§ 2.54 p.m.
§ Viscount Buckmaster rose to call attention to the situation of the refugees in the third world; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, my pleasure in winning the ballot for the short debate this afternoon is heightened by the fact that this is the first time in my entire life that I have ever won a ballot for anything, whether it be for a short debate in your Lordship's House, a lottery, a raffle for a church bazaar, or what have you. But what is much more important of course is that this good fortune of mine enables us to focus our attention today, with the aid of that great range of expertise which your Lordships always deploy on such occasions, on one of the three terrible problems of the third world, the other two being of course world hunger, which is confined largely to Africa, and violations of human rights, which is also of grave concern to me.
§ However, I find that I have once more embarked upon a vast and complex subject, and in the limited time available to me I can give only the briefest and barest outline of it. I shall confine my presentation to four main areas: the statistical, the tragic, the remedial and the triumphant.
§ Before I plunge into a sea of statistics. I should perhaps explain that, in dealing with refugees, I shall be following the definition in the Oxford dictionary which defines a refugee as someone who has taken sanctuary in another country as a result of religious or political persecution. There are, of course, a great number of refugees who fled their home countries. For example, refugees from Ethiopia have fled to the Sudan at the rate of 3,000 a day; they are refugees from hunger, and we assume that they will go back to their home countries when the rains return. As far as I can ascertain—and I am sure that noble Lords will realise that it is extremely difficult to obtain precise figures—the total number of refugees in the world is in the region of 14 million. That is a colossal figure indeed, but that figure is even more staggering when one realises that in 1951 the total was 1.5 million.
§ Of that large total of 14 million, about 5½ to 6 million are being looked after by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, to which I shall refer in future simply as the commission. The largest concentrations of these refugees are to be found in Pakistan, which has 2,300,000 refugees from Afghanistan, although I should say that the Pakistan 937 Government put the figure at 2,900,000; in the Sudan which has 700,000 refugees, mostly from Ethiopia; in Somalia which again has 700,000, also from Ethiopia; in Central America and Mexico which have 341,000 refugees; in Southern Africa, which has 240,000; in Tanzania which has 180,000; and in South-East Asia, which has 160,000. That gives a total of 5½ to 6 million refugees, including small groups elsewhere.
§ The remaining 4 million are people who are still called refugees; but they have found their own way in the world, and many of them live in Britain and elsewhere. In addition, we have some 4 million Palestinian refugees; 1,925,000 are living in the camps surrounding Israel and Palestine, in Syria, the Lebanon, and so on; and there are 2 million who once more are fending for themselves. I shall have a little to say about them later on. They are looked after, not by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, but by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for the Palestinian Refugees.
I must now turn from figures to faces and consider the situation of the third world refugees, particularly those who, in the words of the Bible, are,
going through the vale of misery".
One must accept that a great many of them have come from areas where terror and torture, senseless slaughter, degradation and despair have formed the permanent backdrop to their lives. Of course, although they are happy to have asylum in the countries where they now live, their deprivations weigh very heavily on them. Of these, I think that the most serious, quite apart even from the meagre diet, the cramped living conditions, and so on, are the lack of beauty and the lack of hope. It was Plato who said:
Let our youth live in a beautiful land".
One of the most terrible things that strikes one today going through these refugee camps, is the monochrome monotony of their conditions, enlivened perhaps by a little piece of Palestinian embroidery, or the tiny tinkle of brilliance from the lips of a wise old man.
§ Then there is hope. It was Bacon who said, "Hope is a good breakfast", and indeed it is. It makes a splendid breakfast. It sustains us throughout the day, like bacon and eggs. Although I would not say that hope is entirely extinguished, there are areas, particularly among the Palestinians—people who have been in refugee camps now for a great many years since 1948, and they are still there now 20, 30 and 40 years on, or thereabouts—where one sometimes feels that almost every spark of hope has been extinguished from those sighing, suffering, sorrowing thousands.
§ However, my Lords, sighing and suffering ill-become your Lordships' House, and we must examine now what is being done for all these refugees throughout the world. The short answer is a great deal. The Commission, to which I referred earlier, is now looking after 5½ million refugees in 82 third world countries. Their activities are chronicled in this superb volume which I have with me. It does not make good bedtime reading certainly, but it helps to while away the tedium of a snowy Saturday afternoon.
§ It shows above all that the commission value the individual as highly as the group. If I have a theme to my speech today it is just that concern for the 938 individual. Indeed one gets the impression that the commission are just as much concerned about the 2,300,00 refugees in Pakistan as they are about the 14 in Niger.
§ They concern themselves greatly with emergencies, and that is one of their most important tasks. In addition to that of course they are working with great energy and application on continuing projects—agricultural projects, well-drilling, counselling services, and so on—but their main object is to secure what they call durable solutions. These may take three forms: repatriation to the country of origin; settlement in the country of asylum; or resettlement in countries like Great Britain, Canada, and so on.
§ There are in this country altogether something like 140,000 refugees. They are being looked after extremely well by the British Refugee Council, which co-ordinates the work of the two bodies mainly concerned, the Ockenden Venture and Refugee Action. I have limitless praise for the Ockenden Venture. I wish I could tell your Lordships more about their work. It is magnificent. They take these children who are bewildered, perplexed and disorientated. However, within a few days they are running around, speaking English, and so on. It is a labour of limitless love if ever there was one.
§ Refugee Action started in 1981 and is also doing splendid work. The Vietnamese Children's Centre is going along the same lines, too. Then there are many other charities. There is the British Red Cross, which was the first in the field, and is now concerned with protection, relief and development. There is the Save the Children Fund which have projects all over the third world. There is Oxfam which are concerned with well-drilling, and so on. Then there are the French groups such as Médicins sans frontières; the German Brot für die Welt; and the American group World Vision—brash and brassy perhaps but no less effective. There is a splendid infrastructure, my Lords.
§ What of finance? The Commission's expenditure in the current year is likely to be about 500 million dollars. Of that sum the United States contribute about 122 million dollars. Although this may seem a large sum it pales into insignificance compared with the fact that the United States defence budget is 285 billion (I repeat "billion") dollars.
§ What of Her Majesty's Government's performance? It is pretty good I think on the whole. We could give it, I think, beta plus. It ranks roughly on a level with Federal Germany, better than France, much better than Italy, but not as good as the Scandinavian countries, of which Norway is outstandingly the best. Nevertheless, despite this good achievement I have four questions which I should like to put to the noble Lord the Minister, and I have given him notice of these.
§ First, can he assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will continue to support the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and organisations like Oxfam which are concerned with refugee problems? Secondly, could the Minister tell the House whether the Home Office is prepared to adopt a rather more flexible policy in regard to the admission of refugees? I think there particularly of the importance of reuniting families and of the terrible 939 sufferings endured by those people, particularly from Uganda, who know that their lives may be in danger if they return.
§ Thirdly, I would ask the Minister whether it is not possible for the waiting time for such people to be reduced? There are some refugees—I have met several as I am in contact with a great many in this country—who have been waiting for four whole years. What a terrible situation! They are unable to work, and all the time this terrible Sword of Damocles, represented by their terror of returning to their own countries, is suspended above their heads. Finally, I should like the Minister to give due consideration to the removal of the refugees from the closed camps in Hong Kong (about which another speaker will tell your Lordships, and particularly to reunite families bearing in mind that there are now 434 refugees in the open and closed camps in Hong Kong who have relations in Great Britain.
§ I turn in conclusion to the triumphant. How, one may ask, can there be any triumph in a situation so fraught with misery and despair? And yet I know of so many refugees who have triumphed. When I think of these triumphs I am reminded of the saxifrage plant, that tiny, slender, fragile plant bursting its way up through the rocky ground. In just the same way so many refugees triumph, forging their way ahead, bursting through those rocky barriers of hostility and indifference; forever going on ahead, forging upwards, outwards and onwards. And this is wonderful to behold.
§ There are many who have triumphed. I can give your Lordships just two brief examples. There was a cripple, a refugee from Uganda, who was living in penury in Kenya. He came to Britain and was looked after by the Commission and by the Ockenden Venture. In a short time he has settled down here, passing his exams, and doing very well. Another Ugandan came, again from Kenya, and he bore on his body all the scars of persecution. He had that dazed, stunned expression of those who have suffered too much fear. In a short while he had once more adjusted himself, and although he was no academic, he has passed two A-levels at C standard. Is that not triumph, my Lords?
§ Although there is triumph in abundance, there is also continuing tragedy in abundance in the third world. When I look upon those great lava flows of misery slowly engulfing so many areas, the apparently unstoppable stream of refugees pouring into Sudan from Ethiopia, the continuing terror of torture camps, the gallows and the gun, that great myriad of unfed mouths, those hoards of scantily clad bodies, I feel myself overwhelmed by a great wave of helplessness and despair.
It is on those occasions that I look at the last judgment in St. Matthew's Gospel, which not only brings me back to the cornerstone of my speech, but it contains the most glorious, the supreme justification for work among refugees. I quote from St. Matthew Chapter 25, Verse 35:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger and ye took me in: Naked and ye clothed me".
And a little further on:
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto me".
§ My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.11 p.m.
§ Lord McNair
My Lords, I applaud the initiative of the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, in calling our attention today to the situation of the refugees in the third world. I congratulate him on his patience and eventual luck in the ballot, and also upon his excellent speech. I should also like to utter a heartfelt "Hear, hear!" to the tributes which he paid to the UNHCR and the British Refugee Council.
