Horn of Africa

– in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 26th January 2010.

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Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin 11:00 am, 26th January 2010

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this important matter in the House. The security of the Horn of Africa is critical for wider geopolitical stability in Africa, the middle east and here in the United Kingdom. There has been a lot of focus in the past few weeks on Yemen, which is just a short boat ride across the Gulf of Aden. This attention is justified, but I hope that although increased attention is given to Yemen, the fragile and delicate security situation in the horn of Africa will not be overlooked. If the horn fails to attract the political attention that I believe it merits, I fear that the UK will rue its decision.

As an avid Africa watcher, increasingly my view is that the key challenge facing Africa is neither the continent's lack of natural resources-many of its countries have plenty of natural resources-nor its lack of innovation or entrepreneurship of its wonderful peoples, who are intelligent, creative and adaptive; neither is it its often challenging natural geography and topography nor even its poor governance, which hopefully is diminishing in increasing numbers of countries. I pay tribute at this point to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union for their part in parliamentary capacity building.

My main concern is a malicious virus sweeping throughout Africa and especially through the horn of Africa, which does not discriminate between men and women, adult and child, young and old, or between Muslim and Christian. This virus eats away at the fledgling ambitions of Africa's farmers and small businesses, artisans, scientists, poets and songwriters, and at the dreams of its children and youth. The virus would, if successful, stop the clock on Africa's progress and turn back the hands of time. Of course, I speak of misguided and perverse extremist Islam-false Islam-and jihadism, both Islamism and Wahabism, along with its various franchises, affiliates and proxy footstools.

Today I hope to set out, albeit in the limited time of this debate, why the radicalisation of Africa must not be allowed to succeed and why the costs will be high not only for the horn and the continent as a whole, but for Europe and the United Kingdom. Such an outcome would return millions to poverty, put a near immediate brake on successful immunisation and health programmes, halt the extension of universal education and extinguish the struggling flames of young and fledgling democracies.

The UK has both a duty and self-interest in ensuring that it does all it can to stand with those African Governments and individuals who make a stand for freedom from terror, freedom to live in peace and prosper, and freedom to choose and remove Governments-government for the people and by the people-without fear of slaughter, murder and mayhem.

Let me be clear. I hope that the leaderships of all radical groups will some day soon come in from their hideouts in caverns, caves and cyberspace and realise the error of their ways. Leading Muslim countries have a key part to play in this enlightenment, engagement and counter-radicalisation process. But it is worth noting that many extremist groups neither accept arbitration as a means of resolving hostilities, nor subscribe to conferences and negotiations: they train for terror and live for terror and they die in a bloody witness of terror.

In respect of extremist groups and terrorism in Africa, one of the great and misleading propositions is that a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict would lead to the terror groups disbanding. This is an inaccurate reading of all the evidence. That claim is merely a convenience for radical groups that want to court mainstream Muslim legitimacy and attract external funding. Their thoughts about Palestine are secondary to their immediate and near-abroad strategic goals and aims, which are both political and jihadist in outlook.

Even if the Arab-Israeli conflict were resolved today, terrorist acts against the west and Muslim majority Governments would not cease. Indeed, they may even intensify, unleashing terror against any Government or person, Muslim and non-Muslim, who is unprepared to conform to a particular view of extreme political Islam. Further, a Palestinian resolution would also be unlikely to stop Iran continuing to fund terror groups: the stated aim of President Ahmadinejad is to

"wipe Israel from the face of the earth", not to bring about a successful two-state solution.

Poverty and lack of education alone cannot be cited in the terror organisations' defence. Yes, many operatives are impoverished, poorly educated and disfranchised, but that is not uniquely so. We know that many of the creators of terror groups often came or come from middle-class and professional backgrounds-well-established backgrounds. Poverty may be one driver, but, conversely, the availability of or access to wealth is not a single antidote: UK jihadists perhaps underline that point. The causes of radicalisation are wide and varied. Although no doubt poverty and corruption and other such issues play a part, the causes are complex and varied.

The Israeli-Arab conflict contributes to radicalisation, but it would be a strategic error and arch gullibility not to recognise and call jihadism what it is: a political ideology mixed with heresy that is advanced on the platform of jihad, aided and abetted by tribal chieftains and brutal warlords and the inglorious vanity of national leaders and external disrupters in the horn of Africa.

Sudan has a huge amount of natural resources and potential and could, with the right governance and internal settlement, become one of the continent's most prosperous countries. But such prosperity will not materialise if important political, administrative and diplomatic steps are dismissed or regarded as unnecessary and inconvenient. That is why this April's elections are so important.

I have serious concerns about the voter registration process and the means by which up to 2 million people living in the north will be required to take a long journey to the south, using poor infrastructure, to register and cast their vote. There needs to be a cast-iron guarantee that those people who make that long journey to the south will be allowed to return to the north of Sudan without harassment or complications. The Sudanese Government also need to ensure freedom of speech and assembly and the end of arbitrary arrests, otherwise the Opposition parties may cry foul.

The Sudanese Government need to avoid setting the scene for a disputed election result in April, which in turn could lead to the abandonment of the 2005 peace process settlement. Such an outcome would be catastrophic for Sudan and the region as a whole. Similarly, if the National Congress party forms the national Government, it should ensure that it honours the agreement on the content, process and timing of the national referendum, in just 12 months' time. The next few weeks and months will take real political leadership in Sudan, and history will judge its leaders in that light. Sudan might prove to be one of the toughest foreign policy challenges for an incoming United Kingdom Government of whatever political colour in May.

That leads me on to Somalia. I hope that the British Government will continue to do all they can to ensure that the transitional Government in Mogadishu not only survive but develop into a fully functioning Government-a Government who are able to take head-on the foreign-backed al-Shabaab and other al-Qaeda affiliates. That is a jihadist militia that assassinates, beheads and blows up fellow Muslims. Who kills young doctors, whose training is only to help the ill, suffering and dispossessed people of Somalia? Al-Qaeda cannot be allowed to establish a caliphate of Greater Somalia. Not only is that against the will of the majority of the Somali people, but further regional conflict with neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya would, I believe, become a distinct possibility, perhaps within three to five years.

The stakes are very high. Those jihadists will not be content with Mogadishu and Somalia. They want to spread their heresy and misery to Addis Ababa, Nairobi and other capitals in the region. That is the primary reason why I applied for the debate-an attempt at a stark wake-up call that unless more action is taken to assist Governments such as that of Somalia, whom I fully accept have their own imperfections and complexities, the alternatives will not only be bad for the people of Somalia, but strike a severe blow at this nation's national security. It is time for more action to be taken to track, contain and isolate these threats, albeit multiple threats.

