Sudan and South Sudan

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:38 pm on 18th June 2013.

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Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 6:38 pm, 18th June 2013

I begin by congratulating all hon. Members who have participated in this important debate. Their knowledge was exemplified by and built on the visits that people have clearly made to this important and challenging part of Africa. I agree with Ian Lucas on the importance of the all-party group on Sudan and South Sudan and its significant contribution to highlighting the importance of this issue in the House. He was right to mention that this subject was not raised in Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions this morning, but to be fair to Mark Durkan, he certainly managed to raise it in the previous FCO questions, and I have no doubt that he and other hon. Members will do so again.

I also want to congratulate the hon. Member for Foyle not only on securing this debate but on the detailed and passionate way in which he introduced the topic, highlighting the significant problems that exist. He was absolutely right to raise the challenges that exist, particularly the humanitarian crisis. If I have time later, I will say a little more about what we and the Department for International Development are doing about that. I join him and other hon. Members in putting on the record our recognition of the bravery and commitment of many non-governmental organisations in the work they do on the ground, albeit without being specific, as they request. He also raised the significant role of UNAMID, which is a joint UN-African Union force. It also needs to be put on record that Robin Gwynn, who is a senior FCO official and the United Kingdom’s special envoy to Sudan, is in Darfur today to discuss exactly how to reinvigorate the peace process and how we can support UNAMID and give it a greater focus.

The hon. Gentleman was also right to highlight the terrible suffering in Blue Nile state and South Kordofan—suffering that is sadly stretching and expanding into North Kordofan—and the importance of trying to ensure that the international community gets humanitarian access into those parts of Sudan when it is safe to do so. I can give the hon. Member for Wrexham an assurance that we are co-operating and discussing with multilateral organisations such as the United Nations and the African Union, as well as through the troika—the United States, Norway and the United Kingdom, which work together closely on these issues—and with other organisations, such as the Arab League, which also has an important role to play.

The hon. Member for Foyle was absolutely right to highlight the current deterioration of the situation in Darfur and the attacks on UNAMID, which have continued. We have also seen tribal clashes over land, which means that this is not a simple matter of the South Sudanese forces attacking those tribal groups. Things are much more complicated than that, but that does not take away from the suffering that is occurring. More than 300,000 people have been displaced this year—more than in the last two years—and 1.4 million internally displaced people are already in camps in Darfur. We are doing what we can to alleviate the human suffering and the humanitarian situation, and we certainly press the Government of Sudan very strongly to honour their commitment under the Doha peace agreement and allow unhindered humanitarian access.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about the risk that aid for Darfur will be used by the Government. I can give him an assurance that UK assistance in Darfur is delivered through UN agencies and NGOs and is carefully targeted specifically to benefit ordinary Darfuris, not Government institutions. Indeed, after the Doha conference there were significant and detailed strategic talks to ensure that all donor assistance is targeted in that way.

My hon. Friend Stephen Mosley made an informed and knowledgeable speech. He was absolutely right to say how highly regarded the United Kingdom still is in Sudan and to talk about the significant educational links that exist. He also raised the importance of the humanitarian challenges, quite rightly highlighting the excellent work of the NGOs. If I may build on the sad point he made about the Ethiopian peacekeeper who was killed, we utterly condemn the attack. Indeed, last night I had the sad task of writing to the Ethiopian Foreign Minister to express our condolences at the loss of a young female Ethiopian peacekeeper.

My hon. Friend was also right to highlight the importance of oil to both economies and to acknowledge and congratulate those officials in the Foreign Office and DFID who work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering and do what they can to find lasting solutions to the problems that have dogged Sudan and South Sudan for far too many years. I can confirm to him that their focus on DFID, in addition to alleviating humanitarian suffering, is about building accountable, capable and responsive government, public financial management through the anti-corruption commission and supporting civil society.