Syria Solidarity UK  •  info@syriauk.org  •  www.facebook.com/SyriaUKorg  •  @SyriaUK

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Putin get out of Syria!


Photo: Syria Civil Defence rescue volunteers responding to Russian air raid.
From this video via The New York Times.

UPDATE: Demonstration Saturday 3rd October at 2pm, Russian Embassy, 6-7 Kensington Palace Gardens, London W8 4QP.

Facebook event page here.

Syria’s air force has been using Russian-supplied aircraft to kill civilians for years. Today the Russian air force killed Syrian civilians, bombing opposition-held areas. Putin’s government claims to be fighting ISIS, but these are not ISIS-held areas. This is instead a ruthless campaign to keep Putin’s client Assad in power.

Supported with Russian arms and money, the Assad regime has been to date the biggest killer in Syria, killing seven times as many civilians as ISIS this year. Putin has long been complicit in this slaughter; today there can no longer be any pretence otherwise.

While Assad has been helped by Putin, those nations supposedly standing with the Syrian people in their struggle for freedom have failed to match words with actions; have failed to enforce UN Security Council resolutions; have failed to protect civilians.

Demand an end to Assad’s and Putin’s slaughter.

Stand with Syrians fighting the tyranny of Assad, the terror of ISIS, and the imperialism of Putin.

Protect civilians.

LINKS

Putin in Syria: Russian Airstrikes Begin, But ISIS Is Not Primary Target, The Interpreter.
Today Russia launched airstrikes against multiple targets in Syria, but while it’s clear that non-ISIS rebels and possibly civilians have been killed, it’s unclear whether ISIS was even a target at all.

Syrian opposition leader: Russian strikes killed civilians, Reuters.
“The targeted areas in today's Russian air raid in Homs were those areas which fought ISIL and defeated it a year ago,” he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Russia Launches First Airstrikes in Syria, Officials Say, New York Times.
Russian officials and analysts portrayed the move as an attempt both to fight Islamic State militants and to try to ensure the survival of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Russia’s main ally in the Middle East. But Homs is not under the control of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Russia’s First Strikes in Syria Hit U.S. Ally, Not Islamic State, by David Kenner, Foreign Policy.

Syria Daily: Russia Begins Bombing of Rebels and Civilians, by Scott Lucas, EA World View.


Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Another refusal for Raja

Petition update from friends of Raja and Mahmoud

Leeds, United Kingdom, 29 Sep 2015 — There’s news on Raja’s asylum case and unfortunately it’s not good. As you know, she requested permission for a Judicial Review of her case and just before the hearing for whether she could have a JR or not, the Home Office got in touch with her solicitor and said that if Raja withdrew the request for Judicial Review, they would review their decision to refuse her case. Which sounded hopeful.

However now the Home Office have come back with another refusal of the case which is obviously a big blow.

It’s not entirely bad news though because they have treated it as a fresh claim which means that Raja now has the right of appeal, and her solicitor is currently lodging the appeal grounds so all being well we will proceed to an appeal hearing.

Please continue to hold Raja and Mahmoud in your thoughts / prayers / vibes / whatever you do, and do keep in touch as we are far from out of the woods and you never know when we will need to call urgently on supporters. You have no idea how much it helps knowing that there are so many people out there who care and are prepared to do something if the need arises.

With huge thanks for your continued interest and support.

Friends of Raja and Mahmoud on Facebook.

See all posts on Raja Khouja.

Monday, 28 September 2015

#ListenToSyrians at the Labour Conference

Labour conference goers can meet Syrian activists from the Planet Syria campaign, and from Rethink Rebuild Society, voice of the Syrian community in Manchester. Visit United For Syria: Stand No. 28 on the Conference room ground floor.

Read about Planet Syria’s visit to the House of Commons earlier this month.

Read Rethink Rebuild’s policy proposals in Syria: Between Dictatorship and ISIS, What can the United Kingdom do?

Syria Solidarity UK spent time on Sunday leafleting Brighton conference goers outside Stop The War’s fringe event, titled ‘Don’t Bomb Syria’ — a fine sentiment if only they would address the party that has been bombing Syria these past four years: the Assad regime.

Reportedly the Stop The War event was poorly attended, with some speakers leaving early. As usual there were no Syrians on the panel, and little appetite for debate amongst the audience. Outside, Syria Solidarity got a warm reception from many conference visitors happy to take leaflets, and a number interested to meet and talk to Syrians.

Art by Esam Hamzeh

Esam Hamzeh’s Open House Art Exhibition 2015 is on Saturday 3rd–Sunday 4th October and Saturday 10th–Sunday 11th October, 11am to 6pm, 115 Fallsbrook Road, London SW16.

Facebook event page.

Friday, 25 September 2015

A Syrian Love Story



A Syrian Love Story: Review by Mark Boothroyd

This beautiful documentary tells the story of a Syrian family whose lives are torn apart by the repression and turmoil of the Syrian revolution, and their enforced exile from home.

The film was shown at the Frontline Club and was followed by a Q&A with Sean and Amer.

Sean McAllister filmed the documentary over five years, starting before the outbreak of the revolution. While on an Assad regime propaganda tour in 2009, he went searching for the real Syria, behind the dictatorships fa├žade. In a Damascus bar Sean found Amer, who wanted to talk to him about his wife.

Amer Daoud, a Palestinian freedom fighter with the PLO, is married to Raghda Hasan, a Syrian communist revolutionary from the Alawite sect. They met in prison, both detained by the regime for their political beliefs. Falling in love while in prison, they married upon release and started a family, but Raghda was arrested again for writing a book about their story.