I do not intend to speak about any special group of refugees. I am sure I can rely on others to focus attention on the particular and localised problems of which they have special knowledge. I want to try to talk about the problem as a whole, and more about prevention than cure. Without, I hope, stepping out of order, I shall not interpret the terms of the Motion in too narrow a sense. In strict legality you cannot be a refugee until you have crossed a national frontier, but if someone is squatting in an emergency feeding centre in the Horn of Africa with their baby dying in their lap I do not suppose they bother too much about which side of the border they are on, if, indeed, they know. For the purposes of this debate I would rather take the word "refugees" to cover all people who have been grossly deprived of some of the more basic human rights, whether or not they are still in their country of origin; in other words, to include potential refugees.
This definitional problem may serve to remind us that the topic we are considering is only a part of a much bigger and even more tragic totality. If one can imagine a huge canvas by a Goya or a Breughel depicting the entire spectrum of man's beastliness 1985—style, it is possible that the refugees of the world would be just a detail in the corner. Indeed, in some ways and in some areas they may, for all their pitiable plight, be among the relatively lucky ones. There can be few resettled refugees who are not haunted by the memory of relatives and friends they left behind, the ones who did not get away: those, for example, who died in their attempt to escape from persecution, starvation or both, or those who are still languishing, prisoners of conscience, in the torture-houses which have erupted all over the face of this planet like symptoms of the plague.
In truth, your refugee may not be, in Wordsworth's phrase, the "most unhappy man of men" but it is his situation that we are considering here today. Since it is better to help those we can help than to weep for those we cannot, I welcome this chance to bring to the attention of the House the most remarkable piece of work which I have ever read on this subject. It is described as A Study on Human Rights and Massive Exoduses. It was addressed to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. It was written in 1981 by His Highness Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan after he had ceased to be the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The three classical solutions to refugee problems, as the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, reminded us, used to be voluntary repatriation, local integration in 941 the country of first asylum or resettlement in third countries. But these solutions are simply not adequate for the massive exoduses of recent years. So, to quote from paragraph 5 of the report:Many governments have reached the conclusion that serious attention must be paid to analysing the forces which get people on the move, with a view particularly to considering whether means can be found to avert new large-scale refugee situations".That, alas, was written four years ago, before Ethiopia.
There follows a comparison of the two schools of international law: the progressive school, which sees individuals rather than states as the subjects of international law; and the classic school, beloved of governments, which reverses the order and enshrines the sovereign prerogatives of the nation state. Prince Sadruddin is too much of a diplomat and a United Nations man to say it, but if one likes clear-cut distinctions between "goodies" and "baddies" then in refugee situations the baddy is almost bound to be a government.
I should perhaps remind your Lordships that this report, which I am trying to summarise in a few minutes, was A Study on Human Rights and Massive Exoduses. It follows that more emphasis is laid on the political than on the economic causes of exodus, though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, is by no means silent about the economic factors. I am afraid, though, that a quick perusal of that declaration serves only to show what a wildly Utopian document it was and how far we are from its realisation. A few almost random quotations will illustrate this point. I quote:Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person".No one shall he subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law".No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile".Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country".Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…".Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression…".Did not every single one of those assertions of our rights immediately remind your Lordships of frequent examples of their gross denial? What of Article 21, which I think is worth quoting in full:
What proportion of the world's population could understand, let alone have any hope of ever enjoying, the provisions of that article? In case its recital might make us feel too smug in this country, let me also quote the first two sections of Article 23:
- "(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
- (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
- (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures".
942 The denial, wilful or unavoidable, of some or all of these human rights, as well as of others, such as the right to
- "(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
- (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work".food, clothing, housing and medical care",forms a large proportion of what the report calls the "push factors". These are the forces which get people on the move, but there are of course others. War, either civil or international; the imposition by force of exotic ideologies on uneducated people to whose traditions they are repugnant; the inheritance by emerging ex-colonial countries of ethnically meaningless frontiers; premature and uncontrolled urbanisation; and ill-advised agrarian policies which oblige subsistence farmers to turn to cash crops for export. Incidentally, the term "subsistence farming" is often used in a derogatory sense, but, surely, subsistence is a great deal better than starvation.
These are among the "push factors". What are the "pull factors" which beckon from abroad and lure people into attempts to emigrate which, at least occasionally, they may come to regret? The most obvious, perhaps, is that cliché, the shrinking world. Travel and communications have accelerated almost exponentially. Before the advent of the transistor radio and of television most people in the world's poorest countries simply did not know that there were other places where life was easier. Now they do know. They know also that in the democratic countries of the developed north we pay something more than lip service to human rights; and this is another magnet. They may hear in our broadcasts criticisms of their governments which may sadly mislead them into believing that our doors are always open.
These are some of the "pull factors", but the most potent, I suspect, is aid itself. This may sound heartless. It is certainly not an argument against giving aid. What I am suggesting is that development aid given in time in the country of origin could often forestall and avert these mass migrations to neighbouring countries where aid is known to be available or believed to be available.
In other words—and I have to leave out a lot of what I had prepared to say—do we not clearly need an early-warning system to predict these crises before they occur? In nearly every case they are predictable. Should the United Nations not set up a radar chain of multi-disciplinary observers, as it were, strategically placed throughout the third world? Might it not be appropriate for the Secretary-General to appoint a special representative for humanitarian questions, among whose duties would be the establishment and supervision of this early-warning system? These are among the recommendations which conclude the Sadruddin Report. I have no time to describe them to your Lordships in detail. I think I had better leave it at that, with apologies for having miscalculated the duration of my speech.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Viscount Brentford
My Lords, I rise to my feet with a lot of fear and trepidation, first, because it is the first time that I have risen to speak in your Lordships' House but also because of the enormous size of the subject which we are discussing—and the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, in opening this debate, put the figure at 14 million, which is a very large 943 number of people. Of course, the refugee is no new phenomenon in the world. I exercised my mind to try to work out who were the first refugees in the world and I suggested to myself that perhaps Adam and Eve were the first refugees. They fell out with the lawful authority in the Garden of Eden and were driven out. I imagine that they must have had a problem in finding a government in any host country with which to register, let alone any representative from the commission. Refugees we have always had with us and, I suspect, always shall.
However, my Lords, I do not want to talk about famine relief, which is dealing with the urgent needs. That is a subject which has been discussed before in your Lordships' House. My concern is to see long-term development aid stimulated for refugees. There is an enormous problem nowadays arising from the fact that the countries to which refugees go are what I call the "LICs"—the "low income countries". This is in contrast with the post-war generation of refugees.
The question of refugees does not lend itself so well to publicity as does that of famine relief. I find that many people ask, "Why bother about long-term solutions when the immediate needs, such as the need for food, are so urgent?" I read in today's newspapers that it was claimed that 1,500 people were dying daily from starvation in just one area in Ethiopia. The needs are horrendous. But I contend that we must not lose sight of the needs in long-term situations. Some 15 years ago the commission's funds were mostly spent on these durable solutions, on long-term solutions. But at the beginning of this decade that proportion fell to just over a quarter. It is hoped, however, that during this year the proportion will have risen to 40 per cent. I am very encouraged by that increase.
I should like to make a number of practical points which I shall illustrate largely from East Africa and that area of Africa. First, I feel very strongly that a refugee is not a person dissimilar from everydody else on this globe. Every refugee is a human being like the rest of us and deserves the same care and courtesy. I am sure that your Lordships with your traditional courtesy extended to faltering maiden speakers will understand what I mean. Therefore, I should like to urge officials who are concerned with registering refugees to humanise and simplify the procedures for registration wherever possible. I have come across many instances where a great deal of mental suffering is caused by those procedures.
The second point I should like to make is that I feel that more encouragement should be given to refugees to help themselves. A recent conference agreed that refugees should not be treated so much as people for whom we must do something, but rather as people whom we must assist in doing what they want for themselves. I believe that that is a very important distinction. Many refugees are skilled or semi-skilled and among them there is a great reservoir of energy and power to help themselves. I believe that the more refugees themselves can be involved, both in planning about refugees and in action taken to support them, the better.
Thirdly, I would suggest that the aim should be to make as many refugees and groups of refugees as 944 possible self-supporting. To provide the means of work for people who have been displaced from their homes will strengthen their dignity in a way that to receive food handouts for 20 years will not. However, refugees must not have more favoured status than the nationals of the host country.
Let me illustrate this from the problem of Sudan. Officially, I gather, the total figure for Sudan a couple of days ago was 990,000 refugees—which, I estimate, probably means that by the end of this debate in your Lordships' House, the figure will have passed a million. Many people put the number substantially higher. In East Sudan alone, the area next door to Ethiopia, there are officially three-quarters of a million; but, again, many people put the figure there at a million refugees. But in that area there are only 2½ million Sudanese nationals. This illustrates the problem that there is in providing for refugees. In Sudan itself there have been cases of friction arising with local Sudanese farmers, and it is important that they are not seen to suffer in relation to the refugees. Close co-operation is needed between host Governments, refugee relief agencies and other development agencies so that refugees and nationals are both assisted.
Fourthly, I believe that more attention should be paid to the land factor. Experiments in leasing or lending land have taken place. Land projects have gone on in Zambia and in Tanzania and experiments have taken place in Western Kenya; but there is a problem of some people discouraging land experiments because of land shortage. I suggest that more attention needs to be given to methods by which land is borrowed for the benefit of refugees but in ways that do not threaten the nationals.
Fifthly, I should like to see more research into refugee development aid to ensure that the limited resources available are used as effectively as possible. I have come across very little accountability among the voluntary agencies—I do not include the commission in that—and there seems to be very little evaluation of their efforts. I have heard stories, as I am sure have many of your Lordships, of a substantial waste of money taking place. More research into problems of integration and resettlement. as has already been mentioned by the noble Lord. Lord McNair, is needed.
