Sudan - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 26 June 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Conservative 2:45, 26 June 2023

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the security and humanitarian situation in Sudan; and the adequacy of international assistance to those who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, 25 million people need humanitarian assistance in Sudan. Over 1.9 million people are internally displaced and 600,000 have fled due to the current violence. The scale of need is great, access is limited and the UN appeals are underfunded. The UK continues to work with international partners to secure an end to hostilities and to ensure that aid reaches those in need in Sudan and those who have fled, and that neighbouring countries can keep their borders open.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Conservative

My Lords, there are widespread concerns that the conflict in West Darfur between the Sudanese armed forces and the Rapid Support Forces—apparently supplied with land-to-air missiles by the Wagner Group—is leading the region into another genocide. There are already credible reports of the RSF targeting non-Arab populations. Can my noble friend tell the House what the Government have been doing, as a member of the Friends of Sudan international group, to encourage the African Union to take action now to ensure that there is a credible truce, instead of engaging and providing temporary ceasefires, which really only prolong the whole conflict?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The noble Baroness is right to identify the escalating violence and displacement in Darfur. There has been a big increase following the outbreak of hostilities on 15 April. It is believed that 280,000 people are now internally displaced, and the lack of humanitarian access into and within Darfur continues to make the work of humanitarian organisations very difficult indeed. The UK Government’s engagement with the African Union has been extensive: the Prime Minister, the Minister for Development and Africa, the Foreign Secretary and numerous senior officials engage frequently with counterparts across the region, but particularly with the African Union.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, I reinforce the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, about the position in Darfur. Twenty years ago this year, I visited Geneina in West Darfur; some 200,000 to 300,000 people died there, and 2 million people were displaced. Has the Minister seen this weekend’s statement by the President of Kenya, William Ruto, warning of another impending genocide? Is he aware that, later today, Darfuris resident here in the UK are coming to give evidence in your Lordships’ House about these unfolding events? The 1948 convention on the crime of genocide requires us to prevent and protect, and to punish those responsible. Will we do any better this time than we did last time?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, we are pursuing all diplomatic avenues to try to bring about a cessation of violence, establish humanitarian access and pave the way for meaningful lasting talks. On 29 April, the Minister for Africa went to Kenya, where he met President Ruto and the chairperson of the African Union to discuss this issue. He also visited Egypt in May to discuss Sudan with his counterparts. The Prime Minister, the Minister for Development and Africa, the Foreign Secretary and officials have all engaged frequently with their counterparts in Kenya, Djibouti, South Sudan and Egypt. The Foreign Secretary has directly engaged with the two military leaders to urge a ceasefire.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, earlier this month the mandate of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan was extended until December; this follows the agreement of a text drafted by the UK as penholder. Given the fourth strategic objective of the mission includes supporting co-ordination of humanitarian assistance, to which the Minister referred, can he tell us exactly what we are doing to ensure that it is implemented, and give us an update on how the mission can help those fleeing conflict, both internally and externally?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the UK is active on all the fronts I have already described but, in addition, we are heavily invested in Sudan. Over the last five years we have invested about a quarter of a billion pounds’ worth of aid, and in May this year the Minister for Development and Africa announced a further £21.7 million for Sudan, which is part of a broader £143 million package of humanitarian aid for east Africa. We are heavily invested in the region and will continue to be so.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, I declare an interest as I am actively involved in supporting the co-ordination of the civilian voice of the Sudanese and will be returning to the region the week after next to carry out some of this work. The Minister painted the very bleak picture of the humanitarian need of the people of Sudan. Does he agree that civilians—especially the young people and women, who were so remarkably resilient against the previous dictatorship and now have been resilient in this war—are an enormous resource for the co-ordination of humanitarian assistance? Can he outline the work of His Majesty’s Government in supporting the AU’s intergovernmental authority development in the Horn of Africa to ensure that civilians are at the forefront of the co-ordination of this work?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, we continue to work with international partners to bring about a permanent cessation of hostilities and that includes through a new African Union-led core group to ensure inclusive regional and international action to secure a viable peace process. It is our view, as it is the noble Lord’s, that a transition to civilian rule is the best and probably only way to deliver peace and prosperity.

Photo of Baroness Sugg Baroness Sugg Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister has set out the terrible scale of the humanitarian crisis in the region. Despite the ongoing challenges caused by the conflict, the World Food Programme has managed to assist over 1 million people, but 19 million people are expected to need that assistance by August this year. The UK has long been a trusted partner of the World Food Programme. Can my noble friend set out what support the Government have been able to give the WFP and what they may be able to do in the future?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I am afraid I do not have the figures for the most recent contribution to the World Food Programme, but we are one of the major donors. We have always been one of the major donors and we remain committed to that programme.

Photo of Lord Stirrup Lord Stirrup Crossbench

My Lords, although it is early days, are the Government making an assessment of the potential impact of the events in Russia over the weekend on the involvement of the Wagner Group with the Rapid Support Forces in Sudan and, indeed, on its criminal activities on the wider international scene?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the UK has repeatedly emphasised, and pointed the finger at, the negative influence of Russian activities in Africa. Russian state and non-state activities in Sudan seek to capitalise on instability for their own interests. The UK Government have repeatedly made clear our concerns over negative Russian activities—including, reportedly, by the Wagner Group—in the exploitation of Sudanese gold resources and in supplying weapons to the Rapid Support Forces. The impacts of recent events in Russia are being assessed in relation to this and other conflicts in Africa, but we are not yet in a position to articulate them.

Photo of Baroness Blower Baroness Blower Labour

My Lords, given the dire situation in Sudan, what consideration has been given to the creation of safe and legal routes for those seeking to flee to come to the UK?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the question of legal routes is one that I will have to put to the Home Office. Due to the conflict, we had no option but to close the visa application centre in Khartoum, which obviously makes things more difficult when it comes to the movement of people. I will get back to the noble Baroness in writing.

Photo of Lord Singh of Wimbledon Lord Singh of Wimbledon Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that while humanitarian aid is urgently required for the long-suffering people of Sudan, it is also important to stop the flow of arms getting to the combatants from countries such as Russia, China, Egypt, the UAE and Iran, fuelling the conflict for sordid economic and political gain?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The noble Lord makes an important point, which relates to the question I was asked earlier about the nefarious activities sponsored directly or indirectly by Russia. He is right that we continue to invest in solutions in the region, but we are also using every diplomatic lever at our disposal.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

My Lords, I am not quite as close to Sudan as is my noble friend Lady Anelay or the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Can my noble friend tell us what the African Union has actually achieved in Sudan over recent years?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

That is a very good question. As noble Lords will know, there have been a number of agreed ceasefires in recent months. It is right to say that every one of them has been fragile and has not held, and conflict continues to grip the country. The African Union has a hugely important role, not least because it has legitimacy to bring different parties together. Until peace is established in Sudan, I do not think anything can be described as a success.