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As part of the refugee problem, we now have no-go areas in the cities in Iraq—above all in Baghdad but also in Kirkuk and Basra—which means that people cannot go back to their old homes. That is part of the problem of internal displacement and of refugees. Unleashing sectarian fundamentalism has been one of the most unfortunate results of the invasion. It distresses me that there are still those within the Washington international community who think that harnessing the forces of sectarian fundamentalism for western aims is what one should be doing.

Then there is the Kurdish issue. Some internally displaced people are being created—noble Lords have particularly spoken about Kirkuk—about whom, again, we have no coherent policy. There is one policy towards Turkey and another towards Iraqi Kurdistan. The two have just got very badly across each other with the recent Turkish incursion into northern Iraq. There are other minorities such as the Chaldean Christians, about whom the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, spoke powerfully. Evidence suggests that a disproportionate number of these refugees—Christians, Sunnis, Turkomans and Shias—are professional; they are the middle classes on whom we would wish the Iraqi economy and society to be rebuilt. We all understand that safe return requires law and order to be re-established, the economy to be revised and—if, sadly, people cannot go back to their own homes—new areas to be developed.

The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has usefully and doggedly pursued the issue of interpreters who worked for the British forces. The noble Lord, Lord West, said last October in Answer to a Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler:

We are failing to fulfil that moral obligation. I hope that the Minister, in answering the debate, will give us some useful figures on what is happening under the gateway scheme. Reading through some of the earlier Answers to Questions on the gateway scheme, I was extremely confused. If I understand correctly, there has been only one formal application so far—that was according to one Written Answer. Another Written Answer said that no applicants have yet been resettled. Yet another Written Answer said that the UNHCR has submitted 131 applications. We are being very slow and reluctant in our approach to a scheme for these people. The Foreign Secretary said last October that Her Majesty’s Government have directly employed

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many thousands of Iraqis over the past five years. Well, bully for her Majesty’s Government if they have accepted their responsibilities towards one of those people, but that seems to me rather slow.

We read that the Danes, who have had a smaller effort in Iraq, have directly airlifted out of Iraq to Denmark some 400 people with their families. Incidentally, I know that many on the Conservative Benches have criticised other European Governments for not pulling their weight on a number of things, but the Danes and others have pulled their weight pretty well. The Danes were in Bosnia and are now in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are areas in which some of our European partners put us to shame.

On the overall responsibility towards refugees, Sweden also puts us to shame. The last time that I saw the Swedish figures, Sweden had accepted some 50,000 refugees from Iraq. If one multiplies that relative to our population, we would be talking about a quarter of a million Iraqi refugees in Britain. Again, our record compares badly with those of our European partners who did not participate in the decision to overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime.

I have a specific question for the Minister. How many applications both from people who worked for British forces and from Iraqi refugees has the United Kingdom so far accepted and how does that compare with other European and North American states? This is, after all, part of the legacy of the invasion. We broke it, so we have to pay for it and repair it. This is a Labour Government; it is the Government of a party that used to stand for international co-operation and for the acceptance of responsibility. However, it seems to us that we have here a denial of responsibility and a backsliding on obligations to refugees.

3.24 pm

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I offer my warmest thanks to my noble friend Lord Fowler for securing the debate and to all other noble Lords who have spoken. My noble friend, in his tireless fashion, raised the issue of Iraqi refugees. In this short debate we have heard what have been to my mind extremely impressive speeches from the Benches of all three political parties, and one just has to hope that what we say this afternoon will do some good and move the thinking forward in a positive way.

This is a story which is certainly five years old today, as has been said. The timing is excellent, and it is a story which is both shameful and tragic. It is called the “hidden crisis” because, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminded us, the public do not seem to be fully aware of the sheer scale of the misery and horror, as well as the numbers involved. That is in part because the refugees and their problems are scattered throughout the Middle East and not concentrated in one visible, media-viewable site. I shall deal with the shameful side of this issue first. It concerns the way in which Iraqi citizens who were formerly employed by the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development are being treated. The matter has been raised by my noble friend Lord Fowler and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, in considerable detail. I shall come to it myself in a moment.