Finally, the other topic I should like to mention is the need for more training of people managing refugee programmes at grass roots in the countries where there are refugees. Such training would enhance the capacity of host countries to cope much more effectively with the refugees in them. One of the few organisations I have come across that deals with both the research and the training I have mentioned is Queen Elizabeth House in Oxford. I believe that the Government should ensure that its programme continues. I should like to see this country taking the lead in the world both in research and in training of nationals and agriculturalists, of whom we have many in this country in both these fields.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Lord Soper
My Lords, it is my privilege to be the first to felicitate the noble Viscount on his maiden speech. I do so with alacrity and with gratitude for the 945 way in which he blended a genuine concern for the refugees with a reasoned argument as to the way in which those refugees might be succoured. I believe this to be a very important issue, alike because it is relatively unknown and because it does not immediately command the kind of response which a glimpse of a naked and starving child can evoke, as compared with the best-laid panorama of concern for those who are refugees. It is for that reason that not only do I thank the noble Viscount who has just spoken, but also offer my thanks to the noble Viscount who initiated this debate for the passion with which he invested this problem and for the fact that here we are presented with a matter of such overwhelming importance as to escape, unfortunately, the concern and interest of a great many people who could be emotionally stirred; but it is much more difficult emotionally to promote that kind of response among those who are refugees.
To me, the outstanding and all-important element that belongs to this problem—alongside, of course, the sheer misery that it contains—is its epidemic characteristics. Reading through the Churches' document on refugees, it is interesting and informative to note that almost every page contains a reference to the characteristic nature of the refugee problem in the modern world. I believe that to be so, and unless we are prepared alike to look at the human suffering of the refugee and at those causes of this wholesale condemnation of so many of our fellow human beings to misery, and unless we are prepared to see these in context, I think that we shall not properly utilise the opportunity which the noble Viscount has so generously offered to us.
It is perfectly obvious that by the Convention of the United Nations of 1951, by the Protocol of 1967 and by the decision of the Organisation for African Unity in 1969, it is now possible, with certain reservations, to denote who are refugees and where they are to be found. There is a welcome recognition now of the definition of the refugee, which enables people to spotlight the problem much more clearly than heretofore; I only wish they would.
Secondly, it is perfectly obvious, to me at least, that if the problem is epidemic, as I suggest beyond any peradventure it is, then it has to be faced not only from the standpoint of humanitarianism, but also by asking the question, which the Churches' report also repeatedly asked: Why has this problem become so general and what are the underlying causes? I propose to use what little time I have to say something on this last subject and on that particular theme.
There is no doubt at all that the refugee is the residuary legatee of fear; and in a world of armed might it is not surprising that the threat of war, let alone the actuality of war, has promoted fear in countless millions of people. I am well aware of the conviction, which I hold as clearly as ever I have done, that only a process of wholesale disarmament can begin to meet this kind of universal fear. But I shall not dilate upon that theme because there is one which is even more apposite or even more immediate.
The translation of the concept of the nation-state of Northern Europe to the third world has contained within itself one great and almost impossible situation. 946 We know that a great many of the areas of Africa do not naturally fall within the boundaries that have been allotted to them by colonialism in the first place and by later divisions of territory. I should like to give an example of it which is perfectly simple. There are many Somalis living on each side of Ethiopia. The fact that there are now 1 a million refugee Somalis living in Somalia (which is an intolerable burden for Somalia itself) is entirely due to the fact that the lines of demarcation between Ethiopia and Somalia were artificially drawn in terms of the nation-state and not in terms of tribalism at all.
Secondly, with regard to Nigeria, it is now a matter of common knowledge that the Hausa, the Ibo and the Yoruba are tribally distinct, not only in their habits but in the fact that the Hausa are generally Islamic and, although they are not particularly ardent Christians, the Ibos and Yorubas have a Christian background. In that is a promotion of fear, particularly with the kind of aggressiveness which now belongs to much which is called "religious fervour". I turn to that with regret, but I think in honesty it needs to be said.
It may surprise your Lordships to know that probably among the first refugees were Canaanites—those who belonged to that heavenly country in the Negro spiritual—who were turned out at the behest of the Lord in order to make room for the Israelites. This is not a matter of conjecture and I would particularly refer it to those who have a slavish addiction—shall we say?—to the Old Testament. It is to be found in the 33rd Chapter of Exodus. I find insufferable the Judeo-Christian tradition—in regard to which, in many respects, I suppose Islam must be regarded as a heresy—as an attitude to the nation-state which is incompatible with what I believe to be the true prospects of peace on earth and the reclamation of the refugee. I protest as vigorously as I can at the attitude of imperialism which still belongs to much of organised Christianity, to say nothing of Jewry and to say even less of Islam. Here is a situation in which those who slavishly regard the idea of God as having predestined certain groups to certain places—and, whatever happens to those that were first there, they should be turned out in the interests of God's will—seem to me to be entirely irresponsible and contrary to the spirit of the Christian faith to which I should like to adhere. We in the Christian Church today represent a dominant and very largely a proud authority over parts of this earth to which we have no rights whatever.
That leads me to the only other matter that I wish to raise. I think that we are in an apocalyptic age. It is almost silly to say that in such a short debate. The nuclear age is apocalyptic—of course it is. But I believe that there is no precedent for the kind of problems which now confront a world which cannot solve its problems in terms of the traditional ideas of governmental authority as represented in the West. It is in that regard that I hope that this debate will not only inform a great many who are indifferent, will not only stimulate many to see why the refugee is so common and so afflicted, but will also be some way to a recognition that we have now to do what we can to move, however desperately it is in practice and however difficult it is so to do, away from the concept 947 of the nation state to something which belongs much more to—shall I say?—world government.
I finish with this simple comment: that all the methods which hitherto have been advocated for the alleviation of the distress of those who are refugees depend for their authorisation and fulfillment on the will of the nation state. We need an overall authority to go beyond that. Inasmuch as I began by saying something in this context of the trouble when we think of the religious adherence to prospects of domination in terms of land, let me finish with another quotation which comes from Micah. It is that everyone will walk in the name of his god, and every man will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid. When we cease to make refugees because we make them afraid, I think we shall begin to see that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Winchester
My Lords, the world's compassion for refugees is bedevilled by false assumptions. This is why I so welcomed the remarkable maiden speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, particularly for his lucid and informed account of the situation that helped us to see the human side behind the millions. When we talk about people in millions, or even in tens of thousands, we inevitably generalise. We reduce all of them to a stereotype, a single image that stands for the lot and immediately we go wrong.
That happens whether we are dealing with statistics and the figures disguise the human face, or whether we watch the television screen and see those familiar stock images of destitution which now assail our minds and our eyes, with almost little regard for the country in which it is once again happening. There is a uniform of need, and those who wear it are condemned to make an impression on those who watch, which entirely removes the question: of what kind is the need? We merely see people in need. We imagine that we know what they need, but needs are so different and this, again, is where we make our mistakes.
If I may venture on a personal reminiscence, I remember sitting somewhere in India with an Indian woman journalist who was also a photographer, and she was literally shocked to the core after some weeks that she had been spending in a famine area. She told me—and broke down in the telling—of how one evening she had gone into the home of an Indian peasant family and had watched the mother of the household doling out to the wide-eyed children in a little circle the food that they were to receive—the first in 48 hours. It was only every two days that she could afford to give them a measure of food. As the photographer watched from a corner she saw one little 12–year old girl slip out from the circle with her tiny bowl of rice into the yard just beyond, and offer her food to an emaciated little calf in the corner which was her personal pet.
Let us never forget that, however hungry a starving person may be, he or she has even greater needs than the need for food. It may be the need to have one other creature dependent on your love. These are people that we are talking about when we describe refugees. Their needs cannot necessarily be summed up and we 948 do not necessarily know best what is best for them. Two of the assumptions that we so easily fall into are these: Poor nations are not good at organising or paupers are incapable. Neither of those has the remotest basis of truth and yet we assume it over and over again when we plan for those who are in need.
The ebodiment of these false assumptions is the refugee camp, where you see people after 10, after 20 and sometimes, as we have heard, after 40 years, totally stagnated—a dead end, with no hope and no way out. They are merely dependent on the world's charity for the rest of their lives. Those camps were intended for temporary emergency, but there has been no solution and not very much attempt to open up any new life. They are permanently dependent.
But the pauper is not incapable. One has only to see the very poor people in any of the great cities of Nigeria to realise the enormous, ebullient entrepeneureship that will break out over and over again as one little man fails in a lorry business and within six months he has started a hairdressing salon. It goes on and on. It is natural for the human creature, when he is on a basic survival level, to produce extraordinary brilliance in ways and means of resourcefulness, and this is what we are dealing with when we talk about refugees.
I remember a Swiss couple in a very poor country. She devoted herself to the poorest of the wives. He went around in a quixotic way. For example, he told me once that outside a fruit shop which had a plate glass window there was a man with a little fruit stall trying to undercut. In front of the fruit stall there was a little man squatting on the pavement, with two dozen oranges on a dirty white cloth, and he was trying to undercut as well. You see this in every Asian and African township. The Swiss man went over to the man with the dirty cloth and they got into conversation. He asked him: "If you suddenly had £10, what would you do?" Without hesitation, the man said; "I would get the materials and make myself a barrow and I would be made." "All right" said the Swiss, "here is £10. Here is my address and pay me back when you can." The Swiss spent 14 years doing that. He raised the money from small charities in the western world and went back. He told me that in those 14 years he had never yet met one person who did not have an immediate answer to the question "What would you do if you had £10?" and in the 14 years there had been only four cases that had not paid back the £10.
