Western Sahara

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 16th July 2008.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 11:30 am, 16th July 2008

How much aid to refugees from Western Sahara living in camps in Algeria his Department plans to provide in 2008-09.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Parliamentary Under-Secretary(Department for International Development) (Trade Policy) (also Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Trade and Consumer Affairs) (also Department for International Development), Party Chair, Co-operative Party

The Department supports Western Sahara through its share of the budget of the European Community Humanitarian Aid Office—ECHO—and contributions to the UN refugee agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. ECHO plans to provide some €10 million in 2008 to support Western Saharan refugees, while in 2007 UNHCR spent some $2.3 million on supporting them.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and the Government for the considerable amount of aid that they have given over many years to support the refugees from Western Sahara, who live in camps in Algeria, but can he help me? What pressure has been put on the United Nations to ensure that the people of Western Sahara have a free choice and a vote in a referendum to decide on the future of their territory, which we believe to be occupied by Morocco illegally at present, and thus allow people, who have spent 35 years in refugee camps, the right to return home and resume a normal life?

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Parliamentary Under-Secretary(Department for International Development) (Trade Policy) (also Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Trade and Consumer Affairs) (also Department for International Development), Party Chair, Co-operative Party

My hon. Friend knows from his extensive interest in the issue that there has been a series of UN Security Council resolutions, which we have supported, calling for a solution that provides for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. I suspect that he also knows that talks were held in New York in June and August last year and in January and March this year. This year, we have similarly supported the UN Secretary-General's call to encourage the parties to enter into a more intensive and substantive set of negotiations. We want them to start as soon as possible.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I hear what my hon. Friend says, but does he also recognise that Morocco is seeking special status from the EU? One of the pressures that we as a community in the EU could bring to bear is to make it clear to Morocco that we want the UN resolution on Western Sahara fulfilled. Will he talk to the Foreign Secretary about that?

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Parliamentary Under-Secretary(Department for International Development) (Trade Policy) (also Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Trade and Consumer Affairs) (also Department for International Development), Party Chair, Co-operative Party

I know that my hon. Friend has also taken a close interest in the issue and I am obviously happy to draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. He knows that discussions are already taking place between the EC and Morocco, for example, to ensure that human rights issues are properly monitored in Western Sahara. He also knows that there is a UN Group of Friends of Western Sahara, of which we and several other European Union member states are part. That is one way in which we can support the UN Secretary-General's call for further intensive negotiations to try to resolve the matter and genuinely support the right of the people there to self-determination.

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