Bishop of Coventry asks Government about help for minority people in Iraq to return to their homes

On 9th March 2017 the Bishop of Coventry asked a question in the House of Lords that he had tabled, on help for displaced minority communities in Iraq. His question and follow-up, with those of other Members is reproduced below.

The Lord Bishop of Coventry: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to help displaced minority communities in Iraq to return to their homes in areas liberated from Daesh.

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, UK aid is supporting vulnerable people, including minorities, to return to their homes in areas liberated from Daesh in Iraq. With UK funding, the UN is helping people to return home by restoring light infrastructure, re-opening hospitals and schools, and providing cash assistance to people who need to re-establish their livelihoods.

The Lord Bishop of Coventry: I thank the Minister for his reply and pay tribute to the Government’s work thus far. The Minister may like to know that I was in Iraq in January and was gladdened by personal assurances from the President, the Prime Minister and the Iraqi authorities about their desire to rebuild the diverse fabric of the society.

Does the Minister acknowledge that the return of minority communities to their homes and villages is still very limited, and does he agree that herculean efforts are now needed by the international community, including our own Government, to help the Iraqi authorities? In particular, is he willing to commit to the need to rebuild houses—100% of Christian houses were destroyed or damaged—and to rebuild trust between neighbours as well as security? Does he agree that that would be the most fitting tribute to our service people who have given their lives for a better future in Iraq?

Lord Bates: Absolutely, and I pay tribute to the work of the right reverend Prelate over many years, and to his compassion for Iraq in seeking how faith communities can play an important part in building reconciliation in that country. He will be aware that the UN Plan was published to help the effort in Mosul in particular, involving some $930 million, and $570 million for Mosul.

The UK has a reputation for taking the lead in providing humanitarian assistance and helping people to rebuild their communities. It is worth noting that in the fierce battle to liberate the remaining part of Mosul, 60% of Daesh territory has been lost—it is losing the battle—and over 1 million people have returned to their homes. That is a sign of progress.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab): One of the minorities in danger of disappearing in Iraq is the Yazidis. I suggest that a genocide is going on and that the ​women are being treated in the most despicable, inhumane way. What are the Government doing to help these wonderful people in their dreadful circumstances?

Lord Bates: The noble Baroness is absolutely right about the appalling atrocities being committed against Yazidis, Christians and other religious minorities. That is one of the reasons why the Foreign Secretary has led the campaign to bring Daesh to justice. This initiative involves working with the Iraqi Government and others, and going to the UN to ensure that these atrocities are recorded and that eventually, when peace is restored, Daesh can be brought to justice for the crimes it has committed against humanity.

Lord Naseby (Con): My Lords, for those of us who had relatives in Germany after the Second World War, what helped enormously there was the introduction of the Marshall plan. Is not the time coming for those in the West to think about producing the equivalent for Syria and Iraq? In particular, it would be nice to see the United Kingdom in the lead.

Lord Bates: The Marshall plan initiatives in post-war Europe are certainly topical, for not only the Middle East but the needs of Africa, which is facing famine. I think we will look at that, but we can take pride that the UK has consistently been at the forefront of efforts to raise funds in that region: £169 million, including £90 million in the present year, has already been raised to be spent in Iraq to help people, along with £2.3 billion for Syria, our largest response ever. However, I totally agree that more needs to be done.

Baroness Sheehan (LD): My Lords, what representations have the Government made to the governor of Kirkuk in light of last November’s Amnesty International report, Destruction and Forced Displacement in Kirkuk, which documented the demolition of homes and forced displacement of Sunni Arabs in the wake of attacks by Daesh?

Lord Bates: I am sorry, I do not have details of our response, but I am very happy to write to the noble Baroness on that point.

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, one of the impacts for internally displaced people is of course on women and children, whose future is affected because there is no access to schools or appropriate medical treatment. I know the Government have been supporting efforts in this field, but could the noble Lord reassure the House that where people are returning, we will put in the necessary effort on education?

Lord Bates: The noble Lord is absolutely right to raise that point. Of course, there is a vehicle in this regard: the Iraq Humanitarian Pooled Fund, which the UK is one of the largest contributors to. People can draw down on it for specific purposes, particularly schools, education and healthcare, as well as rebuilding homes, which was mentioned previously. It is encouraging that even in areas just recently liberated in the west of Mosul, 30 schools have already reopened and 16,000 children were able to return to school. That has to give us hope in a very difficult and dark situation.

Lord Hylton (CB): My Lords, important lessons were learned when east Mosul was freed. Are they now being applied to west Mosul, where the population is much larger? Does the Minister agree that co-ordination between the Iraqi Government, the military forces, the UN and voluntary agencies is absolutely essential?

Lord Bates: Yes, I totally agree with that. A coalition of some 68 countries was involved, but a very important aspect, of course, is that the legitimate Government of Iraq are in the lead, and we are working with them. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is taking the lead on the humanitarian response, and we work through those agencies very effectively to ensure that co-ordination is happening. One reason why it is taking so long is that past lessons learned tell us of the immense dangers to civilians, 750,000 of whom are still trapped in Mosul. We need to ensure they are protected and cared for as this military effort is prosecuted.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, does my noble friend agree that this is a particularly appropriate moment for us to pay tribute to all those gave service—both in Iraq and Afghanistan—because this morning the Queen is unveiling a memorial to all those who have served?

Lord Bates: It is absolutely right that we should do that and recognise the 226 British service personnel who gave their lives to build a better Iraq and, of course, the 43 British civilians who also died in that effort. We recognise and pay tribute to their sacrifice today.


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