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In turn, it is part of a bigger and deeply tragic picture of millions of Iraqis. Some say that the figure is 4 million or so, of whom around half have been displaced while the remainder have fled the country. They are now living in absolutely desperate circumstances in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. That in turn is part of an even bigger tableau of disaster into which the Iraq scene has been allowed to develop, with the latest twist in the pattern of indecision being the announcement here in London of a change in plan for our brave troops. They have acted so valiantly, but apparently they are now to stay on in Basra airport in larger numbers after earlier announcements that they would be run right down in accordance with Operation Overwatch, which many of us thought from the start was a foolish and unreliable plan.

Let us start with the shameful part, which covers the most direct and prominent issue for this country, the Government and this Administration: the position of the interpreters. The situation is both unclear and, echoing what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, rightly reminded us of, morally reprehensible. These are people who served our forces dutifully and are now in fear of their lives. Some have fled to Damascus and Aleppo, while others have gone to Amman. Policies were announced last August to give them asylum, and the question is what has been the result of those announcements. Parliamentary Answers given recently in the other place confirm that of the supposed 400, which may be an unreliable figure, employed by the British authorities, 74 former MoD employees have been screened by the Border and Immigration Agency, as have eight former FCO and three DfID employees. The question, naturally, is how many of these people, having been screened, have been granted indefinite leave to come here for protection under the Locally Engaged Iraqi Staff Assistance Scheme? The answer to that is that up to yesterday, apparently none has been granted such leave. I am told that not one local employee has been evacuated for resettlement in the United Kingdom.

How many have come here under the so-called Gateway Protection Programme, which in some complicated way involves applying through the tireless staff of the UNHCR? We learn that 131—I think I heard the figure of 121 mentioned, but the numbers are always uncertain—Iraqi citizens, including dependants, have applied. How many of those have reached safety? I have here the correspondence of desperate family men who have served us well, but who are now lost in the bureaucratic labyrinth of eligibility questions and conditions. These papers have been supplied by the excellent Dan Hardie who has done a great deal of work in this area and was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Fowler. One of them says that there is no chance of him getting a sensible answer out of the British authorities. He sent off all the papers, but has been told to wait. Another has been told that he was not employed directly by the British authorities, but he insists that he was. Another is still waiting hopelessly for a reply. A fourth says his friend and his uncle have already been killed and he waits in fear, but he is told that he is not qualified because he does not satisfy the 12-month criteria.

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All this is shocking, frankly; it makes me ashamed of what our Government have done or have failed to do. Even so, this pales into insignificance when set beside the larger question that has been described by your Lordships of the plight of the 4 million or so Iraqis scattered across the Middle East or displaced within Iraq itself. No one who saw the recent Channel 4 programme “Iraq’s Lost Generation” could fail to be moved by the sight of disfigured and hungry children and of people trapped without hope, without money and without work in Syria and Jordan—the dreadful harvest of the Iraq situation. Regrettably, as my noble friend Lord Fowler reminded us, some of them blamed not Saddam Hussein but the Americans and the British for having taken away their homes and their security.

The UNHCR has said that the ability of these countries to handle these large numbers is just about exhausted, so what are we going to do now to help? There are reports that some refugees have returned, but these reports are very hard to verify. Of course, for those who have returned, there are many more still trapped.

We are told also that nearly all Christians have had to leave Iraq, a point rightly raised by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. It would be interesting to know whether that is correct. But this is just one dreadful aspect of the still wider scene of misery into which, after all the high hopes for Iraq with the removal of Saddam, the country has subsided. I do not know whether the surge strategy is going to be sustained. It is said to be working under General Petraeus, but it may or may not continue to work and it may or may not be sustainable. In Basra, which was our area, we have come upon bad days, to use the phrase of Sir Hilary Synnott, our man, for a time, in south Iraq, who has written a very telling book upon the subject.

His book is not the only one. Accounts and memoirs are now pouring out, on both sides of the Atlantic, about what has gone wrong and how, again in the words of Sir Hilary Synnott,

That is a very serious indictment. Account after account confirms how we failed to influence the Americans, failed to learn from our own past experiences and failed to plan properly after the military invasion.

