14 May 2019
Chi Onwurah, the Labour Party MP for Newcastle-upon Tyne Central, whose father is Nigerian and mother is English, spoke today in the House of Commons in London during a debate about “the persecution of Christians overseas”.
She asked the British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who was in Nigeria recently: “According to the recent report by Open Doors UK, 3,731 Christians were killed in Nigeria last year—the highest number in any country. This is a matter of huge concern for all of us, and it has an impact on community relations within the UK as well. What specific steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that that there are not negative consequences for community relations—for example, within the Nigerian diaspora? What steps is he taking with the Home Office to ensure that it is aware of this when considering applications for asylum from Nigerian Christians?”
Responding, Hunt said: “The best the UK can do is to try to address that problem at source. I visited Maiduguri in north-east Nigeria the week before last. There is a big security issue and a big poverty issue, and because of organisations such as Islamic State West Africa and Boko Haram, there is an enormous amount of fear in local populations. We are working with the Nigerian Government and have offered them more help to try to resolve those problems, so that we do not face problems back here.”
Earlier, Luke Hall, a Conservative MP representing Thornbury and Yate, to the northeast of Bristol, thanked the foreign secretary “for the work that he has done by personally raising on his recent travels abroad the appalling persecution of Christians abroad, especially in countries like Nigeria.” Hall also asked: “What has he learned from those trips about what more we can do, as a Government, to tackle the appalling persecution of Christians in the region?”
Hunt replied: “I had a roundtable of faith leaders at the British high commissioner’s residence in Nigeria, and we had a very good discussion on this issue. The main thing that I took away from that discussion is the immensely important role that politicians have in developing countries in not fanning populism and hatred between religions in election campaigns, which is a very easy route to go down but can have immensely damaging consequences.”
Interestingly, Onwurah, who asked about the treatment of Nigerian asylum seekers, returned to the UK as a refugee during the Nigerian civil war after her dentist father took her as a child to Nigeria. She wrote on her website: “In 1965 I was born, whilst they [her parents] were living in Long Benton where my father had a dental practice. I was still a baby when my father took us to live in Awka, Nigeria. But two years later the Biafran Civil War broke out bringing famine with it and, as described vividly in an Evening Chronicle article in 1968, my mother, my brother and sister and I returned as refugees to Newcastle, whilst my father stayed on in the Biafran army.”