The war on terror-that is what it is-cannot be viewed through the prism of bean counters in the Treasury. It must be viewed with intensity, realism and recognition of the magnitude of the threat and the catastrophic consequences of failure. The Treasury cannot allow the United Kingdom to fail. It cannot undermine this nation's national security.

Our European partners should also wake up and do far more. I also hope that Japan might see its shipping interests as a good reason why it could fund groundwork projects, employment generation and capacity-building schemes in Somalia. The Japanese have been particularly helpful in providing funding in Afghanistan and other parts of the world.

At this juncture, I should like to praise the efforts of the African Union in Somalia and, in particular, the Governments of Burundi and Uganda for the 5,000 peacekeepers whom they retain in the country. The AU's presence is vital, and I hope that Nigeria and other key AU members will contribute further to ensuring that Somalia's transitional Government survive and that the Governments of Uganda and Burundi remain committed to the mission in Somalia.

The British Government also need to be far more interventionist, robust and proactive in neutralising the fundraising capabilities of a minority of Somali nationals in London who are sending funds back to Somalia to sponsor terror. Similarly, the right to travel of any British citizen should be withdrawn if there is reasonable suspicion that they are likely to enter Somalia or other countries to train for acts of terrorism. I also think-I shall speak slowly here-that for any direct-line family member of anyone found guilty of certain terrorist offences who is proven to have had the probability of reasonable access to knowledge that their family member was to prepare and/or train for terrorist activity, any outstanding visa applications, asylum claims or application for UK citizenship should be refused. If parents can be prosecuted for their children playing truant in the United Kingdom, far more legislative imagination could be used to bring pressure to bear on would-be murderers of UK citizens through family members who are found to be either complicit in or culpable of their activities.

I want to discuss Ethiopia, and I declare an interest in that I recently visited Ethiopia as a guest of its Government; that should appear in the next week or so in the Register of Members' Financial Interests. I think we can all agree that Ethiopia is the big beast of the horn of Africa, with its long history and long borders. What happens in Addis Ababa matters, not just because it is the home of the African Union, or because of its large population, but because for the best part of the past decade it has been one of the most stable countries in the horn. Obviously there is a continuing issue concerning Eritrea, and there are internal issues too, but certainly in recent years there has been comparative stability, albeit a fledgling and occasionally stumbling stability. That is one of the best examples of representative Government in the horn at the moment.

F

I'm not sure your reference to the Israeli conflict is any more balanced than the people you accuse of taking advantage of it. You almost seem to argue that Britain should try to maintain the illegal occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people to minimise the risk of terrorism.

It is very true that every political organisation, including the Conservative Party, take advantage of quoting other causes to support their claims/aims.

This is why we (human society) is developing a democratic system with an independent judiciary. I believe this is the minimal standard which, even political rhetoric, should adhere to. So, please, next time you want to use the Israeli conflict to support your argument, look closely at the legality and ethics of what has gone on over the last century. You will need a touch of honesty not to dismiss the relevant facts!

Submitted by Fuad Al-Tawil

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Was the issue of the border dispute with Eritrea raised during the hon. Gentleman's discussions with the Government in Addis Ababa, and does he have any hopes that the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling will be accepted by both sides?

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

The hon. Gentleman always makes a sensible and thoughtful contribution when he intervenes in debates. I shall come on to that matter in a moment, but it would help if the court were to make the effort to visit the border, and if it did not make judgments based on a map in a room in a European capital. The question was raised, and I discussed it with the Foreign Minister and leading representatives of the Government, but I shall come on to that.

For the reasons I have given, the process of, as much as a peaceful outcome to, the forthcoming elections is very important. I hope, as does the whole international community, that a repeat of the arrests and killings of 2005 will be avoided at all costs. Not only would an irregular general election in Ethiopia be a bad outcome for its people; it might also create the danger of destabilising an already fragile region. I want to make it clear that I fully recognise the efforts of the Government of Prime Minister Meles. Since 1991 infant mortality has fallen by half. Life expectancy is also up, as is school attendance. However, democracy and human rights need to expand and mature, as does the independent voice of non-governmental organisations. I have my concerns about the civil society Act and some of the resulting restrictions on advocacy groups and non-governmental organisations in Ethiopa. Progress has been made, but more is needed, and it is needed far more quickly. It is vital to the whole of the horn of Africa that the United Kingdom and its partners should do all they can to ensure that Ethiopia remains stable.

That is why Eritrea is a vital part of the equation. Perhaps the chaos and tragedy that is modern day Eritrea would not be as bad as it is if it were not for the continuing interference of two of Britain's so-called friends, and possibly allies-Libya and Qatar. Yes, close co-operation with both Governments is important, but that should not mean the United Kingdom Government turning a blind eye to the funding of the Eritrean regime or the destabilisation of other parts of the horn region, as Eritrea does its work often by proxy. The Eritrean Government's aggressive and intransigent posture against Ethiopia is particularly unhelpful to the region. The Government of Eritrea need to stop using the border dispute with Ethiopia as a means to keep their citizens in a perpetual state of anxiety. That is why I welcome the United Nations arms embargo. I hope that it will be monitored particularly closely. It must be effective; it must work. I have a message for the leadership of the Eritrean Government: the Eritrean people want peace, not war. They want food, not more guns and bombs. They want an end to the siege of their blighted lives, which have been bruised and crushed by a confused, unimaginative leadership. They want an end to the provocation of neighbours, including Djibouti. Despite denials, Iran's dark hand casts a long shadow over both Asmera and Aseb.

Regional security in the horn of Africa remains fragile, but it need not deteriorate further. Whether that happens will depend in large part on the responsible or irresponsible actions of Qatar, Libya, Saudi Arabia and, most notably, Iran. It will also very much depend on the strategic view that the United States, the European Union and the Government of the United Kingdom take on the question of whether the horn matters. I believe that it does matter. It should not be the victim of strategic drift at the Foreign Office or of the failure to allocate the necessary resources from within existing budgets to identify and tackle those elements in the region that are undermining the UK's national interests and security.

Finally, if the British Government believe that freedom is a universal right, as I believe the Minister does, because he is a decent man, who has taken on his Foreign Office role very capably, the UK, when invited-that is key-has an international obligation and a human duty to defend those rights and freedoms.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 11:22 am, 26th January 2010

I thank Mark Pritchard for securing the debate, because this is an important issue. Unfortunately, it has not been the subject of many debates in the House, although I suspect that we will return to it in the foreseeable future because the situation in the region is not good by any stretch of the imagination.

