I am pleased to welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to his new responsibilities; I wish him well in his post.
There is increasing recognition of the urgency of the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka, so I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the subject at this crucial time. Concern about the situation is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House, as the attendance at today's debate shows. It is also deeply felt among the large number of Sri Lankans who have settled in the UK. In London alone, there are more than 150,000 Sri Lankan Tamils, who since their arrival here have made and continue to make a distinguished contribution to our public life. Their concern about recent developments was made perfectly clear last Monday, when 6,000 of them marched on Parliament.
Those worries are increasingly finding an international voice. I note the recent comments by the European Commissioner for External Relations and by the UN Secretary-General, which clearly acknowledged the seriousness of the present situation. I also welcome the recent statement issued by my right hon. Friend Lord Malloch-Brown and by my hon. Friend Mr. Malik, when he was an International Development Minister. That statement acknowledges the gravity of the situation. However, we need to say and do more.
The current humanitarian crisis must be understood in the context of two interrelated developments: first, the escalation of fighting, particularly since July, between Government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam; and secondly the compulsory withdrawal of UN agencies and international non-governmental organisations, including all their staff, supplies and vehicles, from the northern Vanni region. That measure was issued on
Although this debate is on the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka, my remarks will focus on the Vanni region. That does not mean that suffering in Sri Lanka is confined to the Tamil-speaking areas. Like all hon. Members, I read with horror the news of two suicide bombings in Sri Lanka last week in which 30 innocent civilians lost their lives. I am sure that all hon. Members present will join me in condemning the slaughter of innocent civilians wherever and whenever that takes place. None the less, it is fair to say that the costs of war are concentrated in the Tamil-speaking areas of the north.