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BLOG: My visit to Kurdistan

As the constituency Member of Parliament for Chesterfield, my primary daily responsibility will always be to represent Chesterfield.

Toby visited a IDP (Internally Displaced Peoples) camp

Toby visited an IDP (Internally Displaced Peoples) camp

Alongside this, the 650 MPs also have an opportunity to discuss and influence policy around both specialist areas of knowledge or around Britain’s global role in the world.

There are a great deal of Parliamentary delegations coming into and out of the UK from other countries and these not only further relationships between nations (something that will never be more crucial in the post- Brexit age) but also allow for learning from other cultures and parliaments.

Understanding more about global issues also enables MPs to influence and scrutinise Foreign Office policies and responses to developing situations.

One such opportunity recently presented itself when I was asked to join a cross party Parliamentary delegation to meet the recently elected government of the Kurdistan region in Iraq.

Kurdistan is a devolved region in the North of Iraq who have great warmth towards Britain both despite, and because of, the great hardship that they have suffered over many decades.

The Kurds are the world’s largest diaspora not to have a country of their own, and there are around 30 million Kurds split between Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran. The Iraqi Kurds were brutally oppressed by Saddam Hussain whose genocides killed tens of thousands and used chemical weapons against them following an uprising after the first Gulf war.

Foreign Office advice is still against all travel to Iraq, but I was assured in advance that the Kurdistan region is very safe and it was clear both in Government circles and out in the wider community that there is a great deal of affection for Britain in the region. Iraqi Kurds describe the 2003 Gulf War as ‘the liberation’ and whilst the oppression of the Kurds and Shia Muslims by Saddam has been replaced by unsatisfactory replacement Iraqi Governments, they clearly believe that their future prospects are brighter than their past.

It was a visit of contrasts. In meetings with the Foreign Office Minister, the Governor of two different Kurdish regions, the Speaker and their respective Chambers of Commerce, the possibilities and hunger for British investment in the region was palpable. They were at pains to assure us that there were huge opportunities for British services and products as well as investment in industries other than the Oil industry that has been their staple for years.

For example, there is no such thing as car insurance there (which hasn’t seemed to reduce the risk appetite of local drivers!). There is also a historic distrust of banking and financial services meaning that there is basically no lending or mortgages. Major US Hoteliers have got in there and there are lavish ‘International’ 5 star hotels but their tourism industry has huge further potential.

But alongside these great opportunities we also visited an IDP (Internally Displaced Peoples) camp and met with Yazidi and Sunni refugees who have fled for their lives and live in utter squalor. We met families who have lived for FIVE YEARS in a single breeze blocked room with a canvass sheet over their heads in 40 degree heat. Despite their deprivation they told us that at least they are safe there and would rather be there than at home where they face further attacks. Many of the Yazidi families were lacking their matriarch as many of the women were stolen by ISIS and taken to be ‘wives’ of the conquering soldiers.

The Sunnis (previously favoured by Saddam) are now mistreated by Shia militia with the Iraqi Government unable or unwilling to protect them. These people do not have refugee status in International eyes because they are still within their own country, and the Kurds, who have a historic knowledge of what it is like to flee persecution are largely carrying the burden of attempting to house, clothe and feed tens of thousands of these people alone. There were around 8,000 people at the single camp we visited.

These visits bring home the reality of life and the complexity of some of these global situations that receive a five-minute slot on our news. They need more than charity and despite what you might often hear, they welcome the involvement of the UK and the West. They clearly trust our institutions more than their own.

As citizens of the world we should never complacently believe we have all the answers to complex situations overseas, but nor does that mean that we should offer nothing more than occasional guilt relieving charity either.

My visit to Kurdistan will live forever in my memory and I hope that I can encourage the UK Government and companies to consider anew what more we can do for this beautiful region with huge potential as well as challenges.

Toby with Steve Reed MP and other members of the Parliamentary Delegation meeting with officials in Kurdistan

Toby with Steve Reed MP and other members of the Parliamentary Delegation meeting with officials in Kurdistan

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I am Toby Perkins, Labour's Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. If you would like to get in touch with me, my office is open and can be reached by phone on 01246 386 286. I also hold regular surgeries so that constituents can meet me and I can take up their concerns. If you would like to make an appointment then please do contact my office. Thank you for visiting.

Contact Toby

Tel: 01246 386286
Post: 113 Saltergate, Chesterfield, S40 1NF


I hold regular surgeries for my constituents.
Please call 01246 386286 or email to make a booking.

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