– in the House of Lords at 3:40 pm on 24th May 2023.
To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to assist the government of South Sudan to support refugees from the conflict in Sudan.
My Lords, I thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for his Question and for his long-term and outstanding commitment to the people of South Sudan, including on his recent visit to Juba with the Holy Father and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland.
The violence in Sudan has displaced more than 1 million people internally within the region, including approximately 73,600 people fleeing to South Sudan, where the humanitarian situation is already at crisis level. The UK Government allocated an initial £5 million, including £2 million in South Sudan, to meet the urgent needs of refugees and returnees who are fleeing the violence in Sudan. Today, the Minister for Development and Africa has announced £143 million in humanitarian aid for east Africa, including nearly £20 million for South Sudan.
I am grateful to the Minister for his response. Given that the peace agreement in South Sudan remains extremely fragile and the Government there are at best dysfunctional, incompetent and corrupt, what other measures are the Government taking beyond humanitarian aid in order to address the situation, especially in other countries in east Africa? Will they consider seriously channelling the funds they are making available through civil society groups, especially faith groups, which tend to be more effective in that country in getting money on the ground?
The most reverend Primate is right; he should perhaps not mince his words so much in describing the Government there. The UK is pursuing every diplomatic avenue we can to bring about an end to violence, establish humanitarian corridors, which are essential, and pave the way for meaningful talks. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Africa have engaged on a regular basis with their counterparts in the region, including with partners in neighbouring countries—Kenya, Djibouti, South Sudan and Egypt—with the African Union and with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. The Foreign Secretary has also engaged directly through various intermediaries with the two military leaders to press further for a cessation of hostilities, and we will continue to work with the international community in every way we can in order to push for a longer-term and more permanent end to the fighting and a return to talks on transitioning to civilian rule.
I apologise that I did not answer the most reverend Primate’s question about funnelling finance through civil society. He is absolutely right: we do not funnel money through Governments in the region; we rely increasingly on established NGOs on the ground, which are often far better placed to direct that money in a useful manner.
My Lords, the announcement today in New York is very welcome, but let us not forget that that pledge still represents a 13% cut on previous commitments to east Africa. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said that resources are essential if we are to address this issue. Can the Minister tell us whether, in addition to financial support, we are able to provide technical support to those countries to ensure that proper assistance is given to those refugees? Can he also tell us how we are supporting the African Union’s efforts for peace and stability in that region?
My Lords, we work very closely with the African Union, as I said, and also with neighbouring countries. I cannot add to the data that I have already provided in relation to the financial support we are providing, but I am not sure a 13% cut is correct—I am going to have to get back to the noble Lord if I am wrong about that. However, I think it is the case, based on the figures I have seen, and I will check with the Minister for Africa, that our contribution to the region is increasing, not decreasing, partly as a consequence of the humanitarian crisis that we are discussing today.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned the AU, as indeed did the Opposition Front Bench spokesman. Surely the time has come for the AU to mobilise and energise those front-line states neighbouring Sudan, including—as the Opposition Front Bench spokesman mentioned—Egypt, but also Ethiopia, Chad and the Central African Republic. They have a crucial role not just in stabilising the region but in helping with this appalling refugee crisis unfolding on their borders.
My noble friend is absolutely right that this is a growing crisis that has huge ramifications for neighbouring countries, as we have already seen, not least from having to cope with the huge movement of very large numbers of people who are often in desperate circumstances. The responsibility, therefore, to forge a lasting ceasefire rests not just on our shoulders but on those of the neighbouring countries as well. That is why the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Africa Minister have been engaging so frequently with those neighbouring countries.
My Lords, we have heard mention of the other countries that are bearing the brunt, such as Chad, which has received around 60,000 refugees, adding to the 600,000 already there. Does the Minister accept what the charities are saying about the British Government simply not doing enough to facilitate family reunions with safe and legal routes from Sudan? Those from the UK who were eligible for evacuation were told that they would have to leave family members behind in Sudan. There was one example of a British national taking his two children, but he could not bring his pregnant wife because she was a Sudanese citizen. Is enough being done to facilitate children—especially those on their own, who have been abandoned—coming to this country where they have family members? Are we doing enough when other countries, such as Chad and other neighbouring countries, are suffering so dreadfully?
I want to acknowledge the huge contribution being made by neighbouring countries. The noble Baroness mentioned Chad, which I think has taken 75,000 people, but Egypt has taken well over 100,000, South Sudan 71,000 and Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, Saudi Arabia and Libya have all taken significant numbers. If there are other specific examples of difficulties—she alluded to two—I will be keen to ensure that they are seen by the Home Office, which holds responsibility for this policy. To reiterate, our current refugee resettlement schemes allow us to support the most vulnerable refugees direct from regions of conflict and instability. Through those schemes, the UNHCR refers refugees whom it has assessed as in need of resettlement here. For some —indeed, for many—people, it is nevertheless in their best interest to stay close to the region or in a neighbouring country, where there are often similarities in culture, language and bureaucracy, and where they can be supported by international organisations, including the UN, which we support financially.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned that more than 1 million people have been displaced, and that is very serious. But can he tell the House why the Government brought to an end a year early the money allocated to Sudan through their own programme under the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund—the CSSF? In retrospect, does he not agree that this was a mistake? In light of the continued violent conflict, will the Government now restart funds for Sudan under the CSSF programme?
My Lords, the CSSF is one tool, or fund, within government that has targeted support historically to Sudan and a whole range of other countries, but it is by no means the only fund available to government. As I mentioned earlier— I will not repeat the figures—we remain a very significant funder. The commitments that we have made in recent days and weeks have added to what is already a significant flow of support to the region.
Can the Minister confirm that as much as 17,000 metric tonnes were looted from WFP warehouses in Khartoum in the early stages of the crisis? The WFP itself is 15% funded for its work not just in Sudan but in South Sudan, including with those returning every day. How are the Government sustaining the World Food Programme at this critical time?
I have to admit that I am not aware of the example that the noble Earl gave. I will have to put that to the Minister for Africa and provide a proper response in due course. On the issue of food provision generally, we have provided emergency food aid to an estimated 193,000 people as well as daily water and sanitation provision for 83,000 of the most vulnerable displaced people in South Sudan. This is a key area for us and the record is one that we should not be complacent about but can be proud of.
My Lords, the refugees referred to by the most reverend Primate in his Question include women and girls who have suffered horrendous sexual and gender-based violence, including rape used as a weapon of war. What are the UK Government doing to help to ensure accountability for the actions of those responsible for these crimes?
Our starting position is that a competent national or international court should determine whether crimes against humanity or genocide have been committed and who is responsible, and there have been numerous allegations, many of them backed up with impressive evidence, to suggest that very serious things have happened in the region. We remain a staunch advocate for justice. We support the role of the International Criminal Court in investigating war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. We work with a wide range of NGOs that are monitoring the situation closely, and we will continue to do so.