I agree with other noble Lords who say that the time has come—and, indeed, is overdue—for a full inquiry into what went wrong, why we were misled, how intelligence failed and how policy failed after the invasion. We have heard this view more than once today, both in Questions and this debate, from my own party and the Liberal Democrats. The cost has been titanic in lives and injuries to our soldiers and in resources. The latest estimate for the UK is said to be about £6 billion on the military side. Large though that may seem to us, it seems almost minuscule compared with the cost to our American allies, which is said to be in trillions of dollars. More than 3,000 American troops have been killed, as well as 174 British troops.

We need this inquiry now and not later. We owe it to our fighting men and women, to the frightened personnel who loyally served us and feel betrayed,

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and to the lost millions of refugees about whom we have heard today in this short debate. For them there will be no Easter break, no happy family reunions; only sickening fears, hunger, insecurity and misery. Having done what we were led into doing as a nation by the previous Prime Minister, by his Government and by his convictions, however much they were in good faith, we must now take our full and proper share of responsibility for repairing the consequences of this almighty tragedy.

3.34 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I join in the general congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for initiating this debate today, when we acknowledge the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the conflict in Iraq. It has been a timely and well informed debate and we have had some powerful speeches. I do not discriminate between the contributions, because they have all contained powerful points.

The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has repeated many of his powerful pleas on behalf of Iraqi refugees. He now has a parliamentary reputation for taking up their cause, to his great credit, and I am sure his continued interest in the subject will not cease with the close of today’s debate. That is a good thing.

My noble friend Lord Anderson called, as have others, for our country to shoulder its part of the burden. He drew attention in particular to the plight of Christians in Iraq, who have become, if you like, internal refugees. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, echoed the call made by other speakers for the stepping up of humanitarian aid and the need to support neighbouring countries. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, with his extensive experience of Middle Eastern policy matters, focused on what he described as our post-war policy deficiencies—I am summarising the noble Lord’s position.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, with all his tremendous experience in the field, again echoed those earlier calls for a full inquiry, as he put it, into the war itself, its causes, intelligence failings that noble Lords believe to have occurred in the preparation for war and the post-war settlement, and the response to the issues that have been focused on during the debate, particularly humanitarian concerns.

In my response I am not going to concentrate on the origin of the foreign policy aspects of the situation. That would not be appropriate because our attention has been drawn to humanitarian concerns in particular, and I will spend my time at the Dispatch Box most valuably if I focus on them; most questions were asked on that topic.

Of course, the United Kingdom Government remain concerned about the humanitarian situation in Iraq and conditions for the estimated 4 million internally and externally displaced Iraqis. We are committed to supporting those vulnerable populations. That is why we have spent over £130 million on humanitarian assistance for Iraq since 2003 and why we have just announced a further £15 million contribution this week. Twelve million pounds of that new money will support the United Nations-led consolidated appeal and Red Cross operations inside Iraq. Three million

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pounds will go to the UNHCR, with all its expertise, for its work with Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan and other countries in the Middle Eastern region to whom noble Lords have drawn attention and who are under pressure. The UNHCR is our key partner in responding to the needs of Iraqi refugees. It provides assistance such as financial grants, legal and food aid and subsidised healthcare. It also supports public education and health structures in countries that have taken in large numbers of Iraqi refugees; for example, by procuring medicine from local health authorities and undertaking the rehabilitation of school and educational buildings.

As a major contributor to the European Commission, the United Kingdom has also supported the EC’s programmes to strengthen the Jordanian and Syrian education and health sectors. The EC allocated some €35 million for this work in 2007 alone.

DfID continues to work closely with the UN and other humanitarian organisations to ensure that they have the resources they need to respond to the humanitarian situation in Iraq and among refugees in the region.

The consolidated appeal represents a significant improvement in the co-ordination of the humanitarian response in Iraq. It is also the first appeal to cover the relief efforts of both UN agencies and non-governmental organisations. The United Kingdom has been one of the first donors to respond to this and other major appeals for humanitarian assistance in 2008. We will lobby other donors to follow with their contributions so that agencies can continue and expand their programmes to meet urgent needs.

