Eritrea

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 2:18 pm on 3rd May 1995.

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Photo of John Battle John Battle , Leeds West 2:18 pm, 3rd May 1995

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on United Kingdom relations with Eritrea. [20433]

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Our relations with Eritrea are good. We have followed closely developments since independence and have urged the Eritrean authorities to continue to work towards the adoption of a democratic constitution.

Photo of John Battle John Battle , Leeds West

After 30 years of war, Eritrea became independent about two years ago. That was a moment of great liberation and hope, not least for the half a million refugees in Sudan. Since independence, some 80,000 of them have been rehabilitated and have returned. What can the Minister do to help the other 480,000 who cannot return because of the shortage of funds to help them to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into Eritrea? Would not one practical step be for the Government to reverse their 30 per cent. cut in British contributions to the European development fund which helps Lomé countries, of which Eritrea is the latest member?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have a substantial aid programme. At £2.2 billion, it is the sixth largest aid programme in the world. We also have a very substantial bilateral aid programme. Every £1 that we spend multilaterally is £1 that we cannot spend bilaterally. The way in which we spend our bilateral funds is extremely worth while. For example, it enabled us last year to spend £100,000 specifically on improving port facilities in Eritrea to enable Eritrean ports to cope better with the high 1994 food import requirements. We spent £6 million of our bilateral aid programme on general and specific aid for Eritrea last year, which Eritrea very much appreciated. If that money were to be spent on multilateral projects, it would not be available for us to spend, as we would wish to, bilaterally. I am sure that the House would wish that money to be spent well bilaterally—as indeed it is.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

Does my hon. Friend estimate that the flow of Somali refugees to Eritrea, or to other parts of the world, has slowed down or finished as a result of the more peaceful situation in Somalia or is the reverse the case?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Eritrea has had difficulties with Somali refugees and with Eritrean refugees in Sudan. We are ready to help with the process of returning Eritrean refugees from Sudan. I am glad to say that I think that the situation with Somalia has now stabilised.