It is well known that I represent an inner-London constituency, and a significant population from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan live in the community. The instability throughout the horn of Africa and the poverty that many people face there is therefore very real for many of those in my community. The asylum seekers and others whom I meet, who have been resident in my borough and other parts of London for a long time, have often been traumatised by their experiences and the abuses that they have suffered in Somalia and other places. None the less, people in the settled Somali community have a real wish and desire to make the best of their lives here, and they make an enormous contribution to our living standards and way of life. We have to recognise that that diversity is a strength, not a weakness.

I followed the hon. Gentleman's remarks closely. Although there are many analyses of what is happening throughout the horn of Africa, one should not ignore the region's colonial heritage. Ethiopia managed to avoid being colonised at any stage by the European powers so it has a special place in the lexicon of African history and culture. However, the surrounding countries were divided up quite callously at the Congress of Berlin in 1884, when straight lines were drawn on maps. There was another divvying up after the first world war and again after the second world war. That colonial heritage is not the sole cause of all the problems in the area, but it is a contributory factor to the instability and the problems.

One should not forget that the cold war was fought by proxy. In the wars surrounding Ethiopia and the battle over the Ogaden, massive amounts of armaments flooded into the area from the Soviet Union and the United States. That led to a great deal of instability. That instability still continues, albeit in a slightly different guise. The whole area is a victim of its history.

There remain a couple of subjects that I wish to raise, but essentially I am interested to hear the Minister's reply, and to find out what degree of engagement this country proposes for the future in order to bring about or encourage some form of peace and stability in the region.

The people that I talk to are victims of everything. They are victims of colonialism; they are victims of the cold war; they are victims of instability; and they are victims of poverty. Everyone on the planet deserves rather better than that. The longer the instability goes on-principally in Somalia, but not exclusively-the more it will spread into neighbouring countries. I think particularly of the Somali people who feel forced to migrate to Yemen in order to escape what is happening in Somalia, although the situation in Yemen is not good at present.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that although the problems would not necessarily disappear, the current fanning of the flames might turn to shallow embers if the dark hand of Iran was not over the horn of Africa? Notwithstanding the Iranian nuclear issue, the malevolent, oppressive and destabilising influence of Iran is seen not only in Latin America, central America, the Balkans, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq, but in the horn of Africa, where it has been very active over the last 24 hours. If Iran were to be removed from that region, there would be at least some hope for the continent.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I am not in favour of anybody interfering in the horn of Africa if it makes the situation worse. The hon. Gentleman probably ascribes to Iran a rather greater power than it has. Nevertheless, influences at work throughout the region are not necessarily positive. One should look towards building political solutions in the horn of Africa rather than indulging in a blame game, and blaming everybody else in the region. A process of involvement rather than isolating all those Governments might be a better approach. That would include Iran as much as Eritrea or Somalia.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

Given Iran's internal problems-its young people being addicted to drugs and its economy in a real state-does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Iranian Government should focus more of their political attention and some of their limited resources on dealing with their internal problems rather than destabilising the region? He mentioned Eritrea, which is being particularly unhelpful in sending arms and extremist groups into Somalia. That has not helped. I hear that in the last few hours, Somalia has been very much involved in sending al-Qaeda affiliates to Yemen, yet we know that Yemen has a direct impact on this nation's security. If Iran is taken out of the equation, it would help matters considerably.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I am absolutely not in favour of Iran or anybody else developing nuclear weapons. I understand what the hon. Gentleman says about the economic situation in Iran, its problems with drugs and the human rights problems that exist there. However, I think that we might differ on whether we should engage more not only with the Iranian Government but with a range of people there as a way of promoting engagement rather than promoting isolation. The more one promotes isolation, the more it gives space for those characterised as extremists to gain political power. We might differ on degree, but that is something that should be considered.

I have mentioned the role of the west and the matter of the cold war, but there is also a sort of rubric and policy, both in the European Union and the United Nations, that the problem is Africa's and should therefore be left to the African Union to sort out, even though the African Union-as wonderful and as great an institution as it is-lacks the necessary resources to be able to do it. It is easy for the west to say that African peacekeeping forces should go in, but when those forces turn out to be largely from Ethiopia and one considers the previous wars over the Ogaden in which Ethiopia was involved, one has to wonder whether it is such a clever idea to send Ethiopian forces into Somalia when there are previous disputes over territory between those two countries. Might it not have been better to send in some more obviously neutral forces at an earlier stage? I accept that forces have come from Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, but the initial very large deployment of Ethiopian forces has not been terribly helpful in building a feeling of reliability among the various elements of government in Somalia.

On the question of Somalia, the collapse of the Siad Barre regime and the disputes between Somaliland and Puntland in the southern part of Somalia obviously go to the heart of the problem. The violence is much greater in the south around Mogadishu and in the north around Puntland than it is in Somaliland itself, which is relatively stable-I use my words advisedly and carefully here. The west has put much emphasis on supporting the transitional Government in Somalia, and the Obama Administration appears to be even more supportive than previous US Adminstrations. Although I can see where it is coming from and why it is trying to achieve it, we must ask whether the transitional Government are representative of the people of Somalia. How effective are they and how much land do they control? Are we not in danger of fuelling an even greater war there? Is there not a necessity to revisit the concept of a longer-term peace conference on the issues surrounding Somalia and its instability?

The recent Amnesty International document on international military and policing assistance states that the whole policy should be reviewed in respect of Somalia, because it feels that the substantial arming of the transitional Government that is going on is possibly in danger of fuelling an even worse situation, rather than making the situation better. We must consider the issue carefully. If we pour a lot of arms into the area, we must ask what happens to them afterwards.

There was an interesting article in The Guardian on 22 January by Murithi Mutiga, entitled "Yemen: lessons from Somalia". In it, he said:

"The path to peace in Somalia lies in separating these forces and pursuing a settlement with the more political and realistic members of the Islamist movement. Analysts such as Abdi place the likes of Sheikh Aweys and his Hizb Ul Islam offshoot of Al Shabaab in this bracket."

He went on to say:

"If the pragmatists in the Islamist movement are persuaded to join a government of national unity that can craft some sort of peace deal, that would make a bigger difference than any number of millions of aid poured into the country after an international summit."

Essentially, his plea is that Islamist forces in Somalia-perhaps not all of them-should be involved if a longer-term peace is to be found. It is something that may be difficult for some people to comprehend, but it is an issue that cannot be ignored or wished away. As the hon. Member for The Wrekin pointed out, the implications for the region and everyone else of further and worse instability in Somalia are very grave indeed.

The last point that I want to mention concerns Eritrea. There is a substantial Eritrean community within my constituency, and I have obviously met and held discussions with many of its members. It is surprising that the UN resolution on arms, travel and banking and financial embargoes against Eritrea received very little publicity in any of the newspapers in the world, because it was a major decision that was taken by the UN Security Council. Might not such a draconian measure against the Eritrean Government be utterly counter-productive in the long run if there is no process of greater engagement?

