Sunday, 26 June 2016

The legacy of Syria


David Cameron now has little time to right a shared legacy of failure on Syria.

Reasons for the UK’s narrow vote to leave the EU are many. One is Syria: Both the Leave campaign and UKIP connected fears over immigration to the Syrian crisis. Assad’s war against Syria’s population has created the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

In or out of the EU, we have a duty to care for refugees. We also need to understand that this refugee crisis is not caused by EU rules on free movement; it’s caused by the failure of world leaders, including Britain’s leaders, to stop Assad.

Inaction has consequences. At every point when world leaders failed to act against Assad, the impact of the Syrian crisis on the world increased. The failure of British Government and Opposition leaders on the EU vote is in part a consequence of their failure on Syria, but this story doesn’t end with today’s result. Without action, Syria’s crisis will continue to impact on us all.

Leaders failed to act in October 2011 when Syrians took to the streets calling for a no-fly zone.

By the end of 2011 there were 8,000 Syrian refugees in the region.

Leaders failed to act in 2012 when journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik were killed reporting from the horror of besieged Homs.

By the end of 2012, there were nearly half a million Syrian refugees.

Leaders failed to act in 2013 when the Assad regime massacred as many as 1,700 civilians in one morning with chemical weapons. That August, there were 1.8 million registered Syrian refugees.

Also in 2013, the UK failed to act when the Free Syrian Army faced attacks by ISIS forces infiltrating from Iraq. Instead of strengthening the FSA to withstand this new threat, UK MPs denied moderate forces the means to defend themselves.

By the end of 2013, there were 2.3 million registered Syrian refugees.

Leaders failed to act in 2014 as the Assad regime ignored UN resolutions on barrel bombing, on torturing and besieging civilians. Diplomacy without military pressure only emboldened Assad to continue the slaughter.

By the end of 2014, there were 3.7 million Syrian refugees.

Leaders failed to act in 2015 as Russia joined Assad in bombing hospitals, humanitarian aid convoys, and rescue workers, and Syrians were denied any means to defend themselves.

By the end of 2015, there were over 4.5 million Syrian refugees.

Now the UK Government is failing to act as Assad breaks ceasefire agreements and breaks deadlines on letting aid into besieged communities. The UK has failed to deliver on airdrops. The UK has failed to apply serious pressure to stop Assad’s bombs.

There are now 4.8 million Syrian refugees in the region. There are many millions more displaced inside Syria. Just over a million Syrians have applied for asylum in Europe, but that is a fraction of the total who have fled their homes.

The refugee crisis is just one impact of Assad’s war on Syrians. Voting to leave the European Union won’t insulate Britain from further effects of Syria’s man-made disaster. This crisis can’t be contained and must be brought to an end, and it can only end with the end of Assad.

Act now. Break the sieges. Stop the bombs. Stop the torture. Stop Assad.

Welcome support for no-bombing zone from Diane Abbott

We very much welcome Diane Abbot’s recent letter recognising the targeting of populated areas by Syrian Government and Russian forces, and her expression of support for a no-bombing zone with explicitly outlined consequences to protect civilians in Syria.

We are pleased to offer all our support to help Diane Abbott in campaigning for effective action to protect civilians.

Syrians and their friends lost a champion of humanity when Jo Cox was killed. Effective humanitarian action needs now to be championed by MPs across Parliament.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Take the Fast-a-thon challenge!

Yesterday, Syria Solidarity UK activists were at the Ramadan Tent Project to announce our Break the Siege Fast-a-thon challenge.

We challenge you to experience the daily trauma of besieged Syrians through fasting.
Choose from 23rd June to 1st July, i.e. 18th-25th of Ramadan (lunar calendar).
Fasting times for London: from sunrise (2:40 am) till sunset (9:20 pm).

Raise awareness of starvation of civilians in areas besieged by the Assad regime
Exert pressure on the government to start air drops to besieged areas
Support advocacy to help break the sieges and to protect civilians

Please follow the link to fill the form or sign up at the stall today:

You can also email your details to

Please take a selfie with a sign saying you are fasting in solidarity with people in besieged in Syria, or record a short video message, and send to or message to our Syria Solidarity UK Facebook page.

To take part we ask that you pledge: £50 if you plan to fast one day, £150 if you plan to fast for three days, £200 if you plan to fast for seven days.

Start getting sponsorships from family, friends and colleagues!

We will hold this meal opposite 10 Downing Street to remind the government that starving Syrians are still waiting for air drops and that each hour of delay costs lives.

Time: 9:00pm 1st July — Place: Downing Street
Please RSVP:

All event details will be on our event page on Facebook:

PDF version.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The line between life and death is a VISA

By Raed Fares, via Facebook

If you were a journalist sharing the reality of what’s going on in Syria, and you are on the front lines of death, the regime might try to bomb you, people might try to assassinate you, in order to silence and kill the truth. This makes sense to us. The criminal wants to kill those who share the crime to the world.

But what we can’t understand is how countries considering themselves friends, which support freedom of press and democracy, stand in the way of someone and his life, letting him die, because of a visa. Khaled al-Essa is in need of a visa to Germany.

Khaled al-Essa, a Syrian journalist who was sharing the reality from inside Aleppo, showing the crimes of Assad and ISIS, in the end when they assassinate him for showing the truth, the countries that claim to be friends of the Syrian people refuses to transfer the voices of truth for medical treatment, all because of a visa.

