Iraqi Refugees

Part of Constitutional Reform – in the House of Commons at 6:54 pm on 3rd July 1991.

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Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton 6:54 pm, 3rd July 1991

I was recently reminded of the words of David Lloyd George: the most persistent sound which reverberates through men's history is the beating of the war drums. This war, like the next war, is a war to end wars. Those words came to mind as, making my way to Kuwait City with the Select Committee on Defence, I flew over the burning oil wells. Someone said then that if hell had a national park that would be it.

What have we gained from the war? What have been its costs? We have 1·8 million refugees, and we have created a political problem. As paragraph 15 of the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs says, it raises the grim prospect of a seemingly unending refugee operation of Palestinian proportions. The Select Committee should be congratulated on giving us a short and cogent report on refugees and aid.

I have looked at the British Refugee Council's report of its visit to Iran at the beginning of June. Iran was commended for the way in which it has coped with the refugees. The report said that the number of refugees in Iran will exceed 1·3 million, and that in spite of any negotiations between Saddam Hussein and the Kurds 40 per cent. of them will stay behind. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) said, it bodes ill when we compare our own treatment of refugees with the way in which Iran has treated the 1·3 million refugees who have come to its borders. The report estimates that 400,000 to 600,000 Shi'ites have been displaced in the southern parts of Iraq.

The Harvard team of medics referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has estimated some of the costs of the war. It gives chapter and verse on mortality and morbidity, but the factor that stands out is that 170,000 Iraqi children under the age of five will die in the next year if we do not do anything. To those who say that we should not lift sanctions I say, "Think of one of those 170,000 children as being your own son, your own daughter or your own niece or nephew". Could those people then stand up and say that we should not lift sanctions? The team of medics tells us that those children will have a slow and painful death because of the stone age conditions that now exist in Iraq. Those conditions exist because the coalition forces ensured that they would.

We spent £100 billion prosecuting the war, yet to date we have spent only slightly more than £60 million on prosecuting the peace—less than 1 per cent. of the amount spent on the war. That is not good enough. The humanitarian aid has been welcomed by Iran and the Kurds, and the human effects of the Gulf war are now being ameliorated by international aid, but that does not erase the effects already suffered. In many respects the immediate aftermath of the war has improved very little in the intervening four months. In terms of malnutrition and disease control the situation has deteriorated further.

From a humanitarian point of view, I plead with the Minister to lift sanctions, in the name of humanity if for no other reason. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) explained how Saddam Hussein had been created, and that should be the lesson of the war. What will happen next—we have seen it already, with more arms sales to the middle east—is that we will get another Saddam. There will be Saddam 2 and Saddam 3. The only way to cut his legs off will be to prosecute another $100 billion war, and deliver 2 million more refugees. It is not worth it.

We see the kernel of the problem when we consider the permanent members of the UN Security Council and the supply of arms to the middle east. That is where the solution should lie. I look forward to the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on the issue of arms control measures. We are reminded in the 20 May issue of The House magazine that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council supplied middle eastern nations with $163,200 million worth of material during the four years preceding the arms embargo against Iraq. Baghdad received the largest proportion of that—$52,800,000. Sadly, Saddam Hussein is our creature because we supplied him with those arms.

The lesson of the war is that we should immediately convene a middle east peace conference encompassing all the issues, so that we do not find ourselves faced with a Saddam 2 or a Saddam 3 and 2 million more refugees.