When I intervened on the hon. Member for The Wrekin, I made a point about the border dispute with Ethiopia, which is unfortunate, to put it mildly. It has cost the lives and money of an awful lot of people and ought to be resolved. Indeed, that was the whole point of the Court of Settlement. The lack of a resolution provides a huge propaganda victory for the Eritrean Government because of Ethiopia's apparent refusal-this is why I intervened on the hon. Gentleman-to accept the arbitration agreed by both sides as binding.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

Notwithstanding the many Eritreans in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, does he not accept that the Eritrean Government, as I said in my speech, might also want to use the border dispute to maintain a permanent state of emergency or to keep the people in a permanent state of anxiety to suit their own purposes? The border issue, although important, is not due to the recent talks. The progress made on the border dispute is the primary reason why Eritrea is acting as it is. It is an internal rather than a border issue.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

The point that I was making-perhaps I did not put it well-is that the lack of a settlement to the border dispute has led both Eritrea and Ethiopia to use the issue as a cause of national discord. As both parties agreed to go to arbitration and an arbitration settlement was made, it is surely incumbent on both parties to accept that settlement and implement it. Surely that must be the right way forward. The lack of a settlement is a useful cause célèbre, as the hon. Gentleman was trying to point out.

When the Minister replies, will he indicate what degree of economic aid and support this country and others can provide to help break some of the cycles of poverty in the region? Essentially, however, it is a political problem that must be addressed with a political solution. The area is not unfertile; the seas are not without fish; the land is not without minerals. There are opportunities for a much better standard of living. The area also has an extraordinarily rich cultural history. However, if we do nothing and the situation worsens-if the abuses of human rights, hijackings, kidnappings, warlords and all the other aspects of an inoperative state continue-the instability will clearly spread more widely, including to Yemen and other places. I wonder whether we are not sometimes too simplistic in looking at goodies and baddies, and whether a much higher degree of involvement is needed.

I conclude by differing with the hon. Member for The Wrekin. The beginning of his contribution seemed to be almost a counsel of despair that the war on terror must be pursued all over the place. I do not think that it has been overwhelmingly successful in either Iraq or Afghanistan. It certainly has not been successful in bringing about a settlement of the problems faced by the Palestinian people. Surely we must engage much more and recognise the causes of the instability and the heritage leading to it.

Above all, we must overcome the huge disparities between rich and poor in that part of the world, and between that part of the world and the rest, which is one of the factors involved. I meet the victims of the conflict, as do many others in the House. They are the people who suffer loss of homes, family, friends and livelihood and are forced to migrate. They do not necessarily want to be forced out of their own country; they want to be able to live in peace in that society. I think that we should do what we can to support them in that wholly human and decent aspiration.

R

Surely "bringing about a settlement of the problems faced by the Palestinian people" should be "bringing about a settlement of the problems faced by the Israeli and Palestinian peoples"?

Submitted by Roger Taylor

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs) 11:40 am, 26th January 2010

One of the great benefits of the Westminster Hall forum is that one can come and listen to colleagues who know an awful lot about a subject either because they themselves have visited a particular country or because they have populations in their constituency who are from the country that they are talking about and they have worked with those populations, so that over a period of time they have really begun to understand the issues affecting that country. Consequently it is great for Front Benchers to be able to listen to that experience and knowledge.

It is particularly good that Mark Pritchard has brought this issue to the attention of colleagues today. That is because, as we think about Yemen this week with the conference on the country taking place in London, we should be worried about other areas where there is a potential for the "virus" that the hon. Gentleman described to take hold, so that those areas become a breeding ground for terrorists who not only threaten the people in those areas but security across the globe.

Therefore the hon. Gentleman is quite right to warn about that threat and to talk about the dangers of false Islam. However, I slightly want to play devil's advocate with him. No doubt he will be able to quote facts and figures against the sort of reading that I have done in my preparation for this debate, but I have come across the suggestion that the Islamic movements that we see in some parts of the horn of Africa are quite dynamic movements, which are changing all the time and which are not necessarily part of some sort of global jihad movement. There may well be some actors who fit that description, but equally there are many other actors who would not recognise any affiliation to some sort of global ideology in the way that the hon. Gentleman described. Indeed, quite a lot of people who are in the Islamic movement in Somalia or elsewhere in the horn of Africa are much more focused on trying to win power nationally. They are often part of a nationalist movement, involved in local disputes in their areas, and their links to al-Qaeda and that form of dangerous Islam are tenuous at best.

For example, I read a little of what has been written by one of the Chatham House experts on Somalia, Roger Middleton. He has said:

"Shabaab and Hizbul-Islam are nationalist movements first and foremost. The commanders are fighting to control Somalia. Their agenda is local, not global."

That is not to say that those groups may not find links to other groups elsewhere, as the hon. Gentleman has described. However, trying to understand the intricacies of this Islamic movement is important as we debate the right policies to deal with the threat that it presents.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

Given the demands on the time and resources of al-Shabaab, one of the examples that the hon. Gentleman used, and his comments that it may not have strong links with global terrorist organisations, does he find it surprising that, even as we speak, al-Shabaab in Somalia is trying to make its way to Yemen to support its al-Qaeda brothers there as they take on the Yemeni Government and indeed the Saudis on the border?

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

I have no doubt that what the hon. Gentleman says is absolutely right. However, I just say to him that when people have looked at the Taliban in Afghanistan in much greater detail and read the comments of some of those people who have gone to Afghanistan and talked to the Taliban in all the different provinces of the country, as some of us have begun to do, the message that comes out is that the Taliban is not some sort of homogenous group, with a unified command structure, that works together with one shared aim. Instead, the message that comes out is that the Taliban is a very mixed, incredibly heterogeneous movement and I would guess that it is the same for al-Shabaab. I bow to the hon. Gentleman's greater understanding of this issue, but the fact that there may be one or two people, a group of people or a small militia going over to Yemen from Somalia does not necessarily mean that all the people who are behind that movement in Somalia subscribe to some sort of al-Qaeda network.

That is the only point that I am making and I am not even sure if I am absolutely right to do so. I will be frank; I have been reading what others who have spent their lives thinking about this issue are saying. A recent report from the Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point in the United States said that al-Qaeda had not found a promising base in Somalia and that, if anything, coastal Kenya had been a more fertile territory. It stated:

"At one point, Al-Qaida operatives were so frustrated that they listed going after clan leaders as the second priority for jihad after expelling Western forces."

Another author concluded:

"In Somalia, al-Qaeda members faced the same challenges that plague western interventions (extortion, betrayal, clan conflicts, xenophobia, a security vacuum and logistical constraints)."