Those are the kind of people that we are dealing with when we speak about the very poor. We have to make use of their resourcefulness for their own pride and also in order to solve the problem. The refugee camp is no solution whatever. Over 60 per cent. of the refugees all over Africa are being coped with by African states, mainly by local communities who have absorbed them. They have provided land and the materials for housing. Then the refugees have made themselves self-supporting at a subsistence level, and very often have started to organise themselves communally for basic practical education and for health services. When we see on a television screen that long pilgrimage of people pushing their only possessions on small barrows or carrying them on their heads we should remember that every one in a 949 hundred might be a well-qualified doctor; several might be school teachers. They are not all helpless peasants; they are as varied as any other part of the population, but they are on the run. When they can settle down there is an enormous amount of expertise and ability, and a strange communal power of organising for survival. This we must make use of.
In the last moment that is allowed me I want therefore to plead for more responsibility to be given to the voluntary agencies. I do not want to disparage the commission, but the voluntary agencies have a very special advantage. They can produce personnel who are willing to go down and be involved at the grass roots. They know about an appropriate technology because they are closely in touch with the Intermediate Technology group. They know about the small use of executive personnel. Their executive superstructure is on the whole much lighter and far less of the total funds are spent in that way. They are much more free from the political undercurrents and so they are able without Government jealousy to benefit the total community and not just the refugees in the area.
I greatly welcome the assurance that was given by the Minister for Overseas Development at the Second International Conference on Assistance for Refugees in Africa last July that in a new direction it is the intention of that ministry to pour more funds into backing projects undertaken by the voluntary agencies. I do believe that there is our hope, because those are the people who are working to bring into operation all the resourcefulness of those who are the poor and the refugees.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Baroness Elliot of Harwood
My Lords, may I add my thanks to the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, for inaugurating this debate at what I believe to be a very vital moment in the terrible problems of refugees? Perhaps I may also add my congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, on his absolutely brilliant maiden speech. I hope very much that we shall have the honour of hearing him many times, if not on this subject, then on other subjects in which he obviously has great skill.
My interest in refugees dates back to the year 1960–61, when the World Refugee Year appeal was organised by the United Nations, and resulted in a magnificent amount of money being raised and work being done. It happened that I had been for a number of years a delegate to the United Nations. I was asked if I would head in this country the World Refugee Year appeal, which I did with trepidation but in the end with remarkable success. The fact was that we raised more than £10 million in one year for refugees and this was something which had never been done before.
The money was raised for the purpose of clearing the camps in Europe and also in the Middle East. We succeeded, and what is depressing to me today is that, while we ended up with fewer than a million refugees at that time, we now have, as the noble Viscount said, 14 million refugees. This is a tragedy and everybody who has spoken today has offered very remarkable suggestions as to how we may be able to help.
I should like also to congratulate the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the office which 950 operates here. They have continued all the time and without hesitation to press the urgency of these matters. They have had a tremendous response from the voluntary agencies, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester has just mentioned. I too feel very strongly that we must try to do all we can to help the voluntary agencies because they have a great advantage. They are, working on the spot; they are non-political; and they are not subject to propaganda and the problems of different types of religions. The voluntary agencies are in many ways the most important agencies to help with this refugee problem.
I should also like to add my thanks and congratulations to the Minister, Mr. Timothy Raison, who has just been mentioned and who has now found an extra £5 million for the voluntary agencies. This follows on 1984, when £10 million was given by Her Majesty's Government to help with these great problems. I am sure that this money is well spent but we could do with much more if it were available. Unfortunately, as we know, it is not.
One thing that has been very encouraging is the remarkable response to the tragedy which is going on in Ethiopia today. The Ethiopian appeal, which we have all been watching on television, has again raised the interest and shown the generosity of the British public in the way in which World Refugee Year did 25 years ago. That in many ways is very remarkable and also very encouraging. I saw only yesterday or the day before that Oliver Walston, the son of the noble Lord, Lord Walston, has raised more than £1 million from the farmers and has gone over to Ethiopia to help at this very moment with the problems of starvation which we all know exist in Ethiopia.
Obviously, permanent settlement is what we should most like to help with. In one of the excellent documents which I have been sent for this debate by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner, I have read of the work which is being done by the Ockenden Venture, directed by Miss Joyce Pearce, and also the remarkable work done by the Save the Children Fund and by other voluntary organisations, all actively engaged at this moment in doing practical things.
I do agree with the right reverend Prelate when he says that we can help these workers, that we can train them and that we should do everything we can so that they are able to establish a permanent method of helping the refugees to help themselves. I am sure that that is one of the most important things we can do.
In Britain, we have been very generous in the past in taking refugees and giving asylum, but it remains extremely difficult because, although we should like to help as much as we possibly can, we are in the awkward position of having a great many unemployed and not much work to offer to these people. I think that self-help and resettlement, on which the High Commissioner and the voluntary agencies are working so hard in these countries, seem to offer a better solution than bringing people into the European picture again.
We should do all we possibly can to help the people on the spot to learn to earn their own living. As the right reverend Prelate has said, many people are doing it now, but there could be many more if help was 951 available. I should like to see us giving as much help as we possibly can to the refugees through the voluntary agencies. I am sure that that is the way in which we really would be able to conquer some of these problems. It is a very depressing fact that these problems continue to increase when, 25 years ago, we hoped very much that we had done something to eliminate the problem of refugees for ever. Alas, we did not realise what the wars, the quarrels and the political difficulties were going to be. We are now faced with something far worse than in 1960. I only hope that we shall all encourage everyone to do what they can to meet the existing problems in a new way; in the way suggested by many speakers in this debate.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, not only am I very grateful to the noble Viscount for the subject of this debate this afternoon but I am most thankful that he won the ballot for this particular Wednesday, as it coincides with my return from a 10–day visit to the Sudan. Therefore, I feel better equipped to join in this debate. I visited the Sudan in my capacity as president of UNICEF in the United Kingdom. Not only did I go to see the health and water projects designed to focus effort on self-reliance and self-help, but I was able to see also something of the refugee camps both within the country and outside it. I will confine my remarks purely to the crisis within the Sudan.
At the outset, one should make a distinction between the refugees who are on the borders of the Sudan and those refugees from the drought areas within the Sudan who are now collected together in camps for displaced persons, usually in the urban areas. As regards the border camps, the latest estimate I have—and I know that figures vary according to their source, and mine are not the same as those of the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford—comes from UNICEF in Khartoum, and shows that on the eastern border of the Sudan the camps contain 350,000 Ethiopians; in the west, 300,000 Chadians; and in the north, 124,000 Ugandans. The Sudanese Government anticipate that a further 150,000 Ethiopians will come to the border in the coming months. This means that the Sudanese Government and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, assisted by the other relief agencies working in The Sudan, are attempting to keep alive well over 900,000 refugees on their borders.
So far as the crisis within the Sudan is concerned, it is estimated that as many as 4½ million Sudanese people are affected by the drought and the failure of their last four harvests. Of these, the most seriously affected are those who mainly come from the nomadic tribes and who have left their traditional grazing areas in the Red Sea, Darfur and Kordofan provinces. They have congregated in camps, large and small, mainly situated around the urban areas, in their search for food and water and for fodder for their remaining livestock.
Although it is obviously very difficult to estimate the precise numbers of these people because they are constantly on the move, it is thought that in the official camps for displaced persons within the Sudan there are probably 500,000 people—but more like 1 million actually on the move within the country. The cruel 952 irony, as has already been pointed out, is that however miserable the conditions may be in the border refugee camps, sometimes the people there are better off than the displaced Sudanese who are receiving help from local authorities and from the international relief workers, which in some cases is less good than that which the UNHCR is able to offer refugees on the borders.
I visited two camps for displaced persons. One was in the Omdurman area on the outskirts of Khartoum. It will be difficult for me ever to forget the pitiful sight of families congregated there and which their terrible destitution presented. They started arriving towards the end of last year, and a peak figure of 80,000 people was reported. They had lost their livestock on the way, either because they died or because they were sold. The selling prices of all livestock were absolutely rock bottom. A horse was worth only two Sudanese pounds at the time I was there. The women have sold their last pieces of silver jewellery and these people had virtually nothing.
Moreover, many of these people—especially the children and babies—were in a very weakened physical condition as a result of prolonged malnutrition and from the long journey many of them had made by road, by truck. or on foot to get to the camps. There is no doubt that the sight of destitute people who are bereft even of their own natural environment is the most poignant sight of all. These people had erected miserable shelters in the waste land on the outskirts of Khartoum and were left with absolutely nothing. A rescue operation to maintain for them even the most basic structure of life had been mounted by a great network of international relief agencies. On the day I was there, UNICEF had drilled a bore hole to provide a water supply; French women doctors from Mėdecins sans Frontiėres were there distributing EEC food; and the Islamic African Relief Agency, which is very active in the Sudan, had set up their centre. One volunteer Sudanese doctor had set up his medical camp and treated nearly 5,000 children since they arrived. Despite all this, very many people, naturally, had died of starvation.
At another camp I visited outside the tiny Nile Province town of Atbara, there were many members of the Baja tribe who had been particularly affected by the drought in their usual grazing areas. They had congregated round the town and, again, were dependent on international relief and on the help and generosity of the people of the town. This, I found very surprising; that although the services of the town were under very great strain in terms of food, water and medical services, the generosity and welcome extended by the people of the town to the interlopers was a great lesson to us all.
Finally, I will say a few words about the rescue operation that is being mounted by relief and aid agencies in response to the crisis purely in the Sudan. There is very close co-operation between the local authorities and all the agencies, who have created a structure in which they try to keep themselves informed about the areas of greatest need within the country, so that they may give help there. But from the point of view of the work done by UNICEF, about which I am most authorised to speak, they are attempting to help in camps both on the borders and 953 in the country itself. That help is very great, but of course it is nowhere as great as UNICEF would like—and that is because of insufficient funds.
