Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community cross the Iraqi-Syrian border at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq, on August 11, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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For the desperate of Iraq there is no quick fix, but we can help alleviate some of the suffering

We must not find ourselves wondering how this humanitarian crisis spiralled further and further out of control.

The news from northern Iraq is terrifying in detail, and staggering in scale. No food, no water, no shelter, tens of thousands uprooted by a murderous mob of Islamic State (IS) terrorists, too many out of contact and out of reach. At times like these the UK must play a leading role in helping those in need. Our capacity to assist in humanitarian crises is immense – we must now put the full force of that experience and expertise behind the Iraqi people, for many of them are in desperate need. 

After a week of heightening violence in Ninewa Province, northern Iraq, IS have been gaining ground - leaving hundreds of thousands displaced, in a region already home to almost a quarter of a million Syrian refugees and nearly 400,000 internally displaced Kurds.  

On 3 August, IS fighters took control of the districts of Sinjar and Tel Afar. The chaos that ensued saw 200,000 Yazidi and Christians forced from their homes. Four days later, IS fighters took Qaraqosh, the largest Christian town, and its surroundings forcing a further 200,000 to flee. Mount Sinjar is now home to 50,000, half of whom are children. The reports that have emerged of mass graves, beheadings and systematic rape are not easy to independently verify but the signs of a man-made humanitarian crisis are undeniable. 

President Obama was right to authorise air strikes to prevent the slaughter of these terrified and vulnerable people and to support the humanitarian air drops of food and water, and Labour support that action. The humanitarian priority now has to be providing immediate life-saving assistance including water, food, shelter and medicine for those who have been forced to flee their homes. This government is right to use the RAF to deliver essential supplies to the Yazidis, and they are right to release an £8m package of support for those who have fled IS terrorists. But there’s more we can do.

First, given the grave concerns regarding the imminent danger faced by minorities in Iraq, the UK Government should focus their response on the issue of discrimination against minority groups. All of those in need must have equal access to protection and aid.

Second, additional capacity and funding is desperately needed – the UK must not just do our bit, but invest real political capital in rallying the international community to fund urgent support the people of Iraq.

And third, the UK must lead international efforts to provide that assistance and funding through all means available, including through the use of any appropriate UK military capabilities.

Further, we have to make the protection of women and girls a priority - as the crisis drags on, the position of women and girls becomes all the more desperate. Around 250,000 women, including nearly 60,000 pregnant women, are in urgent need of care; around 20,000 women and girls face increased risk of sexual violence. The international community has to do all it can to ensure they are protected.

And coordination is key – northern Iraq is in chaos, access to IS areas is impossible, assessing the rest of the region impossibly complex. The continuous movement of displaced peoples and the all pervading fog of war mean many have not received the water, food and medicine they desperately need. Clear command and control of resources is difficult but vital. Firm leadership structures must be established and followed, and funding gaps can identified, assessed and addressed.

No-one doubts that the situation in northern Iraq is grave, and the truth is for those in desperate need is that there is no quick fix, no magic wand, but we can help alleviate some of the suffering. But we must not find ourselves wondering how this humanitarian crisis spiralled further and further out of control. With the resources and capabilities at the world's disposal these people cannot be abandoned. 

Jim Murphy is shadow international development secretary and Labour MP for East Renfrewshire

Photo: Getty
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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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