Pakistan: UK Aid

Baroness Cox Excerpts
Thursday 25th April 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Cox Portrait Baroness Cox (CB)
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I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Alton for initiating this debate on a subject of such current concern, which is not widely reported, and where the suffering of people requires an appropriate and timely response.

Some time ago I met refugees from Pakistan who fled to Thailand to escape the hardships inflicted on them in their home country. Many were living in dire and deeply disturbing conditions, in detention centres. I visited some of those refugees to witness their predicament and I was profoundly disturbed by the conditions in which they were forced to live. But the situation that had forced them to leave their homes and their homeland was so dire that they had to emigrate. Their predicaments include discrimination against, and persecution of, minorities, resulting in severe hardships in so-called colonies where violence is perpetrated against communities, including desecration of Ahmadi mosques and cemeteries, the destruction of churches, and the abduction of Hindu and Christian girls, involving forced conversions, rape and forced marriages.

There is a continuing culture, with stigmatisation of minorities even instilled into the culture by inclusion in school textbooks. The blasphemy laws continue to be used as a justification for persecution, and there is a culture of impunity. For example, no one has been brought to justice for the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister for Minorities—and reference has already been made to that terrible situation.

Those who wish to see a change in the culture of prejudice and persecution recommend many fundamental changes, and I shall highlight some of them. First, they recommend the use of the percentage of official aid for minorities mainly for education and professional training projects, such as nursing for girls, in line with the Government’s MDG goals. Secondly, they recommend support for the Punjab police’s commendation policy of establishing Meesaq centres in police stations, in areas where there is a large percentage of Christians. These are staffed by minority police staff and can be used by minority members to report crimes and seek appropriate protection and/or recompense. As the competence of staff is essential, UK aid could be used to help to train the staff and maximise the use of this significant opportunity.

Thirdly, provision of funds is recommended for basic necessities such as fresh water and electricity in slums and primary schools where there is a concentration of minority members. Fourthly, they recommend the provision of funding for training teachers in religious tolerance, so that they are equipped to deliver positive images of coexistence in their schools. Fifthly, provision of funds is recommended for shelter homes for the victims of forced conversions and forced marriages, where they could be taught skills to be self-sufficient. Finally, provision of funds is recommended for labourers working in the sewers to safeguard them from deaths and injuries.

Having heard the first-hand accounts of the suffering inflicted on so many Pakistani civilians from those people themselves, I passionately hope that policies to alleviate their suffering will be recognised as matters of profound concern and measures will be taken to implement them as an urgent priority.