So that is not to deny that we should be concerned and worried about the points that the hon. Gentleman made. All I am saying is that as it may be quite a mixed picture, we need to understand that, because if we do, we are more likely to be able to deal with the problem. As Jeremy Corbyn said, if we engage with the groups that do not have the virus, that are not contaminated, we are much more likely to be able to build up the civic society, the coalitions and the groups that can eventually take power and prevent the people whom we jointly are concerned about from having the effects on our security that we all fear.

This is always a case of trying to get a detailed understanding. My knowledge of Somalis in this country is that they have a very different approach to Islam from, say, Pakistanis, Iraqis or other Muslims whom I meet. Their main approach is the Sufi tradition, which is not exactly strict in its doctrinal beliefs, to say the least, and has a mystical orientation. It is very different from the sort of Islam that we see elsewhere. Again, it is important to understand those differences, so that we analyse the intelligence effectively for our policy.

Colleagues have talked about a number of issues within the horn and rightly made it clear how those all interlock. We cannot view one dispute in isolation; they all interlink, which is one reason why the situation has been so complex over the years. Inevitably, however, we do focus on individual disputes, and one major issue that has been talked about this morning is the border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Past decisions have not been implemented, there appears to be a stalemate, and the way forward is unclear. It seemed at times that the hon. Members for The Wrekin and for Islington, North were representing slightly different points of view on that, and that is exactly as it should be. There may well be different tensions about who is to blame. Is it the Eritrean Government looking at their own people domestically and allowing the dispute to perpetuate because it suits their domestic political agenda, or is it the Ethiopians? I do not know.

What I do know is that the external powers, although they often have not been as helpful as they should be in their interventions, may have a role to play in this matter. Obviously, President Clinton had a bad experience in respect of Somalia when he was President, but I understand that he had a role in the finalisation of the Algiers agreement. Perhaps there is an external, world-renowned leader-it may be an African leader-who, through the AU or the UN, could take more initiative on the dispute, because although there are tensions preventing it from being reconciled, many of the people whose comments I have read for the debate suggest that should we get a resolution of the border dispute, many other benefits would flow from that. It is not just the border dispute that would be solved, but many other issues.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again; he has been very generous. We have to distinguish between my comments on and view of the Eritrean Government and those on the Eritrean people, who are a wonderful, innovative, adaptive and creative people. However, do not the incursion into Djibouti, the ongoing dispute between the Eritrean Government and Djibouti-something that has been ruled on by the United Nations itself-and the intransigence and the reluctance on the part of the Eritrean Government to understand and abide by the will of the international community give some insight into how the Eritrean Government respond even when there is that dialogue and that instruction from the international community?

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

Absolutely. There is great force to that argument. I am not trying to take sides with the Eritreans or the Ethiopians; I am just pointing out the complexity of the matter. As always in such disputes, a blame game is going on. In those circumstances, often external figures-from the UN, the AU or individuals-can play a role. I hope that the Minister will give us some indication of Foreign Office thinking on whether that is something it will be pushing for.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the border dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia was referred to international arbitration and that both sides agreed in advance that they would abide by the decision. None of us was party to that decision, but a decision was made and a border was delineated. The tension would be reduced a great deal if both sides accepted that decision and moved on. Otherwise, the matter becomes a cause célèbre, the situation will become worse and the isolation, particularly of Eritrea, will become even greater.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

I do not disagree with that. Clearly, although that arbitration has taken place and the ruling has been made, it is not being implemented. One therefore has to try to work out how we can get the two sides to try to implement it. I am not suggesting we move away from that decision, but there needs to be a protest because, at the moment, there is stalemate. Given it is the Minister's job, I want to hear from him whether the British Government are doing anything to try to break that stalemate or whether they are just sitting back and saying, "A judgment was made a few years ago. That should be abided by, but it is nothing to do with us." I hope we will hear something on that from the Minister today.

The hon. Member for The Wrekin rightly brought Sudan into the debate. Given this is an historic year for Sudan, he was right to do so. The peace treaty was signed five years ago, but it has not been fully implemented. There are elections later this year and one of the referendums is next January. The hon. Gentleman will know that there will be other referendums regarding the border disputes between the north and south of Sudan, and that consultations are going on. There is no doubt real danger that war and conflict could break out on a large scale. Clearly, conflicts are breaking out on the peripheries, particularly of south Sudan. If one talks to the southern Sudanese, they will blame the Government in Khartoum for festering that.

I was recently at a very interesting rally called Beat for Peace. I talked to a group of Sudanese people in a church and it was interesting to note that, although they were from the west, east, north, south and centre of Sudan, they were committed to work together as a diaspora for peace. They want the British Government and others in the international community to play an important role this year in trying to put pressure on the Sudanese Government-although they are difficult and I am sure that the Minister will remind us about that-to make sure that elections and referendums are conducted properly and openly. We need to ensure that there are international monitors and that support is given to those processes. I hope that those very difficult tensions can be resolved through a more democratic and peaceful way.

Given what is at stake and that the oil wealth over the border in southern Sudan is a huge bone of contention, these are clearly not easy matters. Also, given that Khartoum is still, I believe, not doing what the international community asked it to do in Darfur, it is often difficult to engage with the Sudanese Government. Clearly, those are tricky things and I do not make light of them. However, while I am touching on Darfur, will the Minister update colleagues on the state of helicopter provision for the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur? Over the past two years, I have asked the Foreign Secretary that question on several occasions and have not had a proper answer. The western powers, including Britain, put money aside to ensure that the helicopters needed to help implement international resolutions in Darfur are there, but as far as I know, relatively little progress has been made.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

I am not necessarily saying that I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's central point on the better provision of air lift transport from whatever quarter for Darfur, but will he tell hon. Members from where he would source those helicopters within the United Kingdom?

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

Not from the United Kingdom. What lies, quite rightly, behind the hon. Gentleman's intervention is the fact that we cannot afford not to provide helicopters for our troops who are engaged in conflict. When I met the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon to talk about the issue, I suggested that he put pressure on the British Government and others to use the funds that the Government had been putting into a pot to get helicopters from countries that had spare ones, such as Ukraine, the Russian Federation and others. It is clear from talking to people in the industry that those countries have spare helicopters that could be keyed up. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is not just about providing the helicopters; there are the pilots-you need more than one per team-the mechanics and the spare parts. This is therefore a complicated logistical exercise, but the British Government and others have nevertheless said that the money would be there, and that has never been denied. However, as far as I know-I would be delighted if the Minister proves me wrong-they have never used the money to underwrite deals with countries that have helicopters and which would not, of course, give us them for use in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

I want to finish with two points. First, in this debate about the conflicts in the horn of Africa, let us remember the ordinary people there and the humanitarian crisis that the vast majority of them face as a result of conflict. I hope that the Minister will tell us what work is being done through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development or international agencies to ensure that we protect civilians and meet the humanitarian challenge as far as possible. We are all realistic about the ability of Britain and the wider international community to end these conflicts any time soon, but that does not detract from our responsibility to help those who are caught up in them and who suffer as a result. I hope that the Minister will say something about that.