At the request of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNICEF have provided water supplies in a great many cases in the refugee camps on the border—both by the provision of hand pumps and by the loan of drilling rigs. They have provided also medical supplies, including the oral rehydration salts which are a great life-saver for the many children who are suffering from the killing disease of diarrhoea. UNICEF have also provided vaccines for measles and, in one case, for cholera.
So far as the camps for displaced persons within the Sudan are concerned, UNICEF have provided a great deal in the way of water supplies and food of high nutritional value, particularly for the children who are growing more and more malnourished as the drought worsens. UNICEF have of course had to divert a considerable amount of their funds in response to the emergency. They have so far diverted half a million dollars to creating help in the emergency, and this is in addition to their normal water and health programme. But to be fully effective in response to the real need, UNICEF have made an appeal for the Sudan alone of around 5 million dollars, to carry out emergency programmes. I fear that only £500,000 has been pledged or given towards this, apart from £100,000 which has been transferred from the United Committee for UNICEF and which has been sent to the Sudan for its accelerated programmes.
However, there is a great worry about the rest of the money. The British Government, I know, provided 1 million dollars to the general appeal for 67 million dollars made in October last by the Executive Director of UNICEF. Since then. there has been nothing. How will UNICEF carry out these important projects? As the noble Viscount said, projects which have long-term benefits are of great importance, and, as a development agency, UNICEF has always focused on this very much indeed. I do not, of course, have to say how great the impending catastrophe will be if the rains expected in May or June do not arrive, as they have not come for the last four harvests. It is a very real fear.
Finally, I feel that the present situation is unprecedented, in that we in the rich countries are aware of the extent of the human catastrophe facing the people of the drought-ridden areas of Africa, but we are not doing anywhere near enough to avert it. This analogy occurred to me: it is as if a group of well-to-do people were standing on the pavement in safety watching a defenceless and vulnerable person standing in the middle of the road in the path of a colossal vehicle which is bearing down, bent on his annihilation, and are doing nothing to stop it. I feel that a response from the governments of the richer countries is very necessary.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Lord Chitnis
My Lords, like all noble Lords who have spoken I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, for introducing a debate on this fearsomely difficult subject. I suppose all refugees have enormous problems, and always have had, but perhaps contemporary refugees have a new problem. 954 In an age of rapid but fickle media concern they have to fight for the attention of the world.
Therefore, I should like to press the case for those who in some dreadful scale of values are second class refugees; that is, those who have not only lost all they have but also do not have the protection of the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees. In my experience these come in two kinds. First, there are refugees in their own country. I know that the noble Viscount. Lord Buckmaster—or if not him, the Oxford English Dictionary—apparently does not accept that these people are refugees. Indeed, they have a name of their own: the internally displaced. That is about all they do have.
I first saw this problem at first hand in El Salvador, where, a few years ago, I found a small group of people living in abysmally awful conditions. Very naively, I thought the conditions so awful that something could and must he done about them, so I wrote to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees suggesting that something be done. I was astonished to receive a long, charming and even mellifluous letter in reply which, when translated into plain language, asked me, please, to go away because these people had nothing to do with him as he did not consider them to be refugees. So far as I can make out, for budgetary rather than humane reasons, the present High Commissioner is rather more restrictive in defining what is a refugee than was his predecessor, because at the same time as I am talking of the Government of El Salvador asked UNHCR for help in dealing with its internal refugees but was refused.
The condition of these people is every bit as appalling as that of any other kind of refugee. They are trapped in basements, confined in camps or slums without any facilities and living in fear of their lives. It is not something that happens just in El Salvador, Guatemala and Central America. It happens, of course, in parts of Asia and Africa, too. I find absolutely no way of differentiating their plight from the more conventionally recognised refugees. So, difficult though it is, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will do more in pressing on the relevant organisations, particularly the United Nations and UNHCR, to expand their definition of the term "refugee" so that something can be done to help these people. What certainly must not be done is leave this matter to the International Committee of the Red Cross, because it simply will not be able to cope.
The other kinds of refugees who do not have the protection of the United Nations convention are those from where the convention is not accepted. I find it particularly sad that among these places should be included Hong Kong. Although China, Japan and the Philippines have been able to adhere to the 1951 convention, Britain still continues to maintain that it cannot be applied to Hong Kong. The result of this affects thousands of people. I have not seen them myself but staff of the organisation I have the honour to chair—Refugee Action—have.
I am referring particularly to the refugees from Vietnam who are living in open and closed camps. I should have thought that the closed camps were a particular cause for concern. I have been told that I must not describe them as deplorable but I see no reason why I should not because surely they are. 955 Indeed, as far as I can make out, the conditions are deliberately kept deplorable to act as a deterrent to those who might otherwise feel that they could seek refuge in Hong Kong. But what it means is that for a family—of which there are very many—home is one segment of a two-tier bunk where there is no privacy and no normal life whatever. What it means is that thousands of people are being kept in what are simply overcrowded prisons. Indeed, the camps are run by the Correctional Services Department of the Hong Kong Government.
What will happen to these people, who are effectively trapped? They cannot go home. They would not want to and they would not be accepted. They cannot go to third countries. I should not think there is the option of absorbing them into the Hong Kong population, given what is to happen to the Colony. Britain itself will only allow very few people here for family reunions and is generally adopting a very restrictive policy. There is one small step, at least, which can be taken. The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, referred to the 434 people (I think it is 435 but it is not a great difference) in the open and closed camps who have close relatives in this country. Could not these people, at least, be admitted here? I know of no great principle that would be breached and no floodgates that would be opened if that were allowed to happen. It might also be worth doing when we bear in mind that the Australians have certainly said that they will watch the British policy on the admission of people from Hong Kong to this country and will take from us a cue for deciding to what extent they should take more people into their country.
Leaving aside the problem of those few hundred people, what of the others? What is going to happen to them? I did not raise this issue during the debate on Hong Kong last week because I presumed that the position would be sorted out by 1997; but when will it be, and how will it be?
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, is to be applauded for raising this issue. It is right that this House should deal with and express itself on matters such as this—matters of great and widespread human suffering. I am tempted to follow the line of other speakers and relate some of my experiences over the past 35 years in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia and Africa, where I have continually visited refugee camps. In fact, it is only three months ago since I was in Delhi visiting the refugee camps of the Sikh community after the tragedy which befell it last November. I do not intend to follow that line because we have written and we have talked for so long about the problem of refugees, the problem of hunger and the problem of suffering, that it seems to me to be more important to address ourselves to what can be done.
I here pay my tribute to the maiden speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, and take his speech as my theme. Unless we address ourselves, first, to the real causes of the refugee problem and, secondly, to the long-term remedies, we are really only talking to the converted.
956 I would suggest that there are two central causes of the refugee problem. The first is civil conflict. It is unfortunate that when one talks of civil conflict, particularly in Africa, so many people in this country immediately have a picture of tribal warfare. I must say here that many sections of our media only perpetuate those myths. The latest example was the "Panorama" programme of the BBC on Monday, which, in purporting to describe the conditions in Zimbabwe and to analyse their causes, showed itself to be woefully ignorant and disgracefully biased.
I would take just two issues from the programme to point up what I am speaking about. The British public watching that programme were misled into believing that the violence in the state of Zimbabwe is caused by traditional tribal conflicts between the Shona and Ndebele. Well, there ain't no Shona. There never has been such a thing as a Shona tribe. There are Shona-speaking communities, which are not a tribe; and they have many tensions among them, and always have had. There are greater tensions among many of them than there are between Shona speakers and Ndebele speakers. The programme perpetuated an unhistorical myth.
Secondly, viewers were led to believe that the detentions without trial in Zimbabwe—which treatment we all detest—were in a category different from the detentions without trial in Northern Ireland. They are not. There is the same basic cause, which can be illustrated. There is the very great difficulty of bringing terrorists to trial when witnesses are in fear of their lives if they appear in court. I simply use that as an instance of how the British public are constantly misled as to the causes of civil conflict on the African continent and in other parts of the world.
So far as the issue of civil conflict and its bearing on the refugee problem is concerned, we must not forget that it was we Europeans who drew the totally artificial frontiers on the continent of Africa, cutting right through tribes. Mind you, that has one advantage. Many refugees in Africa are different from refugees in other parts of the world because when they cross a frontier they may still be with their own people. Nevertheless, the human suffering is increasing, as we have heard this afternoon. At the moment that is particularly illustrated by the situation in the Sudan, but it goes right through the Sahel area, the drought area, and right down through East and Central Africa. The number of refugees is increasing exponentially.
Then we must consider the form of de-colonisation. It was Lee Kuan Yew, the wise man from Singapore, who at a Commonwealth Conference a few years ago said that one of the biggest charges against the British policy of de-colonisation was that it left the colonies to come to independence without a basic system of security to preserve the states which the Europeans had created. Conflicts are inevitable.
I would just remind the House that the problem of refugees should not be foreign to us. Europe has suffered from a refugee problem at least since the beginning of the century. In fact, I remember that the very first prize which I won at school was for an essay on the work of the League of Nations among refugees and in resettling them in Europe after the First World War.
957 Civil conflicts inevitably increase the refugee problem, but the second and I think perhaps the more fundamental issue is that of famine. Although there is not a great deal that we can do to prevent civil conflicts, or indeed international conflicts, in the African states—there are some things which we can do, but we do not have time to discuss that subject this afternoon—without doubt there are things which we can do, should do and should have done to prevent famine.
Again going back to the colonial era, so many of the economies of what are now known as the developing nations were distorted and disrupted right from the days of the slave trade. Let us not forget, either, that as recently as immediately after the last world war this country was begging the African nations and their people to produce food for us. Let us remember the Tanganyikan groundnut scheme. There was a great wave of diplomatic activity to get Africans to export food because we were short of it. Let us not forget that there was a great accumulation of food for Britain produced in the first few years after the Second World War. That inevitably added to the natural disaster of the droughts. This is the latest one over the past four years, but there have been others since the last world war.
