Baroness Caroline Cox Takes Part In House of Lords Debate Refugees: Mass Displacement

Baroness Cox Takes Part In House of Lords Debate Refugees: Mass Displacement.

Please also follow the link at the end to read the full debate introduced by Lord Alton.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in offering the warmest congratulations to my noble friend on securing this debate and his characteristically comprehensive introduction. I refer to my interests in the register as the founder of the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust—HART—which works with courageous partners in remote locations, who risk their lives to provide life-saving aid for displaced communities. Time allows only two examples: Nigeria, and the historically Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

In Nigeria, almost 3 million civilians are internally displaced due to insurgency and conflict. The UK Government’s response has been focused predominantly on the north-east, but has not provided aid to the Middle Belt, one of the regions worst affected by Islamist attacks. We have visited many times and personally witnessed the results of massacres, atrocities and forced displacement. HART receives almost daily reports of killings, rape, abductions, enslavement, land-grabs and mass forced displacement in the Middle Belt. Our local partner, Reverend Canon Hassan John, told me that, for over 10 years, displaced villagers have been forced to rely on aid from local churches or NGOs. He said:

“I can say categorically that there has been very little or no aid, not even from the state or Federal Government of Nigeria ... I am not aware of any assistance from the British Government in the central region ... In Southern Kaduna state, at least seven communities have [recently] been attacked. Villagers are forced to move onto the next village. None of these villages have received security or humanitarian assistance. Families in neighbouring villages do what they can to absorb and care for their relatives. In one room, I saw 40 people sleeping on the same floor.”

Will the Minister confirm that Her Majesty’s Government will ensure immediate humanitarian support for displaced people in the Middle Belt? Will he arrange for the Africa Minister to meet colleagues from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, of which I am co-chair, to discuss what action has been taken following the group’s report on whether escalating atrocities in Nigeria represent an unfolding genocide?

I turn briefly to Nagorno-Karabakh, where 80% of the historically Armenian enclave is now occupied by Azerbaijan. In 2020, more than 91,000 people fled to Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh; 88% of them were women and children. More than 40,000 people were deprived of their homes in areas such as the Shushi and Hadrut regions, which are still under the occupation of the Azerbaijani armed forces.

I have had the painful privilege of visiting the region more than 85 times, during the wars in the 1990s and in 2020. Last September, I visited Syunik region in Armenia to witness the suffering caused by Azeri military incursions into Armenian territory, causing displacement of local villagers within Armenia itself. Countless refugees describe the anguish of the loss of loved ones, and Azerbaijan still violates the conditions of the 2020 ceasefire by detaining Armenian prisoners of war and civilians, and perpetrating atrocities, sometimes taking a prisoner’s phone to film horrendous activities, then sending the pictures back to their families.

Refugees also describe the loss of livelihoods, agricultural lands, water resources, and other vital infrastructure. Yet the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh have received almost no support from the British Government. The UN Secretary-General’s official spokesperson in May last year unequivocally indicated that it is Azerbaijan that, despite the calls of the international community, and the UN in particular, has not provided permission for unhindered humanitarian access in Nagorno-Karabakh, and that situation remains the same.

In conclusion, can the Minister confirm that the UK will no longer turn a deaf ear to this cry for help, and will ensure the provision of urgent humanitarian assistance to the thousands of Armenians displaced by war? In both Nigeria’s Middle Belt and Nagorno-Karabakh, the UK has failed to acknowledge, let alone address, the root causes of mass displacement. Perpetrators have carried out atrocities with impunity. There has been no justice or support for victims and their families. I urge the Minister to give greater priority to the problems I have identified and to many others suffering in similar situations.

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