My final point is one that I should perhaps have mentioned earlier, although I am sure that colleagues will agree with what I have to say. Given the piracy that we have seen, particularly off the Somali coast, we should remember Paul and Rachel Chandler, who were taken hostage on 23 October. The Minister may want to give us the latest information that he has about them. He may have read reports that they gave an interview to an ITN reporter, in which they said that they would be killed if the money that had been demanded was not handed over by 24 January. Obviously, we hope and pray that that has not happened, and we would all be grateful if the Minister can give colleagues an update on the situation.

The example of Mr. and Mrs. Chandler shows, perhaps in a slightly extreme way, that instability in other parts of the world has knock-on effects for British citizens. That is why this debate is important and why the hon. Member for The Wrekin has done the House a service by bringing it to the Chamber.

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 11:58 am, 26th January 2010

It is a pleasure to serve under your benevolent eye, Mr. Gale. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Pritchard on raising this important issue. As colleagues have said, this debate in Westminster Hall gives us the opportunity to have a slightly more reflective debate than we often have on the Floor of the House.

[Mr. Martin Caton in the Chair]

The debate is about regional security in the horn of Africa. Like other colleagues, I sometimes hear contradictory views when I talk to people who have worked and lived in the region, be they local people, expats or experts of one kind or another, including those from the aid organisations and the United Nations and officials from the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. One view is that we should look at this as a regional issue, and colleagues have flagged up the fact that many of the countries in the region are interconnected. One example is the trade and the flow of people between Somalia and Yemen; if we could only stop some of the flow of arms from Yemen into Somalia, we could make considerable progress. There is also the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. There is therefore a whole raft of issues that show how the region is interconnected.

At the same time, however, the experts rightly tell us that each area is unique. As Jeremy Corbyn said, there are unique elements in their histories and cultures and there are differences in their populations. I suspect, however, that many countries and outside organisations have approached the problem with the idea that one size fits all and that there is one single threat. Here, I probably slightly disagree, on balance, with my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin about the threat from al-Qaeda. There is a threat, but it is much more complex than we sometimes think, so our response should be much more complex too.

Secondly, we should also be aware that we, the outsiders, have often made the situation worse by blundering in, sometimes with the best of motives. The current condition of Somalia, in particular, is undoubtedly due to the activities of many countries, ranging from the United States to European Union countries, including ourselves. It is also due, as hon. Members have pointed out, to the introduction of an Ethiopian force into the conflict. However, we should also be aware that the countries in question have played host to some political organisations that have developed into terrorist activity. Al-Qaeda and other organisations are only too well aware of that.

The issue is crucial; we could have an academic debate, and in another environment and another age I used to enjoy such debates, because one could argue things to a conclusion and go away and have a decent lunch. However, in the business that we are all interested in, which is the rough trade of politics, one must argue things to a decision. As the late Marshal Foch would have asked, what is actually to be done? In particular, what can the United Kingdom do?

The first thing to recognise is that we are talking about a desperate area. Other hon. Members have spoken of the level of sheer political instability-Somalia is effectively a failed state, and although Yemen is not, the experts say it is under enormous strain-the poverty and the number of refugees. The scale of that is vast. Also, for many of the people living in poverty in the area, what we regard as quasi-terrorist activities-piracy and the slave trade, which still goes on-are things that they and their ancestors have been involved in for hundreds of years. Undoubtedly there are people involved in piracy who have a terrorist bent, but we must ask whether, if Somalia had a reasonable Government and there were reasonable prospects for employment, particularly in fishing, there would be piracy on such a scale.

The United Kingdom Government, to be fair to them, recognise that all the aspects of a response must be integrated; the response should not be purely military or purely a matter of aid.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

In no way do I condone piracy in any form, but does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that piracy started with the inability of the international community to monitor fishing in the area, and that the loss of fishing opportunities, particularly in the Puntland, meant that people turned to a horrible criminal process?

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Yes. I would not disagree at all with the hon. Gentleman. Also, the historian in me tells me that an element of tradition is involved. I recall visiting one of the Gulf states, although I shall not say which one, and being invited into a business family that had traditions of trade with the old East India Company-they showed us documents about that-and trading down to the coasts of east Africa. It was a cross-party delegation and a colleague asked the head of the family, "How did your business start?" He answered, "Very simple. We were slavers. We made all our original money from our slave trade activities down the coast of Somalia and elsewhere." However, the hon. Gentleman makes a fair point and I would not resile from it.

Why is this important for the United Kingdom, and what should we do about it? It is important, first, because the region is important to UK national interests. It is an area of strategic importance, and our history and our current strategic concerns mean that we should put, and are putting, a considerable amount of effort into it. Whether we are putting the right effort into it is necessarily a matter for debate. It is also a crucial concern to us at a humanitarian level. The sheer scale of the problem means that public opinion rightly demands that we and our friends should do something.

The area is also of considerable importance to us economically. The potential of these countries to become involved in world trade is enormous. The seas around the area are crucial, given the sheer tonnage of trade that goes through there. Piracy has an impact not only on commercial companies but, as Mr. Davey said, on individuals. Indeed, while we are debating the subject, two people face the threat of being killed. Others, not necessarily UK citizens, are still being held.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, even in the last seven days, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have said that they will fight so-called infidels on land, in the air and on the sea? Given the history of the area, particularly the USS Cole incident in Yemen, does my hon. Friend share my concern not only about commercial shipping but about the leisure shipping that comes through that part of the region, particularly as cruise itineraries and destinations are published well in advance on the internet, giving plenty of time for preparation? Governments have given little consideration to the risk to cruise shipping, not from pirates who have small boats and would find it hard to board a cruise ship, but from terrorists.

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Cruise ships have been attacked before by pirates and by terrorists. The United Kingdom Government, like all Governments, advise cruise companies about the problem and give advice on security. I suspect that some of the measures that they undertake are not publicised, as many organisations use the internet as we do.

I thought that my hon. Friend was going to mention the fact that we have to give hard-nosed advice to people who merely-may use this expression?-wish to cruise their yachts around that area. There is a significant chance of being captured in that area. Frankly, people should weigh that up. Governments can give their citizens only a certain amount of advice without physically banning them.