I ask the noble Lord who is to wind up for the Government to answer a question in this context. The drought in Ethiopia that has so hit the conscience of the world over the past few months was predicted over two years ago by all the major voluntary organisations. Indeed, it was the subject of a United Nations examination which was never published but which not only predicted the famine but pointed out how it could be averted. What were we doing two and a half years ago, in 1982, when we knew that that was coming and when some of us were pressing the Government to take action?
I would ask the noble Lord this question. Why is it that this Government, along with the Government of the United States, have been and are still sabotaging the most constructive organisation of the United Nations—the International Fund for Agricultural Development—which is expressly designed, not to give food aid and succour the hungry now but to prevent millions starving in the famines of the future? That organisation is designed to help the peoples of the developing countries of the world to increase their agricultural production. It surely meets all the criteria that this or any other Government could ask for. It is constructive. It can prevent famine by increasing agricultural production. It can also prevent social conflict through the same means. It has low administrative costs. It has a good reputation for reaching the poorest people in the developing world. It has financial support from the OPEC countries. It has a voting structure which includes both OPEC and the developing world along with the industrial world in a balanced way.
Why is that organisation being sabotaged by being denied funds by the British and American Governments? Surely it is the organisation which can prevent the tragedy and disaster of famine, which has so shocked the world this and last year, from recurring next year and in five or ten years' time, when the cost to the human race will be even greater. We must now 958 tackle the basic problem of helping people to provide food for themselves, as the noble Viscount said in his most welcome and remarkable maiden speech.
§ 4 30 p.m.
§ Lord Bauer
My Lords, many people in this House and many more, but less fortunate, outside will be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, for his Motion and for the eloquent speech with which he supported it. I should like also to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Brentford on his wholly exceptional maiden speech.
The suffering of third world refugees is widespread and chronic. It tends to be forgotten between crises. The appalling fate of refugees from Vietnam has by now been superseded by events in Africa.
I begin with a micro-example. In 1970, in South India, I met a lowly clerk. His humble job seemed incongruous with his intelligence and education. He was a refugee from Burma. He had two good A-levels and was heading for a third when, in 1964, his family were expelled from Rangoon where they had been pharmacists since 1884. They found it very difficult to get jobs in Tamil Nadu, where they were aliens. Their closest relative lived in Bradford. Since the second world war, many thousands of refugees have fled to South India from Sri Lanka, Burma and elsewhere.
As other speakers before me have noted, in Asia, the Levant and Africa there always have been refugees from communal conflict and natural disaster. But in recent decades new forces have been unleashed. Violent conflicts are more frequent and widespread. Persecution and brutality have become more systematic and intense. More significant is the tension, conflict, persecution and fear that have emerged in countries where previously the different communities lived together peaceably for generations, as in Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Long study and reflection have persuaded me that such conflict, where there was little or none before, is the result of the wholesale politicisation of life, especially economic life.
It was often said in pre-war Malaya that the Chinese did not mind who owned the cow as long as they could milk it; although the Chinese earned their prosperity and did not extract it from others. The truth is that people are not deeply agitated about who governs them when a country is lightly ruled and its government confine themselves largely to such tasks as public security, foreign affairs, education, health and basic communications. The situation changes radically when the government directly control much of the economy through state enterprises, monopolies of export and import, licensing of industrial and commercial activity and when they enforce quotas of employment that discriminate on a racial basis. Malaysia and South Africa are familiar examples of such discrimination which is, however, ubiquitous in Asia and Africa.
At least as early as 1965 jobs in Kenya were advertised as restricted to Kenyan citizens of African origin. In Nigeria Ibo clerks, book-keepers and craftsmen are denied employment in the Hausa and Fulani-dominated north, with the result that there is a surplus of them in Eastern Nigeria and a shortage in Northern Nigeria where costly technical assistance missions are despatched to remedy the situation.
959 When life is extensively politicised people's economic and even physical survival may depend on political and administrative decisions. The stakes in the fight for political power, both gains and losses, are much increased. This inflames tension and conflict and sets up centrifugal forces, at least until all opposition is forcibly suppressed. These dangers are especially evident in multi-racial and multi-cultural societies where they bring about persecution, expulsions and even massacres.
The more far-reaching the controls, the worse the results. When private production and trade are suppressed and the most enterprising people persecuted, large sectors of the economy decline, disdevelop and even revert to subsistence conditions. Such sequences are often accompanied by neglect of the primary tasks of government, including even the maintenance of elementary public security, made more difficult by civil conflict and economic collapse. This grim cycle is evident not only in Ethiopia and the Sahel, but in varying degrees also in much of Asia and Africa.
Politicisation of economic life is behind much of the third world refugees problem. The result is tragic, but also anomalous. The great majority of refugees in Asia and Africa have fled from governments which still receive United Kingdom aid or multi-lateral aid to which we contribute. Western aid has enabled many of these governments to survive and to pursue their destructive policies. The hundreds of thousands of refugees in Southern Sudan, who have been there since long before the recent famine, are all from countries which routinely receive Western aid, usually including United Kingdom aid. The Western donors now contribute substantially to new forms of UN assistance to refugees while, at the same time, they finance the governments which cause their plight.
What should we do? We should generously support non-politicised charities and other organisations trying to help refugees, including the Red Cross, various teaching and medical missions and the French-based Mėdecins sans Frontierės, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, has already referred, which has expanded from small beginnings to being a significant support for refugees and others in the third world.
But this is only a minor palliative. At the same time we should drastically cut or eliminate aid to governments responsible for the plight of the refugees. At the very least we should impose stringent conditions and withdraw aid if the conditions are not met.
We cannot wash our hands of guilt if we continue to use taxpayers' money to underpin policies that cause such distress and then proffer further gifts to ameliorate its consequences marginally and temporarily.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, we are extremely grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, for giving us this opportunity to debate a tragic subject, and also for his opening speech. His personal experience of many of the countries afflicted 960 with the problem enabled him to speak with authority and feeling. He and the other noble Lords who have spoken have brought home to us the scale and the awful tragedy of the refugee problem in the world today.
I should like to congratulate first the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, whose father I remember, with respect, as a fellow Member in another place and, of course, as a Member of this House. We were delighted to hear the noble Viscount speak today. He said that he felt rather nervous. Lloyd George used to say that whenever he got up to make a speech he felt butterflies in his tummy, but when he was speaking he tried to demonstrate that they were not there. The noble Viscount, even if he was nervous, gave us no such impression. His delivery was excellent, his content was thoughtful and helpful, and we look forward to hearing him many times in the future.
I should like also to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester on his speech. I understand that it may well be his last speech in this House before he retires. I should like, on behalf of my noble friends on this side of the House, to pay a very warm tribute to the right reverend Prelate for his contribution to this House during the period he has represented his historic diocese, and to wish him a long and happy retirement. I should like also to thank him for his thoughtful and compassionate speech. He obviously knows the subject. He knows this area very well, and we benefited from what he said.
A number of noble Lords dealt with the question of definition: what is a refugee? The noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, paid attention to this. It is well to remember that the refugees who come under the protection of the United Nations High Commission are defined as:Persons who, owing to well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality or political opinions, are outside their country of origin and cannot, or owing to such fear do not wish to, avail themselves of the protection of that country".We recognise of course that that is only one category of refugee, albeit an important one. Those who flee from the country in which they live to seek safety from some natural disaster, such as earthquakes, floods or persistent drought, are also refugees, and when their terrible plight was brought home to people in this country and the Western world it drew a remarkable response from individuals and organisations and, indeed, from governments.
This is also an age-old problem, as some noble Lords have reminded us, and this country has a long and honourable tradition of extending asylum, especially to political refugees. The Motion refers to the third world, but the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, reminded us that the world refugee problem is wider. Indeed, it was centred here in Europe in the 1940s, when millions of people were uprooted by war and by changes in political alignments and national boundaries. Most of them have by now created new lives for themselves in a new environment, but there are still refugees in Europe. It is calculated that there are now in Europe about 567,000 refugees, of whom 146,000 reside in this country. Among the most recent arrivals have been refugees from Indo-China and Poland, and I believe that assistance to those needing help comes from local sources in this country. There are 849,000 refugees in 961 the United States, 338,000 in Canada, and 304,000 in Australia, including boat people. I mention these figures to show that the Western world does play its part, although it is often criticised for not doing enough.
The noble Viscount and other noble Lords gave us the dreadful catalogue of suffering, country by country: 2½ million refugees from Afghanistan in Pakistan; the 1.9 million refugees under the care of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, of whom one-third live in 61 camps scattered throughout the Middle East. Nor can we forget the dreadful problem of the Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, in his speech, and the cases which exist even today in the sub-continent of India and which have just been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bauer.
While it is impossible to say that the problem in any one area is worse than in another, I think noble Lords concluded that for sheer size the refugee problem in Africa is desperate. The total is estimated at over 5 million refugees and displaced persons, and the flight of many Sudanese to Western Ethiopia following the new Islamic legislation, as well as the movement of half a million Eritrean and Tigrean refugees to Sudan from Ethiopia, has compounded the difficulties. The countries of the Horn of Africa are bedevilled by territorial conflicts and political rivalries, and, as we know, a large number of the long-suffering people are starving to death or are on the verge of doing so. It is a terrible commentary on the times we live in.
