Opposition day debate – Situation in Yemen

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): I am glad to be able to participate in this debate on the situation in Yemen, which is clearly not getting the international ​attention that it should. I commend to Members the coverage that Scotland’s newest newspaper, The National, has given the conflict over the previous months. The newspaper has consistently endeavoured for some time to get the matter into the consciousness of the Scottish public.

My interest in Yemen was sparked by my constituent Fahim, who came to see me last year on the day the exam results came out in Scotland. He passed the courses that he had been studying, but his pride in doing so was overwhelmed by the devastating news that his application to stay in the UK had been rejected and the Home Office had decided that he had to return to his native Yemen. This adoptive Glaswegian has been in the UK since 2009. He was a pharmacist back home, and since coming to Glasgow he has participated in voluntary groups and tried to make a life in the city. He would love to be able to go back home but, as he explained to me, it would be incredibly dangerous. He has no certainty about what has happened to his family in Yemen, so he could not even return to the people he knew, never mind the place he knew.

Since I spoke to Fahim he has been made destitute by the Home Office, and he has been sleeping in shelters and on sofas. Today the Home Office tried to contact him at an address that it evicted him from in August. I have been fighting for him to be able to stay here, because the more he told me about the situation, the more worried I became. I discovered that UK citizens are advised by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that if they find themselves in Yemen, they need to get out. Its website says that the FCO

“advise against all travel to Yemen. This includes the mainland and all islands. If you’re in Yemen, you should leave immediately.”

There has been no British embassy in Yemen for over a year, and the FCO has advised people against traveling there since 2011.

But what of the citizens of Yemen? If Yemen is not safe for you, Mr Deputy Speaker, or for me, it is not safe for Fahim and it is certainly not a safe place for the citizens of Yemen. The last figures I obtained from the Home Office show that, for the first half of last year, only 14—I repeat, 14—asylum claims by Yemeni nationals were successful, while 31 were refused and 221 souls are still awaiting a decision. I hope, when the new figures come out, that they will have improved, but I urge the Government to give some certainty to those in the same situation as Fahim who are ill with worry about their future. If we can keep more Yemenis safe in this country, we have an absolute humanitarian duty to do so.

I attended the excellent meeting of the all-party group on Yemen last week, but I was absolutely shocked by the stories told by the representatives of Oxfam, Save the Children and Saferworld. They reported on a broken country, with severe shortages of fuel, water, food and other resources. Save the Children says that 21.2 million people, including 9.9 million children, are in desperate need of humanitarian aid. They are currently among the most desperate in the world.

The aid agencies tell us that they do not have all the funds they require. They are very much asking for their partner agencies in other parts of Europe to get more money from those countries. It has been mentioned that the UK has been generous, and we have been generous, but we need to get more aid to those agencies. The agencies ​cannot get access to all the people who need their help. People have been displaced in the country multiple times, and much of the infrastructure is struggling to cope.

The situation in Yemen is deteriorating daily. Twitter brings me news today of more bombs dropped on civilian areas. The Yemen Post newspaper reports today that, in the past 24 hours, 25 civilians have been killed by air strikes, 45 have been injured and 17 homes have been destroyed. Yesterday, 16 were killed and 31 injured when a factory was attacked in Amran. If such a level of carnage was happening in this country, we would be outraged and we would act. If a hospital here got hit by bombs or missiles, as no fewer than three Médecins sans Frontières medical facilities have been in the past three months, we would find that unacceptable.

As well as those struggling with the humanitarian crisis, medics in Yemen are struggling to do their job of patching up the people hit by bombs and injured in conflict, because they are coming under attack themselves. It is clear that the conflict in Yemen is being carried out with no respect for international humanitarian law. Hospitals are supposed to be off limits. Dr Joanne Liu, the international president of the MSF, has stated that,

“the UK Foreign Secretary claimed that there have been no deliberate breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen…This implies that mistakenly bombing a protected hospital would be tolerable.”

It is not.

Mr Ellwood: The hon. Lady makes a very important point. She is illustrating the horrors of war, which largely occur in populated areas when one adversary chooses to hide within such populated areas. Unfortunately, that leads to casualties. We are not in any way advocating that when a civilian area or facility is attacked or destroyed that is somehow acceptable; it absolutely is not. When there is collateral damage of that form, it is important for whichever side has done it to put its hand up and say that it will conduct an investigation. We are not saying it is right, but we are making it clear—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. In fairness to the Minister, he cannot take advantage of the situation. We are struggling to get everybody in, and interventions are meant to be very short. He cannot make a speech now, given that he will be making a speech later. That is unfair to everybody.

Alison Thewliss: The point is that such bombings have now happened three times, and those involved in the conflict are not taking responsibility for their actions. Médecins sans Frontières is struggling to get the support it needs when it says that such a situation is unacceptable. People being taken to hospital in ambulances have been hit in this conflict, so it is clear that huge errors have been made in the conduct of the conflict. We could say that such hospitals are not being targeted, but what is worse is that bombs are being dropped in crowded areas, which is where the danger arises for many of the people living there. Cluster bombs, which are illegal, are being used in the conflict, as we can see from the pictures that appear on Twitter and other media sources. Who would bomb a hospital? It is completely wrong, and it is completely against all the rules of warfare. We should challenge that on every possible occasion.​

If we have troops embedded with the Saudis, they should be making that clear and not allowing such attacks to happen. The Saudis are getting their bombs from us, so we could stop this happening. We could suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia today, and we could be an honest broker in bringing peace to the people of Yemen. I ask the Government to act, and to act now.