Humanitarian Situation (Iraq)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:34 pm on 9th July 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development 4:34 pm, 9th July 2014

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I congratulate Ann Clwyd on securing this important debate, and I acknowledge her deep and long-serving experience and wisdom in the matter. It is quite something, and I learned several things from her speech.

I will give a short introduction and then immediately answer some of the points the right hon. Lady raised. With so little time left, I will not get through everything I wanted to say.

As we have heard, on 8 June in Iraq’s northern province of Ninewah, heavy fighting between the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and the Iraqi security forces led to casualties and mass displacement among the civilian population. The UN estimates that 650,000 people have been displaced, not including an estimated 500,000 people who had fled previous fighting in Anbar province. Some are in hotels and some have been temporarily housed in tented settlements, but most are staying with families. All want to go home. As fighting continues and access to some areas is incredibly challenging, it is difficult to know how many people are affected, but we know that the mass displacement and long-term disruption to the lives of millions that we have already seen in Syria are now affecting Iraq.

I want briefly to say what the Department for International Development has done. I am pleased to be able to say that the UK was the first country to send a team on the ground, deploying three DFID experts, to Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The team’s rapid assessment from the field meant we were able to announce on 13 June, three days after the capture of Mosul, an initial £3 million of support to displaced people. That included £2 million via the rapid response facility mechanism to non-governmental organisations in the region—the right hon. Lady asked about NGOs—to provide clean water and sanitation, essential medicine, women-friendly hygiene kits, basic household items, and a further £1 million for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to establish camps and provide dedicated protection teams to identify and assist vulnerable people, including women and girls. The right hon. Lady knows of my interest in women and girls and their protection.

The Prime Minister has since pledged an additional £2 million of emergency humanitarian relief to help the tens of thousands of ordinary Iraqis in serious need. This second package of support will provide emergency medicines, including polio and measles vaccines, food and basic shelter to women, men and children affected by the crisis. It will also enable aid agencies on the ground to trace and reunite families who have been separated while fleeing. That funding is in addition to the £292 million that DFID has allocated to support refugees fleeing from Syria. Some of that support had been in Iraq, and now Iraq itself faces a humanitarian crisis.

The right hon. Lady asked some specific questions. In terms of the politics, the walkout of Sunni and Kurdish representatives from the new Parliament last week was extremely worrying. The Iraqi Government must urgently demonstrate unity and co-operation, but I am sad to say that I see no sign of that. Political unity is the single most important factor that will counter the threat from ISIL, bring about an end to the conflict and stop the worsening humanitarian situation. It is essential that all parties involved in the political process reach the necessary decisions and compromises to form a broad- based, inclusive and representative Government who respond to the need of all Iraq’s different communities.

Humanitarian access is a major problem in areas that are controlled by ISIL. However, our humanitarian partners and the International Committee of the Red Cross inform us that some aid, including vital medical assistance and the provision of clean water, is getting through. Humanitarian actors are adjusting their programmes as the conflict continues to evolve, but it is very challenging and clearly we are not reaching everyone.

In terms of what else we are doing and representations, the UK Government are undertaking considerable political and diplomatic efforts to stabilise the region and to promote unity among those who support a democratic Iraqi state. In the KRG areas that the right hon. Lady asked about, we are working closely with the British consulate in Erbil and engaging directly with the Kurdish Government. We will provide a technical expert to the Kurdish Government to help them plan and manage the response to those who are displaced in the KRG.

On minority groups, our field team have met displaced minority groups, particularly those who have fled Mosul. As the right hon. Lady and Jim Shannon mentioned, Christians and Turkmens are concerned about their safety and are likely to settle more permanently in the Kurdish areas, and our support will reach those people.

I was going to say quite a lot about women and girls, but I think time will run out on us. Going forward, one thing I did not raise—because I am skipping parts of my speech to get to the end—is that the Saudi Government have given $500 million to the appeal, so it is a fully funded appeal. Although it is very positive that thanks to Saudi generosity, the UN appeal is now fully funded, needs related to the displacement and interruption of critical services in Iraq will not be resolved quickly, even though we have a fully funded appeal. We will continue to work with humanitarian partners to ameliorate the suffering of those Iraqi women, men and children enduring terrible hardship on a daily basis. In addition to financial support from DFID, we are also providing technical assistance to support the UN and the Kurdish Regional Government effectively to co-ordinate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the affected populations.

As well as addressing the short-term humanitarian needs, we are undertaking a great deal of effort on political support to help resolve the crisis and promoting political unity among those who support a democratic Iraqi state—