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Persecution of Christians

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:10 pm on 6th February 2020.

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Photo of Heather Wheeler Heather Wheeler The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 4:10 pm, 6th February 2020

The hon. Lady’s intervention epitomises how difficult this matter is and how skilful our wonderful civil servants and others need to be on this matter.

In Iraq, the UK has committed more than £260 million in humanitarian support over the past six years. That funding has provided a vital lifeline for emergency food, shelter, medical care and clean water to the most vulnerable in Iraq, including members of minority communities such as the Christians and the Yazidis.

In Syria, Christians and other minorities have suffered dreadfully in the conflict, particularly at the hands of Daesh. The UK is working on a political settlement, which protects the rights of all Syrians, regardless of ethnicity or religion, and we are supporting work to bring accountability and justice to the people, including to survivors of religious persecution.

My hon. Friend Fiona Bruce spoke movingly, paragraph by paragraph, on the issues in Nigeria. I was almost ashamed to listen. Communities of all faiths have been affected by rising levels of violence. Communities of different religions live together peacefully across most of the country. Insurgent groups such as the Fulani, Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa seek to undermine the rights of freedom of religion as protected by the Nigerian constitution, with appalling attacks against civilians, including a recent spike in Christian targets. I will pass on my hon. Friend’s request to Department for International Development officials, to reply directly to her.

I was also asked what we have done to make clear to the Nigerian authorities at the highest levels the importance of protecting civilians, including ethnic and religious minorities. We regularly raise concerns with the Nigerian Government about the increasing levels of violence. Most recently, the Prime Minister did so during his meeting with President Buhari at the UK-Africa investment summit on 20 January. It was important that that question was asked of me, as we now have the answer on the record.