HC Deb 17 July 1995 vol 263 cc1308-9
40. Mr. Corbyn

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assistance is available for the Saharawi people within Morocco and in refugee camps in Algeria. [32794]

Mr. Hanley

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is operating a care and maintenance programme for Saharawi refugees in southern Algeria. As a leading donor to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Overseas Development Administration contributed more than £20 million in 1994 to the general programme budget from which those contributions were made.

Mr. Corbyn

Does the Minister accept that the Saharawi people have been dealt a dreadful blow by the actions of Morocco in occupying the western Sahara for many years? Is not it very important to increase pressure to complete the registration programme so that a referendum can be held to allow the Saharawi people to decide their own future?

Despite the aid that is being given, 200,000 people are living in exile and 10,000 people have been homeless and bereft of almost any support since the very serious floods last year. Can the Minister see his way clear to increase the amount of aid that Britain gives—particularly for health, education, housing and food—to ensure that those people can at least live decently until they have the opportunity for a free and democratic vote and can return to their homes?

Mr. Hanley

I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman says. We do not recognise Moroccan sovereignty or jurisdiction over the western Sahara. We do recognise the UNHCR's figures, which show a current annual aid programme of about $3.5 million, and, as I said earlier, the United Kingdom assistance flows through the UNHCR.

Morocco and Algeria also receive substantial multilateral aid, particularly through the European Union. Morocco received about £369 million in the fourth European Community-Morocco financial protocol and Algeria received nearly £300 million. So substantial aid is going to the people to whom the hon. Gentleman has correctly drawn the attention of the House. We will make sure that that aid is used effectively. We will examine the matter of the October floods but I note that it was not judged necessary to launch an international appeal, although there has been aid in that regard.

Sir David Steel

I also warmly welcome the Minister to his new post and I hope that he has an enjoyable and fruitful few months in it, as he said.

Will the right hon. Gentleman use his time as a new Minister in the Foreign Office to look afresh at this scandalous issue? The little- known conflict has been going on ever since Spain withdrew from her former colonies. The United Nations peacekeeping mandate lasts only until the end of September, so it is urgent that Britain uses its influence in the Security Council and elsewhere to persuade the Moroccans to agree to hold a referendum on fair terms and allow those people their post-colonial rights to self-determination.

Mr. Hanley

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome, and I look forward not only to working with the Department but to working with him. My first challenge will be an Adjournment debate on Wednesday, for which I thank the right hon. Gentleman. The Government are doing everything we can to encourage a referendum, and to discourage—for exactly the reasons that the right hon. Gentleman gave—anything that delays the holding of such a referendum.

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