It is an absolute pleasure to contribute to the debate. I congratulate the hon. Members for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on securing it and the Backbench Business Committee on giving the House an opportunity to state its commitment to the democratic process in Sudan and South Sudan. Like the other Members who have spoken, I am very interested in peace and development in both countries. It is essential that the British Government do everything in their power to apply diplomatic pressure and to offer practical help in order to see true peace and development in both countries.
Those Members who have heard me speak about Sudan before will know of my concern—it remains—about the persecution of Christians and how that relates to the development of those countries. Members have spoken about many issues relating to the conflict, such as the need for education, health, schooling, hospitals, better roads, jobs and so on, and the humanitarian needs. Those are all important, but we must also consider the persecution of Christians. Last month I read an interesting report, and I have been waiting for the appropriate time to bring it to Members’ attention. Now is that time.
Oil is the critical factor, as other Members have said. We are well aware of the impact oil can have and what it can lead to, so we know how important it is for Sudan and South Sudan. Last February I had the opportunity to visit Kenya with the armed forces parliamentary scheme and to meet some of those involved in eastern Africa and to hear the political overtures being made there. Many thought that the way to address the issue might be to take an oil pipeline through Kenya, but it was apparent from the discussions we had, and from the political point of view and that of the army, that Kenya seemed reluctant to do that.
The defeat of the Sudanese army in a battle with rebel forces last month prompted concerns that the Government will retaliate by increasing their already intense pressure on the country’s minority Christians. That cannot be allowed to happen. Sudan’s Minister for guidance and endowments, Al-Fatih Taj El-sir, announced in April that no new licences for building churches would be issued—I hope that we never have to appoint a Minister for guidance and endowments in this place, because it would be a sad day if we came to that. The Minister explained the decision by claiming that no new churches had been established since South Sudan’s secession in July 2011. That was due, in his opinion, to a lack of worshippers and a growth in the number of abandoned church buildings. The reason was that most of those people were being repatriated to South Sudan. He said that there was no need for any new churches. He also said that freedom to worship is guaranteed in Sudan, but quite clearly it is not.
Missionaries from my constituency are working in Sudan, and I have been made aware, through their church, of some of the things happening there. There is a real need for the Government to address the issue. I hope that the Minister will be able to do that in his winding-up speech. Days before that announcement, the Catholic Information Service for Africa reported that a senior South Sudanese Catholic priest, Father Maurino, and two expatriate missionaries had been deported on
In a published briefing, Christian Solidarity Worldwide has stated that since December it
“has noted an increase in arrests, detentions and deportations of Christians and of those suspected of having links to them, particularly in Khartoum and Omdurman, Sudan’s largest cities. There has also been a systematic targeting of members of African ethnic groups, particularly the Nuba, lending apparent credence to the notion of the resurgence of an official agenda of Islamisation and Arabisation…The campaign of repression continued into 2013, with foreign Christians being arrested and deported at short notice, and those from Sudan facing arrest, detention and questioning by the security services, as well as the confiscation of property such as mobile phones, identity cards and laptops. In addition to the arrests and deportations, local reports cite a media campaign warning against ‘Christianisation’.”
Those cases have been backed up not only by Christian Solidarity but by Release International, Open Doors and many other missionary organisations and Churches.
William Stark, an Africa specialist for International Christian Concern, told WorldNetDaily that President Bashir had attempted to paint the rebels as Christian troublemakers. Let us put it clearly on record that that they are not. How dare Bashir blame those with Christian beliefs for what is taking place? His Government have been fighting insurgents, whom he has labelled “Christian troublemakers”. Open Doors spokesman Jerry Dykstra has said that, despite the flimsy connection with Christianity, the Sudanese Government are calling for a war against those who do not believe in Islam or in jihad, and turning the teeth of their attacks on Christians.
I ask the Department for International Development or the Foreign Office to intervene and ascertain the intentions of Bashir and his Government. As things stand, Christian organisations representing missionaries and Churches are reporting that Churches have been closed and that foreign workers accused of proselytising have been expelled. Are the Government aware of this? What is being done to help those in that situation? To put it simply, there can be no peace and development in Sudan until there is an end to persecution. I ask the Minister to respond to these points and also to the points that have been made on humanitarian aid, health, education, roads and jobs, and on the humanitarian crisis that is taking place in Sudan and South Sudan.