HC Deb 07 May 1908 vol 188 cc422-3

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether it is proposed to make any change in the conditions of imprisonment of the Dervish Emirs confined at Damietta prison; whether they were subjected to close imprisonment within a single building and its courtyard; whether it is usual to allow prisoners of war a certain freedom of movement and intercourse; whether several of these prisoners were mere boys at the date of their capture nine years ago; whether the condition of the Soudan is still so disturbed that their release could lead to political difficulties; and whether, in any event, a warmer and more congenial climate than Damietta will be selected for prisoners accustomed to the heat of the Soudan.


If the hon. Member will refer to the letter which I caused to be addressed to him on 15th April in connection with a previous Parliamentary Question on this subject, he will see that, with the exception of Osman Digna, all the Dervish prisoners who were recently confined at Damietta have now been transferred to Wadi Halfa. Nearly all the Emirs have now been released, and those above referred to who are still in confinement are those considered by the inhabitants of the Soudan as responsible for the massacres perpetrated during the years immediately preceding the reconquest of the country. Sufficient time has not elapsed for the bitter feeling of resentment against these men to have died out, and they would, if brought back to the Soudan, undoubtedly be exposed to insults if not to violence of a serious nature. As the hon. Member, however, will see from the letter above referred to, the question of the release of some of the less important of these prisoners will be considered later by the Government of the Soudan. As regards the disciplinary regulations to which the prisoners were subjected while they were at Damietta, Lord Cromer reported on 8th March of last year, in connection with a Parliamentary Question asked by the hon. Member for Brentford on 21st February, that they were treated as political prisoners, comfortably housed, and well fed, and not subjected to any severe disciplinary regulation. Their wives and families remained with them, and their children were being educated. Further information may be found in the reply returned to the Question asked by the hon. Member for Brentford on 3rd March last. I have no information as to the ages of the prisoners at the time of their capture.