Humanitarian Relief and Libya

Part of Bill Presented — Sustainable Energy (Local Plans) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 5th April 2011.

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Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice) 3:34 pm, 5th April 2011

The last thing I want to do is make this party political, and I am sure other hon. Members would support me in that. I am talking not about the detail of what is happening, but about the impression that is being given, which will have a knock-on effect on coalition support. That impression is that the west’s embroilment is going deeper and further, beyond the terms of the resolution, and so it will, in time, fracture that coalition.

I return to the specific humanitarian points and I wish to raise three issues with the Secretary of State. If he is not able to deal with them today, it would be helpful to receive a further briefing from the Government, either an oral or written one, to cover these areas. The first issue is displacement. It is estimated that about 500,000 people have been displaced in Libya as a consequence of the fighting so far, the overwhelming majority of whom—perhaps 90%—are migrants. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, about 80,000 Egyptians and about 20,000 Tunisians have been repatriated. I am somewhat confused by that, because the most recent Library briefing says that up to 1.5 million migrants were in Libya before the crisis and that a substantial number of them were Egyptian. When I was in Cairo two weeks ago, the Egyptian Government and others were saying that we were dealing with a substantially higher number of Egyptians. Can the Secretary of State clarify where those migrant workers and residents are now? This concern for their own citizens in Libya is a substantive reason why the Egyptians have been reluctant to become more involved in the situation, despite having powerful armed forces on the border.

We did a good job, as did the international community, in moving Bangladeshi, Filipino and Nigerian migrants working in the oil and other industries in Libya out at a relatively early stage. As has been mentioned, we have not done such a good job in relation to sub-Saharan African populations. That is partly a consequence of Gaddafi’s policy of opening up Libya in years gone by; he turned away from the Arab world and towards sub-Saharan Africa, welcoming a tide of millions of immigrants from there. A substantial number, perhaps more than 100,000, remain in Libya and they have very little by way of resources. As has been said, they are the targets for violent attack by Libyans who think that they may be mercenaries or supporters of the Gaddafi regime. My hon. Friend Hugh Bayley gave examples of these serious and damaging violent attacks, and we need to examine the matter. One response for these people is to try to get out of the country by any means possible; hence the boats going over to Italy and Malta. Many people have been lost at sea as a consequence and some have been given a very dusty welcome, with the situation being exploited politically by Berlusconi and others. That is perhaps at the depth of the humanitarian crisis.

We also face the issue of some Libyans crossing the border. Their number is relatively small compared with these other figures, at perhaps 20,000, but perhaps twice that number are internally displaced. If military action escalates, with or without the support of the coalition, the likelihood is that the number of internally displaced refugees will grow hugely. The military action has severe implications for humanitarian relief.

Secondly, I ask the Secretary of State to consider the logistics of the situation. Access to the east of the country is not so bad, and I understand that UNHCR people are going back there later this week, but despite the fact that some UNHCR employees are in Tripoli, the west is almost off limits. The situation in places such as Misrata is very severe. The Turkish ship that courageously went in after waiting outside the dock for four days was going to remove about 100 people. It did take off about 250 seriously injured people and their relatives, but it left many thousands, including about 4,000 Egyptians, who were trying to get on the ship. I would not expect the Secretary of State to comment on what relief operations are planned for Misrata, but clearly it is the most serious situation, as people are being killed every day and no supplies, medical or otherwise, are reaching the town. That is the place in most urgent need at the moment.

Many organisations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Tunisian and Egyptian Red Crescent, and Islamic Relief, are engaged heavily where they can be, both in Libya and on the borders. I repeat what I said in my intervention: the funds are not necessarily available. I understand that only about 36% of the £310 million flash appeal funds sought have actually been raised, so there is a crying need for additional funding. That is why the evacuation of people from the border camps has slowed almost to a trickle. We face not only a problem of access, particularly in the west of the country, but a problem of funding. Notwithstanding the Government’s efforts so far, they ought to turn their attention to that again.

The final point I shall deal with is the question of justice. A reference has been made to the International Criminal Court, and in my many visits to Gaza I have been struck by the fact that after people have suffered military action, they want to have not only financial and substantive relief, but justice. They also want those who have caused them harm to be dealt with by the rule of law. It is very important that the international community steps in at that point and that even those from the regime who are seeking refuge at the moment will in due course be called to account. That is as important for the people of Libya in the long term as the immediate humanitarian relief is in the short term.