Background: Syrian journalists in critical condition after bombing, The New Arab, 17 June 2016.

Update: Khaled al-Essa has died. Author Robin Yassin-Kassab writes:
The wonderful young revolutionary journalist Khaled al-Eissa is dead of his wounds. The very best are being murdered. The very worst grow in power.

Report: Syrian journalist Khaled al-Essa dies after bomb attack

Photo by the journalist Khaled al-Essa: Emergency workers after an airstrike hit a civilian neighbourhood in eastern Aleppo, wounding three, from the Observer, 31 April 2016.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Defiling the Graves of Lesvos

By Brian Slocock

Graves of unidentified refugees on the Greek island of Lesvos. Photo by Giorgos Moutafis.

The fund established to continue the work of slain MP Jo Cox has come under attack from assorted far right forces (and unfortunately someone once associated with the British left) for including in its list of beneficiaries the White Helmets—the volunteer civil defence service that act as first responders to bombing attacks on Syrian opposition communities, digging dead and injured victims out of the rubble.

The White Helmets have been subjected to a vicious slander campaign by a network of Syrian regime supporters, centred around Australian university lecturer Tim Anderson.

These people have long supported Assad’s bloody campaign of repression against anyone who dares to challenge his power, but their attack on the White Helmets carries this to a new level: not only do they cheer on the mass slaughter in Syria, they also seek to deny Assad’s victims the elementary right to rescue their loved ones and to bury their dead. This is akin to the ‘double tap’ attack favoured by both Assad and the Israeli air force: first you bomb a community and then you drop a second bomb to hit those who come out in response to the attack. But in this case the first attack comes in the form of the rhetorical onslaught by Anderson and his supporters, who seek to prevent the very existence of any form of civil defence in Syrian opposition communities—and then the real bombs drop.

This is a regression to medieval standards of warfare—as far as I know not even Lord Haw Haw objected when the British authorities appointed air raid wardens in the Second World War.

Nick Griffin’s tweet smearing Syria Civil Defence and the Jo Cox Fund.

Most of those contributing to this campaign have come from various sections of the far right: Nick Griffin of the BNP, British and US groups associated with the ‘libertarian right,’ climate change deniers, and opponents of the great ‘globalist’ conspiracy to take over the world—which they describe as linked to Jews, to Freemasons, and of course to green lizards from outer space. One vociferous supporter of Anderson can be found on the internet engaged with white supremacists branding Nelson Mandela a ‘terrorist.’

An unexpected, recent denizen of this fetid milieu is erstwhile British leftist Tariq Ali, who has reposted one of the cruder attacks on the memory of Jo Cox and the White Helmets on his Facebook page.

However, while all this chatter is going on the White Helmets are going about their work across large parts of Syria, braving Assad’s bombs to save lives and recover bodies (some 50,000 lives saved in the course of their operations at the cost of over 100 of their own lives), with modest support from some western governments, from public fund raising, and from sympathetic bodies like the London Fire Brigades Union. This gives them an annual budget about one-third the size of the fire service for a small English city, which usually has nothing more serious to deal with than chip fat fires and motor accidents. Clearly the resources that Jo Cox’s fund will provide to them can make an important contribution to saving lives in Syria.

There is a bitter twist to this tale: Assad supporter Tim Anderson, who is intimately associated with this attack on the White Helmets, has been invited to speak at the Crossing Borders conference on the Greek island of Lesvos, where many Syrian refugees have landed after a perilous sea voyage, and where over 60 who died in the attempt are buried. These are some of the pearls of wisdom he wants to share with the Conference:
“Most civilians in the areas said to have been ‘barrel bombed’ left a very long time ago… Every attack on al Nusra is thus portrayed as an attack on ‘civilians’ and clinics, or on emergency health workers. Much the same applies to Medicin Sans Frontiers (MSF), which funds al Nusra clinics… in several terrorist held areas.”
“The photos of dead and injured women and children in the ghost towns inhabited by the armed groups are simply borrowed from other contexts…”
“The Syrian Army has been brutal with terrorists but, contrary to western propaganda, protective of civilians.”

The spectacle of a supporter of the Assad regime being feted at a conference ostensibly concerned with refugees, just metres from the graves of victims of that same regime, would seem to be something that could only take place in a particularly bad dream. Yet it is due to happen next month, with Tim Anderson speaking under the sponsorship of Stop the War and the People’s Assembly against Austerity, and with Tariq Ali also on the platform. Anderson’s supporters are already crowing at this recognition.

While two scheduled speakers have refused to take part in this absurd farce, repeated attempts by Syrian solidarity activists to persuade Stop the War to take a stand against it have met a stone wall.

The reputation of the British left, of peace activism and of refugee support movements, is being challenged here. Pause and reflect for a moment how Syrian refugees will feel on hearing of this event, of what it says about how much real understanding and concern there is in this country for their suffering and lived histories. Anyone with political understanding should appreciate how callous this act is; anyone with an ounce of moral conscience should feel compelled to speak out in protest to the conference organisers, sponsors, and speakers.

PRESS RELEASE: Who is attacking the Jo Cox Fund for supporting Syria’s rescue volunteers?

Tariq Ali repeats the smear against Syria Civil Defence and the Jo Cox Fund on Facebook.