The Government are committed to providing a safe haven for those genuinely in need of protection by enabling refugees from some of the most troubled parts of the world to rebuild their lives in the United Kingdom. Our response to the UN’s call for assistance to increase refugee resettlement places for Iraqi refugees has been twofold. We have committed to increasing our resettlement quota by 50 per cent from April this year; that is, from 500 to 750 spaces. We have also committed to focusing our work for the next two years on refugees from Iraq. Two-thirds of our resettlement places—500 refugees a year—will be allocated to Iraqi refugees during the next two years. In total, this will provide permanent protection to 1,000 Iraqis whom the UN considers to be particularly at risk in their current country of refuge.

In addition to increasing our own resettlement programme, we co-signed in January a statement with five other EU Ministers that urged other member states to set up their own resettlement programmes. This will ultimately enable a larger number of refugees to benefit from a durable solution and reach safety.

For Iraqi nationals claiming asylum in the United Kingdom, we will continue carefully to consider all asylum and human rights claims on their individual merits in accordance with our obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. If an applicant demonstrates a need for international protection and meets the definition of a refugee under the terms of the 1951 convention, they will be granted asylum.

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For those staff, former and current, who have worked closely with us in Iraq,we announced last October an assistance scheme in recognition of their invaluable contribution.Staff meeting the eligibility criteria set out in the Foreign Secretary’s Statement to the House of Commons are able to apply for a financial package of assistance or, in agreed circumstances, for admission to the UK outside the Immigration Rules on a discretionary basis. We have received hundreds of applications from former staff who are interested in this assistance—understandably so. Much of the focus of work over the past months has been to sift through the applications and assess whether each is eligible. More than 400 former staff have now been assessed as eligible for assistance. A significant number of them have opted for the financial package, clearly believing that the security situation in Iraq is improving and seeing themselves as having a positive future there. For those opting for resettlement, the process is well under way for both former and current staff. The first former staff will be interviewed next month in a third country. The first current staff will be welcomed to the United Kingdom in April. Our policy offers the prospect of genuine assistance—

Lord Fowler: My Lords, will the Minister give some indication of how many people we are talking about? He has given us a general indication. He said that the first current staff will be welcomed to this country. How many people are the Government proposing to admit?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am reluctant to give detailed statistics. We are going through the numbers with some care. I have some more statistical data, which I was going to pick up when I had worked though some of the questions. There were many questions and I apologise in advance that when I do that I shall have to be somewhat selective. However, I intend to ensure that we have a compendium letter following this debate that covers any issue that I fail to cover today, as I am very conscious that the clock is against us.

We believe that our policy offers the prospect of genuine assistance to those Iraqi staff who have had particularly close and sustained associations with us, in what we all accept have been difficult circumstances, as has been extensively argued this afternoon. We accept our moral responsibility and continue to work to ensure that it is implemented fairly and efficiently.

Before I close in the next few minutes, I intend to deal with some of the more specific points that came up in questions during the debate. I have indicated when staff will be resettled in the United Kingdom and given an outline as to how that would work. We are focusing on staff who have given us dedicated service over a period of time. Staff who have not yet worked for 12 months but reach that mark in future will become eligible at that time; a 12-month requirement is not unique to the UK but it is a feature of the United States’ special immigrant visa programme for their Iraqi staff.

Noble Lords made reference to delays in bringing Iraqis to the UK—and the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has just repeated that. It is worth saying in that context

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that many applicants have opted not for resettlement here but instead for the financial package. There is no question but that there has been considerable success with that.

The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, raised the precise question of a tailor, and I thought that he was right to do so because it was illustrative. In that particular case, the individual applied to the scheme but, as far as we understand it, he had never been employed by Her Majesty's Government and for that reason was not eligible.

The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, asked why the UK did not contribute more than £15 million in 2007 to support displaced Iraqis. In addition to the £15 million, we are one of the key donors to the European Commission, which has made substantial contributions of €35 million towards support of the education and health sectors. The UNHCR’s appeal for displaced Iraqis last year was almost fully funded and DfID has pledged a further £3 million this week as part of its overall package.

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