I return to my theme, which is what our Government can do and why they should do it. The reason for doing it is, as the hon. Member for Islington, North said, that large minority groups living in the United Kingdom were originally nationals in those countries. Many of them fled here for the opportunity to find security, work and so on, but there is a problem. It involves only a few of them, but some have been radicalised and have returned to Somalia or Yemen either to support violence out there or to take part in international terrorism.

The difficulty for the Government is to get the balance right, providing counter-terrorist support for Governments in the horn of Africa without that support inflaming matters. Now is not the time to debate the problems of Yemen, but the problem for Governments is not only that they are fighting al-Qaeda but that they are fighting two separate conflicts, in the north and the south, in which al-Qaeda is only on the margins.

I have to say gently to the Minister that many believe that the original hype for what was going to be an international conference on Yemen burst like a bubble because, after asking questions, we discovered that it is a two-hour meeting in the margins of a bigger conference on Afghanistan. I do not wish to make a party political point, but I think that many Labour Members were a little surprised about that. It looks more like a public relations exercise. I understand that the Government, the United States Government and other Governments are looking at this as a long-term problem. I commend a Government publication by DFID about a year ago, in which they talked about the need for an integrated approach to the problem of Yemen, involving all Departments, not just those dealing with counter-terrorism.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

My hon. Friend is giving way generously. He mentioned Yemen, which is linked to the horn of Africa. On 30 November in the main Chamber I asked the Prime Minister directly, during his statement on Afghanistan-Pakistan, whether he would include the Government of Yemen in the Afghanistan London conference. He was equivocal and did not give an explicit view one way or the other, which I found disappointing. We then had the incident with Abdulmutallab and-surprise, surprise-a phone call was made by the British Prime Minister on 1 January to the Government of Yemen inviting them to London, which came as a great surprise. That is not a criticism of the British Government, but I am concerned about whether the Government have a strategic grasp of the issues involving national security, including in that part of the world.

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I think they do now because of the nature of the insecurity in that region and the nature of the threats that we face now. Any Government will come under enormous pressure if, sadly, future terrorist activity against British citizens abroad or in the UK is carried out not by some caricature terrorist looking like a down-market Lawrence of Arabia but by somebody who is, as has sadly been proved on numerous occasions, a second or third generation immigrant from a family living here who has demonstrably had a good education and looks to all intents and purposes like a young man-it is mainly young men-who is fully integrated into society, yet rejects a lot of what the current UK society stands for. There are no easy tricks to deal with that.

The Minister will get the support of the House if he approaches the issue of the horn of Africa comprehensively and recognises that, even if resources are stretched, one of the most important areas is intelligence and intelligence gathering. I realise that the intelligence community is under enormous strain at the moment.

I congratulate my hon. Friend, who I know feels passionately about this subject, on securing and introducing this debate, which has led to contributions being provided from colleagues on an important matter.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 12:13 pm, 26th January 2010

I congratulate Mark Pritchard on securing this important debate, on his well-informed, passionate contribution and, more generally, on his thoughtful, important contribution across the foreign affairs canvas in the House. Not many new Members of Parliament specialise in foreign affairs and have that level of expertise and knowledge. The quality of debate is strengthened when the hon. Gentleman makes his contributions, which are usually based on a well-informed analysis, even if we will not necessarily agree on all the issues.

May I answer the first question posed by the hon. Gentleman, which was does the Horn of Africa matter? It matters significantly, in respect of stability in the international community, and in terms of direct United Kingdom national interest and the future of Africa as a continent. In every sense the horn of Africa matters. As Mr. Simpson said, we have to be realistic about the complex nature of the challenges that we face. There is not one solution. There has to be a security and stability element to our response, a significant political response in terms of improved government and human rights and a well thought out, smart level of significant development support to tackle the problems of inequality and poverty. All of that has to be brought together in an integrated approach.

I want to talk a little about the background of the situation, give an update of the security situation, summarise our understanding of the extent and causes of the problem and then talk directly about the UK's response.

I will deal quickly with the Yemen question. It is important that we judge this week's meeting on Yemen by the decisions that are made, the quality of the participants and the follow-up to and implementation and delivery of whatever is agreed, not on the number of hours the meeting lasts. Too often at such international summits fine words are signed up to at the end of the process, but the test will be whether we are willing to ensure that there is a clear plan for delivery, implementation and milestones, and also roles and responsibilities for the different players that need to make their contributions.

The important thing to stress is that the Government of Yemen must be in the lead. It is not a failed state, but it is a fragile and vulnerable state, so the support the international community gives on security, effective government and development will be incredibly important. Let us judge the outcome of the meeting by the decisions that are made, the delivery and the implementation.

There is no doubt that the horn of Africa stands out because of the sheer prevalence and persistence of conflict at every level: within states, between proxies and, not that long ago, between armies. It poses severe threats to regional and international security. The drivers of conflict in the horn are longstanding and in many cases predate current country boundaries, a point we should be clear about. The end of the cold war brought seismic shifts in the region. Long-entrenched dictatorial regimes collapsed in Ethiopia and Somalia, and Eritrea and Somaliland declared themselves independent.

A region that had long been viewed as one of chronic conflict and poverty, and that had been the playground of cold war foreign policy, did at one stage offer new hope of popular, progressive and accountable government, but unfortunately that has not happened.

The situation, frankly, has deteriorated. The credentials of Ethiopia and Eritrea were tarnished when they went to war over the disputed borders, and in 1998 there were 100,000 fatalities. Their unresolved dispute continues to be an underlying cause of problems across the region, as hon. Members have mentioned. Somalia has never managed to establish state structures and effective government, with fragmentation, warlords, political Islam, as the hon. Member for The Wrekin made clear, and extremist networks gaining ground. Meanwhile, we all acknowledge the significant challenges that remain to the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement in Sudan.

So what security threat do we believe the region poses? The analysis is clear. Al-Qaeda's allies and affiliates look to exploit ungoverned space and instability where they can, as the hon. Gentleman said, whether in the Sahel, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq or Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the long-term instability in Somalia has resulted in an environment where both local violent extremists, and a small number of international extremist groups, have managed to gain traction and control over areas of territory. That control overlays a complex clan mix and a long history of insecurity. Terrorists and al-Qaeda, as has been said, are not interested in reality or the daily lives of the people of Somalia and offer nothing to improve their lives.

They are a threat to the well-being of Somalia and the wider region, and that has been evidenced by two recent bombings in Mogadishu: one was on 3 December, in which three Ministers and many civilians, including journalists and medical graduates, were killed; and only yesterday five people were killed in an al-Shabaab bombing in a civilian hospital in Mogadishu. I am sure that hon. Members will want to offer our deepest condolences to the Government and people of Somalia in the aftermath of those tragic attacks.

