Forced Displacement in Africa — [Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:00 pm on 4th July 2019.

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Photo of Kate Osamor Kate Osamor Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton 2:00 pm, 4th July 2019

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Evans.

I thank my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg for securing this timely debate and for all the work that he and the International Development Committee do to scrutinise the work of the Department. The Committee’s extremely important report, “Anchors not Walls”, shines a light on the lives of some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in the world. I was pleased to see the focus on education, which not only is a right but can help to protect girls from forms of exploitation such as trafficking and child marriage—highly pertinent threats for teenage girls in the region.

Like many hon. Members, I remain distraught by the number of people forcibly displaced. One person or family displaced is tragic, but 20 million is horrendous and intolerable. I feel passionately about the subject as a British-born Nigerian and as a representative of Edmonton, which is a special, vibrant and multicultural place. Many of my constituents come from countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Jamaica, Somalia, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Turkey, Yemen, Uganda or Cyprus—to name just a few. I have not named them all; please do not be offended. Most have ties to countries affected by high levels of displacement.

There are more than 1 million refugees in Uganda, in one of the most progressive arrangements on the planet. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said:

“Given the record numbers of people needing safety from war, conflict and persecution and the lack of political solutions to these situations, we urgently need countries to come forward and resettle more refugees”.

CARE International’s report, “Suffering in Silence”, profiled the 10 most under-reported crises around the world, which are due to climate change, conflict and war. They are in North Korea, Eritrea, Burundi, Sudan, DRC, Mali, Vietnam, the Lake Chad basin, the Central African Republic and Peru. They have gone on for far too long and it is the poorest and most marginalised civilians who pay the price.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Nigeria, I strongly support the Committee’s report, particularly its assessment that humanitarian crises in Africa are often overlooked. I want to highlight in particular the hidden crisis unfolding in the Lake Chad basin. One of the most severe humanitarian emergencies in the world, it has displaced more than 2.2 million people, half of whom are children. More than 10.8 million people across Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger need humanitarian assistance. At times, the crisis seems intractable.

The scourge of violence in Nigeria is under-reported and, sadly, not acted on earnestly by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The crisis in the Lake Chad basin is in its 10th year. Escalating violence, including deliberate targeted attacks on civilians, has characterised the conflict, hindered humanitarian access and rendered any long-term development impossible. Long years of conflict with Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa have perpetuated the humanitarian crisis throughout the four countries of the Lake Chad basin, but the roots of the crisis are long-standing. It is the product of widespread inequality, political marginalisation and competition for scarce resources, particularly water, and other developmental challenges, which have contributed to its severity and complexity.

Boko Haram’s violent conflict, which broke out 10 years ago in north-east Nigeria, has involved a horrific campaign of attacks on civilians and mass abductions—we all remember the Chibok girls. All too often, the words of adolescent girls in fragile and conflict-affected areas go unheard because, unfortunately, politicians and policy makers fail to listen to them. Today, I want to share the words of Kwanye, a 16-year-old girl living in the Lake Chad basin. She said:

“I could not continue my education because girls were being kidnapped from my school. Everyone wanted me to get married but I refused because I wanted to go to school. I had good grades, friends and was happy at school before the crisis. I always thought education would give me a better life. But one night, everything changed. I lost my parents, uncles and siblings in the crisis. I constantly read my old books so that I don’t forget. I can’t go to school when I can barely afford to eat.”

Kwanye’s words are truly harrowing, but that is the situation not just for one girl or for a handful of girls; right now, around the world, 39 million girls like Kwanye have had their education disrupted as a direct result of a humanitarian crisis.

Equally worrying, recent Plan International UK research found that 13 million girls are completely out of school because of conflict, disaster and long-term displacement. The region around the Lake Chad basin is the worst place on earth to be a girl seeking 12 years of quality education. A girl in Niger is 20 times more likely to be a teenage mother than to finish secondary school. The killings and destruction have spread into four countries—Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. Increasingly, host communities take in as many displaced civilians as possible, but most host families are poor and fear the repercussions of the now-developed violent confrontation engaged in by Boko Haram and the region’s security forces.

In February 2017, the countries of the Lake Chad region—Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria—donor governments such as Norway, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, and international organisations gathered for the Oslo humanitarian conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, at which $672 million in financial support was pledged for 2017 and beyond. The humanitarian response in the Lake Chad region was scaled up significantly as a result: more than 6 million people were reached with assistance in 2017 and a famine was averted in north-east Nigeria.

In September 2018, a high-level conference on the region was held in Germany, which built on the achievements, partnerships and commitments of the Oslo conference. It focused on three thematic pillars: humanitarian assistance and protection, crisis prevention and stabilisation, and building resilience for sustainable development. I ask the Minister to explain how the Department plans to mobilise resources to meet the immediate and longer-term needs of those affected by the crisis, particularly the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, in 2018, 541,000 new displacements were recorded in Nigeria; 200,000 of them occurred in the middle-belt region and the rest were due to Boko Haram. Almost one in three women report having experienced sexual violence committed by members of Boko Haram, the security forces or the armed forces during the conflict. Violence against men and boys is also prevalent, with many killed, detained or recruited, or otherwise unaccounted for.

The Nigerian Government urgently need to propose action to ensure that security operations identify better ways of distinguishing between combatants and civilians. They must also investigate and challenge abuses and exploitation by authorities, and take concrete steps to ensure that fundamental human rights are respected. When there is evidence that human rights have been violated, those cases must be sent to the International Criminal Court. I ask the Minister, what assistance is the UK offering the Nigerian Government via non-governmental organisations to ensure that all the evidence is being securely collated and documented?

In February, the African Union declared 2019 the year of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons, so this is the year for us to be proactive, and I urge all UK parliamentarians to act. Will the Minister explain what DFID’s long-term plan is for managing migration and forced displacement sustainably and fairly through the global compact for migration and the global compact for refugees? The UK’s humanitarian work cannot and must not depend only on the ebb and flow of pity and shock. Today, more than ever before, we need international solidarity and respect for international laws and norms. We already have the universal declaration of human rights, which is more than 70 years old, the 1951 refugee convention, and the sustainable development goals.

I ask the Minister to use this opportunity to say that the UK will put refugees at the heart of its foreign policy and uphold human rights around the world. It is imperative that the UK reinforces a collective, multifaceted approach to addressing the crisis and its root causes. I end with the words of Kofi Annan:

“Internal displacement is the great tragedy of our time. The internally displaced people are among the most vulnerable of the human family.”