Conservative MP Russ Hiebert said scenes of human suffering he observed firsthand during a Labour Day weekend visit to refugee camps in embattled Northern Iraq will stay with him.
And he said he is gratified the Canadian government approved a further $7 million in emergency aid to the region so soon on the heels of the tour he took with fellow Conservative MPs Leon Benoit and Brad Butt.
“I’m quite pleased at how quickly this got accomplished,” he told Peace Arch News Monday, noting that Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was touring the same refugee camps just days after he and his colleagues returned urging international help to avoid “a humanitarian disaster.”
Hiebert said more than 1.3 million people are now “internally displaced” in Iraq, with floods of refugees including Christians, non-Sunni Muslims and Yazidis fleeing western Iraq and Syria for relative safety in Kurdish Iraq.
“It’s a desperate situation. The internally displaced people have had to leave everything they had,” he said, adding that the people used to have reasonably comfortable lives, with jobs and homes and facilities that most of us take for granted.
“They’re living in tents, in the best case scenario – in the worst case scenario, they’re divided by tarps in abandoned buildings, sharing water and toilet facilities.”
Hiebert said the pressure is on to find more permanent housing for the refugees, particularly as winter approaches.
One community he visited – an area with a population of 1.2 million – has grown by some 650,000 people in three weeks, 250,000 of them within a 48-hour period, he said.
“They have a third of the doctors and nurses needed, and the prescription-drug budget has almost tripled from $6 million to $17 million – and they don’t have the money for it.”
Hiebert said this doesn’t begin to calculate the impact of family members lost and others victimized in what he characterized as “the so-called Islamic State… brutalizing and killing those who do not agree with their ideology and will not submit to forced conversion.”
Urging humanitarian aid is a natural response to such suffering, Hiebert said.
“You cannot see this situation without thinking ‘what if this was my country – what if this was my family?’” Hiebert said.
Closer to home, the Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale MP said he looks forward to serving the community for the balance of his term (he announced last February he will not be running for re-election in 2015).
After the return of Parliament, he said, he is interested in seeing the passage of his controversial private-members’ bill – requiring full public disclosure of union finances – through the Senate. He added he also plans to follow up on a long-term personal initiative calling for income splitting to achieve lower levels of taxation for families – something he was glad to see become part of the Conservative campaign platform in the last election.