We are aware that al-Qaeda is present in Somalia, and it is vital to confront the challenge posed by its hateful ideology. Al-Shabaab is seen as the ally of al-Qaeda, but it also has its own agenda, which is focused on attacking the transitional federal Government and neighbouring countries. The UK and the TFG have had discussions on counter-terrorism, and we will work with both the TFG and other regional Governments to deny those groups safe haven.

As hon. Members have said, Somalia has also become known as the breeding ground for piracy in the gulf of Aden and Indian ocean. Piracy is a criminal enterprise, which results in great distress for the innocent crews and their families who are caught up in the hijacking, and the escalating ransom demands place an increasing burden on industry. Our thoughts go to Rachel and Paul Chandler, who continue to be held in Somalia. We call on the hostage takers to release them immediately.

As hon. Members said, we remain concerned about the situation on the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

Before the Minister moves on from piracy, will he agree that although we welcome the co-operation of the Government of Kenya in dealing with the legal issues over the pirates who are taken into custody, it would be particularly helpful if the Governments of Tanzania and the Seychelles would also participate in trying to bring forward a legal process?

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. All those countries with the capacity to make a difference should come together and do the right thing. It is important to place it on record that such countries have responsibilities in that respect and should take the necessary action.

To my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North who raised the issue of the border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea, I have to say that there was arbitration. The Eritrea-Ethiopia boundary commission made a very clear decision on the border. Despite our friendship with Ethiopia and our tremendous admiration for the progress it has made, we continue to press it to implement the decision following arbitration. The matter will continue to be a running sore and a cause of much instability until it has done so. I say to Mr. Davey who asked the question that we continue to make the case for that recommendation to be implemented, because it is a root cause of the significant instability.

Returning to the situation in Sudan, hon. Members have said that the situation remains fragile and difficult. However, I must stress that the comprehensive peace agreement between north and south remains on track despite all of the difficulties. There is now one year until the referendum on self-determination in southern Sudan. Irrespective of the referendum outcome, work needs to be done on many issues, including oil revenue sharing, security arrangements and border demarcation. Levels of organised violence and fighting between Sudan armed forces and armed movements in Darfur have declined significantly compared with 2003 to 2005, but lawlessness and insecurity remain high. The causes and consequences have yet to be addressed.

The hon. Gentleman asked about helicopters, and I will be very specific about the position. Since its inception, we have contributed more than £100 million towards the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur. We have lobbied extensively in the UN and with countries in the region on the provision of helicopters. As an update, I can say to the hon. Gentleman that Ethiopia is to provide five helicopters for UNAMID, which is a step forward, but we need further information on how they are to be deployed. None the less, we should welcome that as a significant step forward.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister for that, but five Ethiopian helicopters is not a new development. They have been promised by the Ethiopians for more than a year. When I pushed the matter with the Foreign Secretary and raised it with the UN Secretary-General, that was not the solution, because the Ethiopian helicopters are not the ones that we need for the heavy lift. The only ones that have those capabilities and that are not in conflict zones are the Ukrainians, Russians and Czechs. It is a question of underwriting those deals so that the helicopters can go into this mission. I do not think that enough is being done.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I will write to the hon. Gentleman if I have any further information to give him. The point about the deployment is that it will take place in February. If the hon. Gentleman does not feel that that is enough, I can find out if any other plans, commitments or discussions are taking place at the moment.

Turning back to some of the challenges, we all acknowledge that migration continues to be a problem both within the region and to Europe, with large numbers of internally displaced persons and refugees in the region itself. For example, the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya is temporary home to almost 300,000 Somali refugees, some of whom have been there since 1991. There are also high volumes of migration flows to the UK and wider Europe. In the first three quarters of last year, there were more than 2,000 applications for asylum from the region.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North said, it is important to mention that the vast majority of people who come to this country play a very positive role and make a positive contribution to their local communities. There is sometimes a danger that people from certain countries in the horn are demonised in the way we present them. We should always make the point that it is a small minority who are a difficulty and a problem. We have to be clear about the threat that they pose. The vast majority of people who have settled in this country from the horn of Africa make a positive contribution to their communities and the United Kingdom.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I thank the Minister for that. His remarks are very helpful because the Somali community makes a huge contribution to ordinary life in London and other cities. We should pay tribute to them for that. On Somalia, does he envisage there will be any encouragement of the transitional Government to broaden their sphere of influence and their contact with other groups, so that they do not remain in the rather isolationist position they currently have?

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I think we are all aware-whether in relation to Somalia or Afghanistan-of the importance of reintegration and reconciliation with those with whom that objective can be achieved. In a situation where there is a history of conflict, bloodshed and mistrust, the more inclusive Governments can be, frankly, the better. I think my hon. Friend would agree that a line has to be drawn and that it is not appropriate to include some people in the political process, because they have an entirely different agenda or ideology. If such people were to become part of the political process, they would simply attempt to undermine it. However, there are other people who need to be brought in if there is to be long-term security and stability. A sophisticated and smart approach is required to do that and it must be led by people who understand what reconciliation and reintegration mean in the context of, in this case, Somalia. There is no doubt that people benefit from long-term security and stability if they have a Government who is as representative as possible.

I say to my hon. Friend that there is also the question of effective Government. In countries that are incredibly fragile and where there is a significant amount of stability, sometimes the first thing we must do is find a Government who have the capacity to begin a programme of reform in terms of governing that country effectively. Our relationship with the Government of Somalia is an important and positive one, but, of course, we hope that they will become more representative and inclusive over time.

I am running out of time, so I will quickly move on to Somalia. The African Union Mission to Somalia, which the hon. Member for The Wrekin mentioned, is supported by a UN logistics package and trust fund, as well as through bilateral support. We contributed £15.7 million last year to the support of AMISOM. Yesterday, the EU Foreign Affairs Council agreed to the next stage in the plan to launch an operation to train transitional federal government security forces in Uganda. That is a true example of the multiplier effect of international co-operation. The hon. Gentleman was also right to mention the positive contributions that Uganda and Burundi are making. The UN Political Office for Somalia works hard with other UN bodies and the international community based in Nairobi to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the situation. In her recent visit to Nairobi, Baroness Kinnock announced that we hope to welcome President Sharif to London soon, so we will be able to discuss directly with him the issues of security situation, governance and counter-terrorism.

We support the sanctions regime against Eritrea because we believe that country has consistently flouted international law, which is why we supported UN Security Council resolution 1907. However, that is not an alternative to engagement. Of course, we want to engage with Eritrea, as well as to insist that it does not behave in a way that undermines stability in the horn. It is very important to get that balance right. The same point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North in relation to Iran. We seek constantly to engage with Iran in a positive way, but the problem is that Iran shows no sign of engaging with the United Kingdom or the international community.

In conclusion, I believe this is a very-

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

Order. We must move on to the next debate.