Turkey: Earthquake Relief - Private Notice Question

– in the House of Lords am 3:17 pm ar 6 Chwefror 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock:

Asked by Lord Foulkes of Cumnock

To ask His Majesty’s Government what immediate assistance with lifesaving, recovery and long term rebuilding and reconstruction efforts they are offering to the Government of Turkey and non-governmental organisations following recent earthquakes.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I am sure that I speak for all in your Lordships’ House in offering condolences to all those impacted and affected by this tragedy in Turkey and Syria. Our thoughts and prayers are with all. Our embassy in Ankara is in direct contact with Turkish authorities and is supporting British nationals. We are also in contact with British humanitarian workers in Syria. I can share with your Lordships that the United Kingdom is sending immediate support to Turkey, including a team of 76 search and rescue specialists as part of our international search and rescue team. They are being dispatched to Turkey as I speak. They will have equipment and rescue dogs. In Syria, the UK aid-funded White Helmets have also been mobilised, and we are working closely with our UN partners to understand the direct impact and options.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Llafur

My Lords, I am grateful, as always, to the Minister for his helpful response. I am sure we all share in sending condolences to those who have lost their lives and their relatives. However, this is not just one but two of the strongest earthquakes ever in an area that is already coping with hundreds of thousands of refugees, so we need to do a great deal. I am glad to hear that the immediate rescue effort has been mobilised. Can the Minister tell us which NGOs are involved with that? When will they leave the United Kingdom for Turkey? What kind of help are they going to give? Will there be specialised equipment as well as men? Will we provide dogs or other assistance? Can he say what skills and equipment we are able to provide?

This is going to be a huge effort. It needs international support from every organisation and every country. Everything that we can do we should be doing. We cannot overestimate the devastation that has taken place, the death and destruction in Turkey. I hope that we will get a clear assurance that the United Kingdom Government, irrespective of the cuts we have sadly seen in the development budget, will make sure that as much money and help are available to Turkey as we can give.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. He asked some specific questions. We are working directly with the United Nations. I hope to speak to the UN co-ordinator, Mohamed Haji, later today within the context of Syria, but communications are quite challenging, certainly in Syria. The noble Lord is right to ask what we have deployed immediately. A UK international search and rescue team will be deployed today and commence life-saving activity within the critical 72 hours. They will depart on a charter flight from Birmingham at 1800 today and will arrive in Turkey by 2300 UK time tonight. They are working in a co-ordinated fashion with the co-ordinating agency in Turkey. I am sure all noble Lords appreciate that it is an evolving situation. Even as I was leaving the Foreign Office to answer this Question, tragically we saw the reported casualty figure reach 2,000—or a tad just under—and this is after just a few hours. The noble Lord is correct that there were two earthquakes, one of 7.8 magnitude followed by one of 7.5 magnitude, impacting not just Syria and Turkey but further afield, including in Israel and the OPTs.

I assure the noble Lord that, as my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have said, we stand with Turkey and the agencies working on the ground, and, importantly, with the UN within the context of Syria, to make sure that what is required immediately and in the medium and long term can be addressed directly. I assure the noble Lord that, as more details evolve, I shall be happy to update your Lordships’ House accordingly.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the Minister mentioned one concern, which is the efforts to get humanitarian aid across the Turkish border to Syria. Syria obviously is in a particularly difficult situation. Will he tell us what steps the Government are taking to support the safe delivery of aid into Syria over the next few days and how they will support the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2672 during recovery, which facilitates cross-border aid going into Syria?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, within the context of the United Nations, first and foremost we have been working to broaden the scope of humanitarian corridors into Syria. It is regrettable that because of Russia’s actions that has not been possible. However, we will continue to work within the parameters and restrictions that apply. I assure the noble Lord that, for example, with the White Helmets, we are already mobilising additional funding and we are in direct contact with them. Notwithstanding the issues and challenges posed, I hope to speak with their representative, Raed Al Saleh’s deputy, in the coming hours to be updated on what is required. The noble Lord will also be aware that within north-west Syria we are working with key NGOs. For example, we have been equipping key NGOs on the ground to ensure that volunteers are already trained to deal with the kind of tragedy that has unfolded. As the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, pointed out, this tragedy took place where plates meet. It is a one-in-100-year event, and it happened this morning.

Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland)