The Economist summed it up on 22nd December. I think this is worth quoting to noble Lords. This is what the Economist said:The Ethiopians have not only had three years of drought and two decades of civil war to contend with. They have also been hit by government policies which since the late 1970s have reduced agricultural production by an average of 5 per cent. a year. This—as well as the cruelty of the rain-gods—is why Ethiopia has had to beg for food from the rest of the world…By the end of the year, 250,000 hungry Ethiopians in the dry north will have been loaded in lorries and aircraft and resettled in the south-west. Another 2.5 million are due to be resettled by 1994. This is not going to solve the problem of Ethiopia's agricultural inefficiency; and the Ethiopian government does not seem receptive to alternative remedies. Two years ago an Oxford economist, Mr. Keith Griffin, wrote a detailed plan for reform at the behest of Colonel Mengistu. The Ethiopian ruler has suppressed the report".I do not think there is any need to comment further on that.
My noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs gave us a moving and important account of her visit to Sudan, and I am sure that we are all extremely grateful to her. As she said, the position is critical, with half a million refugees from Ethiopia and Chad there. Appeals which the aid agencies have been making for Ethiopia are now being repeated for Sudan. I should like to take this opportunity to pay the warmest possible tribute, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, to Oxfam, Christian Aid and the other voluntary agencies for their remarkable efforts at this time. The United Nations Commission also deserves our thanks and support. I think we should recognise the daunting size of its task, and I am sure that Her Majesty's Government fully support its objectives.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Sr. Perez de Cueller, said recently: 962The problem of refugees can be resolved only with the settlement of the root political causes".My noble friend Lord Hatch, in his speech, devoted a good deal of time to this. As he indicated, there are several such causes, and they are not easily dealt with. Many African nations were built on the basis of artificial colonial boundaries, as my noble friend Lord Hatch said. Their governments have lacked central authority, for tribal and other reasons, and they have been unable to cope with international economic recessions. Political instability and inability to deal with economic problems have created acute social tensions and we can literally observe month by month the deterioration of the quality of life in these unhappy countries.
One of the most tragic and the most wicked aspects of the crisis is that it has been made worse by the manner in which the superpowers and former colonial countries have intervened there. Local disputes have escalated into larger disasters and into wars, and scarce money has been spent on sophisticated armaments from the East and from the West by countries where millions are living below susbsistence level or are starving to death. This was a point well made by my noble friend Lord Soper, in a characteristically powerful speech. Added to this is the drought and famine which now appears to be the norm in many of these countries.
The final question in this debate is: what can he done in these grim circumstances? Are we just talking into the air, or is there something which Her Majesty's Government can do? The fact is that finding permanent solutions to such an immense problem is a task that can he tackled only on the international level. The receiving countries have been generous, but they are also among the poorest countries in the world. They just cannot cope. The international community has responded. Money, time and energy, and the sacrifice of some of the best men and women in the world, have been channelled into programmes to help refugees, but they have not averted the crisis.
The British Refugee Council give five main reasons why the programmes have not been effective. First, they say that these programmes have simply just failed to keep pace with the scope of the problem. My Lords, that is understandable. Secondly, they say that errors have been made in allocating and administering available resources; thirdly, that there has been too much emphasis on the provision of emergency relief, at the expense of assistance that will promote self-sufficiency, development and integration into the local community; and fourthly, that refugee camps should only be regarded as a bridge towards permanent solutions. Finally, they say that the programmes have been implemented without due regard to long-term planning. The United Nations Commission, I believe, recognise these weaknesses and they have commented that to be successful the programmes must encourage the participation of the refugees themselves. They must be part and parcel of any effort towards rehabilitation.
The value of this debate is that it gives the Minister the opportunity to clarify the British Government's views and to respond to this crisis. The noble Lord will be aware of the Second International Conference on Assistance to Refugees in Africa (ICARA II) and its 963 attempt to gain international acceptance of these principles and other essential innovations. I believe that it is right and fair to say that Britain has always regarded Africa as a priority area in humanitarian and refugee relief. On the broader issues raised by ICARA II the Government have not yet issued a policy statement. I note that the Government's representative on the United Nations Commission has made cautious speeches on the search for solutions, on extending the area of development, and on additionality. She is of course reflecting the Government's general attitude towards the problem.
Everyone in this Chamber appreciates the difficulties; but a clear statement of Government policy giving details of their approach to lasting solutions for refugees in Africa would be an important step forward. Two things are desirable: unilaterally, a constructive commitment as urged by the British Refugee Council; and, multilaterally, a more positive lead through the United Nations Commission than we have given hitherto. Both of those commitments would reflect the mood of the British people at this time, and we hope that the Minister will respond accordingly.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I should like to add to those of every other noble Lord who has spoken my words of gratitude to the noble Viscount for raising this subject this afternoon. It is as topical as it is heartrending. The plight of the refugees in Africa that we watch nightly on our television screens from the comfort of our living rooms has awoken the conscience of this country and, indeed, across the world. It is right that we should discuss this issue. I welcome the opportunity to put the Government's views on record and to recount the steps that we are taking.
I am particularly pleased that my noble friend Lord Brentford has been able to make his maiden speech on this occasion and I should like to congratulate him upon it. I hope that we shall have the chance of hearing my noble friend again soon and often thereafter on this topic and perhaps on others.
I should like to add my tribute to that paid by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, who will be retiring very shortly. It is not often that we know in advance that a Member of your Lordships' House is speaking for the last time because they normally only leave your Lordships' Chamber feet first, so to speak. Happily that is not the case with the right reverend Prelate and I hope that we shall see him again here at your Lordships' House in the future although not, of course, as a speaking Member.
The problem that we are discussing this evening is a daunting one. It can, like most things, be reduced to statistics. These tell their own tale of trends and comparisons, even if they disguise the harsh details of individual suffering. As recently as 1959, World Refugee Year, there were 1.2 million refugees or thereabouts. Last year there were something in the region of 10 million. This is considerably more than at the end of the Second World War, the greatest upheaval of modern history. Most regions of the third 964 world are affected. It is difficult to arrive at a realistic figure for Africa in present conditions. But estimates are in the region of 4 million. In Asia some 4 million Afghans are in refugee camps. This is the largest single concentration of refugees in the world. Over one-fifth of the population of Afghanistan have now been forced to flee their country following the Soviet invasion.
Further east, the Vietnamese boat people have brought critical problems to their immediate sanctuaries, particularly Hong Kong. They have also drawn attention, with the grim tales of piratical attacks, to the plight and vulnerability of those fleeing from oppression. Elsewhere, in Latin America, in the Middle East or recently, for example, on the Thai/Cambodian border there are similar stories and more tragic statistics.
Many of these refugees are victims of natural disaster; for example, the great drought now spreading relentlessly across the African continent. These disasters are very much in the news. But we need to acknowledge that the majority of refugees in the world have been reduced to these straits as a result of acts by man, not nature. They are fleeing from external aggression or occupation. Or they are escaping with their lives from internal persecution and oppression. These are political problems which require political solutions, a point to which I shall return.
These refugee problems, whether man-made or natural, are compounded because most of today's 10 million or so refugees have left one very poor third world country to settle in another. Their arrival often has a critical impact on their anxious hosts. Efforts made by these countries to cope in a humanitarian way, despite the overwhelming strain on their resources, are often not sufficiently recognised. But the problem is frequently beyond them. They have enough problems of their own. The rest of the world must share the burden. It is a global responsibility.
The United Kingdom therefore shares this responsibility. We have as a nation a long and proud tradition of granting refuge to those in fear of persecution. We underlined this concern by becoming a party to the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees. Seven years later it was a British initiative, under the Government of my noble friend Lord Stockton, which led to the 1959 United Nations World Refugee Year. We also took the initiative in calling for the convening of the International Conference on Indo-Chinese Refugees in 1979, and I recall repeating the Statement to your Lordships at the time.
The aim of all these measures was to give an international dimension to the problem. We believe that the right approach is to channel our help through the international organisations and voluntary agencies which are capable of reacting to this international dimension. The major international agency in this field is the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Originally established in 1951 for a period of three years, this organisation has become the focal point for the international effort to alleviate refugee problems throughout the world.
Its main objectives are to find permanent solutions to refugee problems through voluntary return to the country of origin, or permanent settlement in the first 965 country of asylum or a neighbouring country, or resettlement in a third country.
Other key organisations include the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees; the Red Cross; and the British voluntary agencies, which are very much in the minds of many of your Lordships, including in particular the right reverend Prelate, this evening. We are firmly committed to supporting the activities of all these organisations.
Like these organisations our fundamental aim is to work for long-term solutions. Resettlement in Western industrialised countries such as the United Kingdom often brings problems of adaptation. We believe that the voluntary return of refugees to their homes in their own countries is the most desirable long-term solution for the majority of them. Where this is not possible, we must seek to help the host countries as best we can. Where such durable solutions are not imminent, we believe that it is necessary to support the traditional care and maintenance programmes fostering self-reliance among refugees. Such activities help to build a relationship between refugee aid and the development of the less developed countries, where so many of the refugees are found.
The record of this Government in this field is one of which we can be proud. Each year for the past four years we have contributed £5.4 million to the UNHCR's general programme. Over the same period we have contributed £5 million annually to the core budget of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees. In addition, we do our best to respond to all special appeals from all the refugee relief agencies. In the current financial year our responses to these appeals have included £5.9 million to the UNHCR, £3. I million to the International Committee of the Red Cross, £2.9 million to the League of Red Cross Societies, and £1.6 million to the British Voluntary Agencies, of which £657,000 went to the Save the Children Fund. We have already pledged £250,000 towards the 1985 budget of the UN Border Relief Operation on the Thai/Cambodian border; and I am pleased to announce that my right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development has just approved a further grant of £250,000 towards these costs.
