HC Deb 07 December 1925 vol 189 cc3-6
5. Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has received information showing that several thousand Christian refugees, after undergoing severe hardship and suffering, have recently succeeded in crossing the frontier into Iraq, where they are now in a state of complete destitution, and that according to their sworn statements their flight has been caused by the wholesale deportation of Christians by the Turkish authorities from the territory immediately to the north of the provisional frontier of Iraq; whether he has any information as to whether the commissioner appointed by the League of Nations to investigate the situation has yet furnished his Report; and whether he is in a position to make a statement on the subject?


Yes, Sir. Reports that the deportation of Christians on a large scale was being carried out by the Turks immediately to the north of the provisional frontier of Iraq reached my right hon. Friend when he was in Geneva last September. After satisfying him of the substantial accuracy of these reports, which emanated from survivors who had sought refuge in Iraq, he at once brought the facts to the notice of the Council of the League of Nations and asked that a special meeting of the Council should be summoned to consider the matter. As a result of that meeting and of the documentary evidence in the form of sworn statements by eye witnesses which he was able to lay before the Council, it was decided to send out a special commissioner to investigate the position on the spot and to report to the Council. General Laidoner, the special commissioner appointed by the Council, has since spent some weeks in the neighbourhood of the provisional frontier, and I understand that he has now reported by telegraph to Geneva. I presume that his report will shortly be published by the League of Nations, but for the moment I can say nothing as to its purport.

My right hon. Friend is informed that the refugees who have reached Iraq are now congregated to the number of some 3,000 in the neighbourhood of Zakho. The Iraq Government, within the limits of its slender resources, and already faced with serious economic conditions in Northern Iraq, is doing its utmost to support them; but, unless relief from outside is promptly and generously extended, large numbers can scarcely hope to survive the winter. As regards the present state of these unfortunate people, the hon. Member has doubtless read the telegram from the High Commissioner which was published in the Press on the 26th November.


May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether it is still part of the policy of the Government not to allow these people to be restored to those conditions which have been so terrible for their families and themselves; and, also, whether he can tell me the date on which the report of the Commissioner will be published?


As regards the last part of the question, it is a matter entirely for the authorities at Geneva to decide the date of publication. On the general question, the Government are keenly alive to the position of these most unfortunate people, and will do what they can to safeguard their future.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Arising out of the reference to the "slender resources of the Government of Iraq," is there not some responsibility on the British Government to send help to these people in any case; and may I ask whether we could not help the remaining people in this territory by direct negotiations with the Turkish Government?

Captain EDEN

Is it not the failure of the harvest in the district that makes it such a difficult problem to deal with?


In reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Warwick and Leamington (Captain Eden), that is one of the greatest difficulties. We are doing all we can, but it would require a Supplementary Estimate in this House if anything more had to be done. In regard to direct negotiations with the Turks, the attitude of the Turkish delegation at Geneva in the past does not make us very hopeful regarding any further attempt to adopt that method.


Is it not dangerous, having regard to the negotiations, to discourage in advance the possibility of peace? Will my hon. Friend keep in mind that this, with other questions, may be a useful bargaining point for friendly negotiations with the Turks, as opposed to an arbitrary decision?


I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman; what we want is peace in that part of the world. We have entered into serious commitments now for some years past towards various elements of the population, the Assyrian Christians, and we do intend to do our best to try to safeguard, under the best possible conditions, the future of the Christian minorities in that part of the world.


Where are the deportees?


The people are now in the neighbourhood of Mosul.


Yes! Those not deported. But where are those that were deported?


As for the Christians from the Turkish side of the frontier, I have no information.