spend on anything like the same scale to save lives as they have spent to kill people. The coalition forces spent £100 billion on the war, yet when the United Nations sought relief support for the refugee problem it managed to get only £58 million to help what it then thought would be about 400,000 refugees. In fact, by mid-April there were 400,000 refugees on the Turkish mountains and 400,000 more in Iraq near the Turkish border, 1 million in northern Iran and 70,000 in southern Iran—a total of 1,870,000. The aid was indeed thinly spread.

If I were to encourage people to rise up against their oppressors—for instance, by encouraging the Iraqis to rise up against Saddam Hussein—I should feel some responsibility if they took me at my word, and would have financed that uprising. People were cynically left to rise up and given practically no support. Then they were left in appalling conditions in the mountains.

It is not true that this Government came hastily to the refugees' aid. They did so only after the British people had seen the refugees' plight on their television screens and kept complaining about the Government's lack of response. The same thing happened when the American people saw the plight of the Kurdish refugees on television. Only then did western Governments start responding to the refugees' plight.

The huge responsibilities taken on by Iran in caring for the refugees both now and in past years put yesterday's Government statement about refugees coming into this country in a poor light. A paltry few hundred people are arriving here, yet the Government go to great lengths to resist their being allowed in. They say that those people should stop off at the first available safe country instead of heading here. What an ungenerous response in comparison with the responsibilities thrown on to the shoulders of Iraq's neighbouring countries.

The Government dithered during April and said that they were worried about intervening in the internal affairs of Iraq, although our forces had already bombed Iraq back into a pre-industrial age. People are still dying in their hundreds of thousands because of infected water, poor sanitation and lack of medicines. The Government's response was farcical.

I should be glad if in future people recognised that we have responsibilities to each other as human beings, and did not allow the barriers presented by nation states to stop us coming to people's aid promptly and fully, with a wholehearted response that recognised human need. I should be glad if, for once, we could start working towards a system in which we were willing to spend anything like the same amount of money on saving lives as we have all been spending on destroying lives.