In addition to emergency relief, we have always recognised the importance of more durable solutions. We were one of the first donors to respond to the UNHCR World Bank initiative to income generating projects for the Afghan refugees in Pakistan. To date we have provided £1,750,000 for this purpose. At the Second International Conference on Assistance to Refugees in Africa last July, my right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development announced a further £5 million to support the infrastructure needs of those countries providing a haven for refugees in Africa. The scheme will be operated through the voluntary agencies during the period 1984–89. This will provide support for local communities as well as refugees, a point well made by my noble friend Lord Brentford.
We have recently also agreed a £100,000 contribution to the UNHCR's income-generating projects in Sudan. We support the Orderly Departure Programme for family reunion cases leaving Vietnam, and the Thai Government's anti-piracy operations 966 aimed at deterring attacks on Vietnamese refugee boats. Together these account for £225,000. Closer to home we support the work of the British Refugee Council with grants totalling over £320,000.
I should now like to turn to some of the detailed points raised during this afternoon's debate. The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, asked whether the Government could adopt a more flexible approach on the granting of political asylum to refugees from the third world. The 1951 Convention on Refugees defines a refugee as a person outside his home country who is unable or unwilling to return there because of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. We not only comply scrupulously with the obligations under the convention and protocol, but already in fact go beyond the obligations under it. A person who is not considered to be a refugee under the convention may still be allowed to remain here exceptionally because of the particular circumstances of his case or in the light of the situation prevailing in his home country.
Indeed, the situation in some countries has caused us to establish several exceptional policies for certain nationals. In recent years the countries concerned have included Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon, Poland and Uganda. Under these policies less stringent tests than the criteria for refugees are applied in deciding whether a person should be allowed to remain here exceptionally, normally for 12 months in the first instance. Extensions are normally granted if there have been no material changes of circumstances.
I believe these indicate that we do operate flexible policies towards those who seek refuge in this country. Our record is commendable. In the period from 1979 to 1983 over 7,500 people were granted asylum here. In addition, in the period from 1st July 1983 to 30th June 1984 some 770 applicants were granted leave to remain here exceptionally. These figures do not include some 19,000 or so Vietnamese refugees who have also been admitted. In the same five-year period some 170 Ugandan nationals were granted asylum, and in the period from 1st July 1983 to 30th June 1984–74 Ugandans were granted exceptional leave to remain. Only 12 applications were refused during this time.
The noble Viscount also referred to delays before applicants for political asylum hear the outcome of their applications. I do not know whether the noble Lord has a particular case in mind when he referred to a four-year delay, but I do know that such a delay would be a matter of major concern to the Home Office. If the noble Lord could let me have details of any case he has in mind, I shall ensure that it is looked into straightaway.
It is unfortunately true that on average asylum applications take longer to decide than other applications under the immigration rules. In the past they have tended to take six months or more. We acknowledge that the average delay on such cases is too long; but asylum applications are among the most difficult and sensitive of immigration cases and decisions are routinely taken at higher levels than for other types of casework.
967 Inquiries outside the department are often necessary and in the great majority of cases an in-depth interview is undertaken. The continuing high level of asylum applications—over 3,500 in 1983 compared with some 1,500 in 1979—when combined with the continuing unsettled and unpredictable nature of world events has regrettably given rise to some delays. Our objective is to reduce the number of cases under consideration. To this end steps have already been taken to increase the strength of the Home Office Refugee Unit.
The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, also asked about further consideration for reuniting refugee families, our policy towards Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong who have relatives in this country, and whether a more liberal policy might encourage other community countries to follow our lead.
The United Kingdom already acknowledges its obligations towards the spouse and minor dependent children of refugees in this country and those Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong who fall into that category are admitted to this country. Applications from other relatives are considered in the light of the particular circumstances of their cases and against the background of the provisions of the immigration rules. Admission can be granted where there are circumstances of a particularly unusual and compelling compassionate nature beyond that generally experienced by Vietnamese seeking reunion. I think that that partially answers the point put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, but I shall return to his remarks in a moment.
The existence of almost 19,000 Vietnamese refugees in the United Kingdom and our continuing commitments represent very substantial efforts to help these refugees. Only a few of the many other nationalities who seek refuge in the United Kingdom come close to benefiting to the same degree in an comparable period to time. Nevertheless, we recognise our responsibility for Hong Kong and have a particular concern to resolve the problems of Vietnamese refugees there. The fact that well over half the Vietnamese refugees in this country have been taken from Hong Kong is recognition of that. My honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office has recently informed the British Refugee Council that he is willing to look again at certain cases which have previously been refused, but where there are arguments for reversing that decision.
I should now like to turn to some of the other points that have been made during the course of this debate, and I shall come in a moment to the items raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis. The noble Lord, Lord McNair, mentioned the need to have an early warning system for refugee disasters. These disasters are of course so often caused by sudden political crises, wars or revolutions which are difficult to foresee. But I accept that prevention is better than cure in this and other fields.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, referred to the work of UNICEF. I, too, should like to pay tribute to their work. Indeed, the Government have given them £1 million in this financial year. The noble Baroness also referred to the problems in Africa, on 968 the lines of several other noble Lords. As I have already explained, there is indeed a major refugee problem, but there is also a distinction that needs to be made here. Many of those affected have left their homes in search of food; not all have crossed international frontiers in search of asylum and so have become refugees. In addition to the help of the international refugee relief agencies. we are of course responding massively through the normal aid budget to the crisis in Africa.
Returning to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, the noble Lord asked me particularly about the closed centre policy. This was introduced in July 1982 in an attempt to deter further boat people from setting out from Vietnam. The measure was forced on the Hong Kong Government by events—resettlement prospects for those in Hong Kong's camps were deteriorating while refugees continued to arrive. That is still the situation although the arrival rate has declined, and the Hong Kong Government can therefore see no alternative but to continue the policy at present. I have to admit that the policy is a regrettable necessity in the circumstances, and I hope and believe that it will only be a temporary one.
The noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, asked me too about the application of the 1951 convention to Hong Kong. I can tell the noble Lord that it was decided not to extend the convention to Hong Kong because of the territory's small size and geographical vulnerability to mass, illegal immigration. The 1967 protocol was applied only to those territories to which the 1951 convention was extended. The Hong Kong Government nevertheless co-operates fully with the office of the UNHCR, and Hong Kong has, as I am sure he will agree, made a major contribution to the international effort to assist Indo-Chinese refugees.
I would also point out that the UNHCR co-operate in the running of the closed centres and help to fund them. Incidentally, to our knowledge none of the countries of the region giving temporary asylum to Vietnamese and other Indo-Chinese refugees is party to the 1951 convention and the 1967 protocol, but nevertheless they, like Hong Kong, co-operate so far as possible with the UNHCR in the protection of, and assistance to, refugees.
The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, asked me about the International Fund for Agricultural Development. We are members of this UN organisation. Perhaps I could be allowed to write to the noble Lord about our policy towards it.
My Lords, in conclusion I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to what I believe are the three key points underlying what we have discussed this afternoon. First, I hope we shall not overlook the fact that so often there are political problems which lie at the heart of the matter where millions are compelled to give up their homes, their land and their livelihood for the squalor and hopelessness of so many of the world's refugee camps. Political problems call for long-term political solutions. We have to create the conditions where refugees can return to their countries of origin of their own free will.
Secondly, the problem is not only of massive proportions; by its very nature it requires international solutions. Our best hope lies in working with the world 969 community through the international and voluntary agencies for real and lasting solutions. Finally, my Lords, there will always be pressure for us to do more. It is right that this should be so, for the plight of the world's refugees touches us at every level. I have recited what we are doing in response. I am content to be judged accordingly.
§ 5.13 p.m.
My Lords, I think all of your Lordships will agree that this has been a remarkable debate, and for me a very moving one indeed. Everyone would accept that the quality of the speeches has been superb, and it has been a most wide-ranging debate. I am indeed filled with admiration and humility. Admiration at the range and quality of the speeches, and humility at the extent of the gaps in my own knowledge which were revealed.
May I congratulate particularly, as many others have, the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, who spoke with that poise and self-assurance which I always try to cultivate but so seldom succeed in doing. The noble Lord, Lord McNair, and the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, both made valuable contributions, and here I should emphasise that their knowledge and experience of the refugee situation is much greater than mine.
I was delighted to hear the voice of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester. I hoped that at some stage I might be able to persuade him to speak on my own pet subject of Uganda, but it looks now as if this is impossible. It is a subject dear to my heart, but I cannot say any more about it now. May I also most warmly thank the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, who always contributes so helpfully and supportively to my speeches on these occasions. I am grateful, too, to the noble Lord the Minister for his helpful replies.
We have covered the ground fully, but since I think I still have a minute or two to spare I must fill in one lacuna. Others were filled in very ably by my noble friend Lord Chitnis about Hong Kong, a subject about which I know nothing at all, but I should like to say a few words about the Palestinian refugees. I had hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, who, as many of your Lordships know, has an unrivalled knowledge about this sphere, would have been able to contribute. I persuaded him to do so, but in the event he had to go to the United States. We also greatly missed the participation in the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, whose knowledge of Ockenden, and so on, is quite superb.
Just a few words about the Palestinians because we have all of us spoken about refugees who are suffering. When I opened this debate I said that there are a great many others who, although they are called refugees, are sometimes living in great affluence; and I think particularly of these Palestinian refugees. One sees them all over the Middle East in Saudi Arabia, in Abu Dhabi, and so on, and in Latin America, and they are doing most marvellous work. They are working as doctors, engineers, civil servants, and businessmen, and, let us face it, many of them are earning far more money then most of us in your Lordships' House. I would just make that point.
Finally, I think we would all agree that the language of suffering is universal. It surely now remains for us to 970 persuade the world to direct its conscience to the implications of this frightening nightmare. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.