HL Deb 13 May 1999 vol 600 cc1294-7

3.25 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings asked Her Majesty's Government:

What support they are giving to the Red Cross and other non-governmental organisations for contracting out locally the needs of the refugee camps in the Balkans.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, in the Balkans as elsewhere, the Department for International Development supports the procurement of local goods and services where this is possible, cost-effective, and does not harm the local economy or reduce access of the local host population to essentials. We strongly encourage the other organisations we fund to follow the same principles. In Macedonia, for example, NGOs supported by DfID's Skopje Field Office have already procured £750,000 worth of goods and services locally.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. The Red Cross is doing a fantastic job in the Balkan camps and—this is even more important—in the homes where there are even more refugees than in the camps. However, does the Minister agree that if the Bulgarian Red Cross can feed the refugees in the Radici camp in Macedonia three hot meals a day for four deutschmarks while it is costing 16 deutschmarks for only one hot meal a day in other camps, the Government should not only encourage the NGOs, but also take a much more positive lead themselves, to contract out all aid locally in the Balkans to those countries that have been so seriously affected by the Kosovo war?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, in commending the work of the Red Cross, which has done some excellent work in the region. I can assure the noble Baroness that we make every effort to support local procurement. For example, NGOs that we have funded have purchased food, building and construction materials and medical and sanitary supplies from local sources in Macedonia. NATO has also made significant local purchases for building works and also for the running of refugee camps. As I said in my original Answer, in Macedonia itself the total value of our local purchases comes to some £750,000. The Government of Macedonia have requested that international agencies should buy from local firms. I shall certainly convey the noble Baroness's concern in this matter to my colleagues, but we are firmly committed with respect to local purchases.

Baroness Uddin

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that at a large gathering of the Moslem community last week my right honourable friend the Prime Minister commended the work of organisations such as Muslim Aid and Islamic Relief? In the light of that can my noble friend tell the House what steps are being taken to ensure that these organisations are considered for inclusion in any of the Government's future contracting arrangements?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I join my noble friend in commending the work of a range of NGOs. I am aware that Muslim Aid is currently working in Albania although DFID is not supporting it at present. Some time ago Muslim Aid gathered some 50 tonnes of assorted goods and medicines from the British Moslem community and asked DFID to fly that out to Albania. We had to inform them that we already had non-stop flights to the region and we had warehouses which were already crammed full of supplies. That is why our consistent message to the British people—who have been magnificent in their response to this crisis—is that it is better to supply cash rather than goods.

As to my noble friend's other question about contracting arrangements, we have undertaken to have a meeting with Muslim Aid and other agencies once the crisis is over.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, is the Minister aware that among the refugees in the camps are many people with skills that are needed—doctors, nurses, teachers, those with previous administrative experience—and whose skills are not currently being used? Would it not be sensible, as far as is possible, to encourage self-help and self-management for as long as the refugee camps continue?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord. Efforts have been made to utilise local skills, particularly in respect of doctors, at the various refugee camps. I am aware that that effort will continue. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, will be aware that there are difficulties in terms of managing that kind of effort, but it is something we will continue to do.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, can the Minister say whether there is effective international monitoring of financial and other practical assistance destined for refugees to ensure that they benefit from it and that it is not diverted to other less deserving channels?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that we consistently monitor our assistance as part of our on-going effort. We make every effort to ensure that development and humanitarian assistance are targeted towards places of greatest need and are not diverted.

Lord Ahmed

My Lords, how many Kosovar refugees have arrived in the United Kingdom so far? What measures are being taken to ensure that children are reunited with their families?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, our top priority has been to ensure that, in the main, Kosovar refugees receive care in the region. We are conscious that refugees have said to us time and time again that they would prefer to stay within the region in order that they can easily return home. Having said that, we have worked with UNHCR in terms of indicating the United Kingdom's willingness to accept refugees on the basis of agreed criteria. As to numbers, 645 refugees had arrived by Sunday, 9th May; one plane arrived on Tuesday, 11th May; and another plane is expected today. I should also say to my noble friend Lord Ahmed that to help facilitate the move of refugees from the region to here, a Home Office team arrived in Macedonia on 9th May to assist UNHCR with the processing.

The Earl of Drogheda

My Lords, do the Government accept as a duty that they and the allies must provide humanitarian aid to all the victims of this war, not simply to the Kosovars?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, our humanitarian policy is carried out on the basis of need. If there is a need in the region we will try to ensure that we deal with it as best we can. The noble Earl will be aware that in Kosovo itself we a-e unable to do anything as we do not have access.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied with the proportion of European humanitarian aid which is using locally contracted services? There seems to be a problem in that area. If the noble Baroness does not know the answer, will she look into the matter and let the House know?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness. Lady Chalker, that as far as I am aware the commitment of the UK Government to local procurement is shared by the European Commission. I will happily write to the noble Baroness if I find that there is anything I can add to my answer.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, what criteria do the Government use to select the refugees who come into this country?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the criteria are as follows: that evacuation is on an entirely voluntary basis; that we respect the need for family unity; that priority is given to the most vulnerable refugees; that consideration is given to family links for refugees who already have contacts within the United Kingdom; and that refugees must be medically fit to sustain travel.

Lord Elton

My Lords, can the noble Baroness comment further or the supplementary question of my noble friend Lady Rawlings which drew attention to the extraordinary difference between the costs of meals provided from Bulgaria and those provided from Germany? Presumably there would be an enormous increase in the amount of food available if the source of supply were changed. Is this under consideration?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I hope I made it clear in my original Answer that there is a very strong commitment to purchasing locally. However, we have to recognise that in doing that the countries in the region have to feed and clothe their local populations. There is a trade-off to be made here.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, following on from that last point, does the noble Baroness agree that the people of Albania and Macedonia are carrying a very sizeable share of the responsibility? Are the Government doing anything to support the host families, who I gather are helped by the Churches in this country?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, it is important that we pay tribute to the host families which have taken in refugees in those countries. The Government are working with organisations such as the Red Cross to give support to such families in the region and we will continue to monitor the situation.