Iraqi Refugees

Part of Constitutional Reform – in the House of Commons at 7:11 pm on 3rd July 1991.

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Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 7:11 pm, 3rd July 1991

The House will agree that few citizens have greater cause to fear their Government than do the Kurds have reason to fear and loathe Saddam Hussein. His policy towards that part of Iraq has been marked by murder, betrayal and a brutal disregard for the obligations that a Government owe to their citizens. Those essential facts explain the chaotic and distressing flight to the mountains that we witnessed earlier this year and which, following the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, led to the massive relief operation and the creation of safe havens that have been the focus of this debate.

I was in Luxembourg on 8 April when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister launched his initiative. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) was right to emphasise that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, by his action and the policies that were pursued thereafter, made a decisive and imaginative contribution to the relief of suffering in that part of Iraq.

This debate was opened eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) who is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. Many of the facts and considerations that are relevant to this debate can be found in the admirably succinct report that was published two days ago. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development very much regrets not being able to be present here today. She will make a full, written report to that document later this year. For that reason, I hope that I will be forgiven if I do not deal in over-great detail with some of the specific recommendations in the Select Committee's report.

In responding to the debate, I want to reply to particular points made by right hon. and hon. Members, to explain what we have tried to do in Iraq, in particular in north Iraq, to assess the current position in that country and to give the House my view on how policy is likely to unfold.

The Select Committee's report emphasises the scale of the crisis that confronted the world in March and April of this year. On 10 April, as is stated in the report, there were more than 400,000 refugees camped in the mountains of Turkey. There were about 400,000 refugees in Iraq close to the Turkish border. There were about 1 million in northern Iran and about 70,000 in southern Iran. That was indeed a people in flight. It was a tragedy on a scale that is seldom seen. Since then, as the House is aware, the position has improved substantially—at least in north Iraq.

All the refugees on the mountains within the allied controlled zone have returned to Iraq. The mountain refugee camps are closed and the transit stations are almost deserted. The towns of Zakho and Dahuk, together with most other towns and villages, are returning to normal. To be more precise, the latest information suggests that of the original 1.8 million refugees who left Iraq for Turkey and Iran, 1 million have now returned to their homes with the rest dispersed in camps and United Nations' humanitarian centres.

The relief operations in the north-east are being led by the International Committee of the Red Cross and by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The United Nations has established humanitarian centres in Arbil and Sulaymaniyah with sub-offices reporting to it. The ICRC is presently distributing food to 750,000 refugees.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) made an important point about winter shelters. From information that I have been given, I think that sufficient winter shelters are still available in Iraq. That should be sufficient for the kind of problem that my right hon. Friend had in mind. Most certainly in view of what he said, I propose to raise the matter further with the ODA and, if necessary, it will be raised with the United Nations' authorities and agencies.