My Lords, the reports and pictures of this earthquake show it to be truly apocalyptic, on a scale that is probably unprecedented in our lifetime. I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the response we have made. In the past, the UK had the capacity to provide a very fast, comprehensive response and to co-ordinate international action. Do we still have that capacity, and are we able to provide leadership to get to people quickly so that we can save lives and ensure that needless, endless suffering can be relieved before it is too late?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord—and our response reflects this—that we have the specialists required and they have been mobilised very quickly. The noble Lord has raised the importance of co-ordination on the ground. We are working directly with the Turkish authorities, the co-ordinating body and our international partners to ensure that we identify and address what is required immediately. As I am sure the noble Lord has picked up, we were the first of seven or eight countries to respond directly; messages have also been relayed to the Turkish Government at the highest level.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, having travelled in the areas around south-east Turkey that have been affected, to the east of Diyarbakır into Mardin and Tur Abdin, where the ancient Assyrian and Chaldean communities are, I would ask the Minister not to lose sight of those very vulnerable people who are not in the towns and cities but are also deeply affected by the appalling events that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has described. Can the Minister tell us two things? First, in such circumstances, the UK Disasters Emergency Committee usually co-ordinates the giving of donations. Is that happening at the moment, and will the UK Government provide match funding for every penny and pound generously given by UK citizens? Secondly, given the sanctions that have been imposed on Syria, to which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, alluded, will we ensure that humanitarian needs are met regardless of any sanctions?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, of course, any sanction applied has provision for humanitarian support; we will certainly ensure that continues to happen. On the noble Lord’s earlier point about vulnerable communities, the challenges are of course immense. As we look at the situation in Turkey as pointed out by the noble Lord, and towards Syria—Aleppo has been impacted in a devastating way notwithstanding the devastation it had already suffered—we will seek to prioritise the distribution of support accordingly. However, it needs a level of co-ordination; that is why I have alluded to what we are doing both with the aid agencies on the ground in Turkey and with the White Helmets. On the DEC, I assure the noble Lord that one of the last actions I left for the team as I departed the Foreign Office was a full submission on the very points that the noble Lord has raised. I do not have those details with me, as this has been a very fast-evolving situation, but that is high up my agenda; I will update the House accordingly.

Photo of Lord Sterling of Plaistow Lord Sterling of Plaistow Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, it is very good news that the Minister has responded as he has so far. Do I take it for granted that the Royal Auxiliary reserves, who are wonderful people trained specifically for operations like this, are totally involved? Also, do we intend to send out a field hospital, set up with highly trained people, which would be of great use?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that we are looking to ensure a whole-of-government response, so that every asset will be provided to the Turkish Government, as well as to assist on the ground in Syria. As to additional support, those details are being finalised. As the requirements are made clear to us, we will deploy what is necessary to ensure that the objectives of the relief efforts can be met.

Photo of Baroness Hussein-Ece Baroness Hussein-Ece Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving us an update. He will appreciate that the magnitude of this earthquake is truly devastating and terrifying. Many in the Turkish diaspora in this country—I include myself—are personally affected by this tragedy. What support can the Government give to the diaspora here, who are desperately trying to find out what has happened to their family and friends in Turkey? Communications are hampered by the sheer scale of this disaster and the terrible weather. People are under many feet of snow; 10 densely populated cities have been affected. The diaspora here are desperate for news. What support can the Government give to the communities here trying to get more information?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I am sure I speak for all noble Lords when I extend my condolences to the British-Turkish diaspora here, of which the noble Baroness is an exemplary part. She is using her good offices, and I welcome her direct advice and input on what more can be done. I will get back to her with further details as they evolve. My understanding is that in Turkey itself, certainly in the 10 cities impacted, the communications are still stood up and we are able to get information both in and out, but we will look at how we can strengthen some of the communication channels. If the noble Baroness can identify particular problems being encountered, and if they are in the scope of the FCDO or other government departments, we will look to assist.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench

My Lords, what are we doing about aerial damage assessments? Now that we are not in the EU, I presume that we do not have access to the Copernicus satellite. How are we coping with that? Are we co-ordinating with European neighbours?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the EU has also mobilised to this effect. I assure the noble Earl that, as I said earlier, we are co-ordinating with all our international partners and, importantly, that includes members of the EU.

Photo of Lord Kilclooney Lord Kilclooney Crossbench

My Lords, the damage has been considerable in Diyarbakır in Turkey, which I have previously visited. It is right on the border with Iran. Have there been any reports of damage in Iran? If so, are we helping them?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, specifically on Iran, I will have to update the noble Lord. I am aware that the impacts have been felt further afield, particularly in parts of the Middle East. Thankfully, even in places such as Lebanon, which is a very fragile country at the moment, the impact has been limited, but we are continuing to monitor the situation. Tragically, the earthquake hit at 4 am, which was probably the worst time. I have been updated on the net effect on buildings and how they folded—what I believe is called the pancake effect, where they just collapse on each other. If that impact were felt further afield in places such as Lebanon, which is extremely fragile, it would be devastating. I will update noble Lords as details emerge on what is an evolving situation.

Photo of Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, some years ago, I worked in a refugee camp along the Euphrates, very close to the epicentre. It is impossible not to be moved by the brisk, unfussy and uncomplaining way in which Turkey has handled the arrival of millions of Syrian refugees into its territory. The United Kingdom is perhaps the most engaged supporter of Syrian refugees on the borders of Syria. Can we leverage that status and transfer our aid to the Syrians who are now fleeing this second devastation?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, my noble friend is correct that the UK has been and is the third-largest bilateral donor to the Syrian crisis, having committed over £3.8 billion to date, our largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis. We are supporting Turkey, Lebanon and indeed Jordan when it comes to the issue of Syrian refugees. The impact of those seeking to leave Syria from this devastation is not yet clear, but we stand ready to help those within Syria and Turkey with the support that they need. As I said, and I am sure noble Lords appreciate this, it is a situation that occurred this morning. We have responded immediately—as required—and in a co-ordinated fashion to the information that we have received, and we will continue to do so.