Their lives reflect the complex social fabric of Syria, a much richer more diverse picture than that painted in the media. The family live in Tartous, a regime loyal area. The children play by the sea in beautiful sunshine, while every shop has as picture of Bashar Al-Assad in the window, and the mukhabarat are everywhere, looking for any signs of dissent.

When Sean meets Amer and his children—Shadi, Kaka and Bob—Raghda is still in prison. The outbreak of the revolution brings hope. The family move to Yarmouk in Damascus, as Tartous is no longer safe for political activists. Amer joins in organising protests in central Damascus. They carry pictures of Raghda, demanding her release. Sean stays with the family on and off through this time, capturing intimate glimpses of a family taking part in the revolution.

Kaka joins the protests aged 14, and gets detained and beaten along with the adults. No allowance is made by the regime for youth. Thousands take to the streets every Friday, and the numbers of martyrs spiral as regime repression increases.

Eventually Raghda is released as part of a small amnesty for political prisoners and the family is reunited. These are the early, hopeful days of the revolution. Then Sean is arrested by the regime. He’s detained for five days. Every night he hears the screams of Syrians tortured by the mukhabarat.

The regime has Sean’s camera; on it is footage of Amer and Raghda. The family are forced to flee again, this time to Lebanon. Life as refugees, living in poverty and without hope for the future, takes its toll. Raghda is tormented, torn between her desire to stay with her family, and her love for her country and her feelings of duty to the revolution. Raghda disappears back to Syria to work for the opposition. Amer is distraught. The children grow increasingly bitter at the price they have had to pay for supporting the revolution.

Commenting on the family’s situation in the Q&A, Mcallsister said: “[Amer] moved house sixteen times during the making of this film. We don’t know how many people live like this. There were times I turned up and they hadn’t eaten for days.”

Eventually the family are reunited and are accepted as refugees by France due to Raghda’s status as a political activist. Settling in the quiet southern town of Albi, they start a new life. In a sense, they are free. They cannot escape past traumas though, and the devastation of the civil war back home. In 2014 they look back through Sean’s old footage, and pictures from their life in Damascus and Tartous. Shadi points out all his friends who have been killed back in Yarmouk.

Amer and Raghda’s relationship deteriorates, as does Raghda’s mental health due to post-traumatic stress from her time in prison. Sean is their one connection to Syria, the one person who can understand what they’ve been through, and in spite of their visible pain, he is called upon to adjudicate and record arguments and fights. These intimate scenes are heartbreaking to watch, and it’s testament to Sean’s unique relationship with the family, and Amer and Raghda’s background as political activists, that allows these moments to be captured.

Through everything Bob’s presence lights up the screen, his incessant questioning of his parents, brothers and Sean provides smiles amid the heartbreak. However his sense of self does not escape the mental trauma; speaking to the camera while on an outing to an old French hill town, he declares he is no longer Arab or Syrian, but French.

The family eventually breaks apart, but despite the trauma the film ends on a quietly hopeful note. Amer finally feels at peace in Albi, and Raghda is now living in Turkey, working for the Syrian opposition and reunited with the revolution. The children are integrating into French life, finding passions and pastimes. The events in Syria hang over them, but they do not dominate as they did in the years before.

At the Q&A after the film showing, Sean spoke about how the release of the film happened to coincide with the massive influx of Syrian refugees into Europe, leading to it being taken up and shown by BBC4, something unlikely to happen in different circumstances.

Amer talked about his work in France. He is part of a network of activists welcoming refugees, attempting to find them housing and work, and integrate them into French society.

Amer commented on the different reception given to Syrian refugees in the last few years; “In the 2006 war in Lebanon, one hundred thousands Lebanese people came to Damascus. I was one of them go to the border, we welcome them take them to houses, give them food and money. When we go to Lebanon, many times people want to beat me in the street, I can’t get a job, Hezbollah they want to kill me because they know I’m against the regime.” When asked about his status he drily remarked “I am Palestinian, I have no paper, I was born in Jerusalem, the first paper I had is French.”

I asked Amer was he still in touch with people in Syria who were trying to carry on the revolution’s ideals and principles. He replied “Every day I am in touch with my friends in Damascus, Aleppo, all over the country. I know more than is shown in the media, and believe me it’s worse, it’s worse than is shown in the media.”

Another person posed the question to Sean, would military intervention have improved the situation in Syria? Sean said he didn’t know how any military intervention would have turned out: “Maybe more support for the Free Syrian Army would have made a difference. I don’t know how it could be a bigger mess.”

Amer commented, “nothing was done to protect the people, no safe zone. They promised too much for four years, but gave nothing.”

When asked about Raghda, Amer replied “I love her, I still love her, she is my comrade, she is my life. I met her in prison, in completely bad situation. We were lost, and we found each other.”

A Syrian Love Story is now in cinemas, and will also be shown on BBC 4, Monday 28th September at 10pm.



Thursday, 24 September 2015

London to Calais: Report on 19 September solidarity demonstration


Sign painted with messages from refugees migrants and supporters. Photo: Mark Boothroyd

On Saturday 19th a solidarity demonstration for migrants and refugees was held in Calais, organised by French solidarity groups. The London2Calais solidarity organisation brought a coach load of supporters from London to participate in the march. Activists from Syria Solidarity came along to make contact with Syrians in the camp, find out their stories and see what assistance we could provide.

We arrived in Calais and were dropped off by The Jungle. A group us went to find the Syrian camp. Conditions in the camp are appalling. While some people had tents donated by solidarity organisations, many were still living in self-made shanties of wood with tarpaulin or plastic wrapped over it. The ground was muddy and covered in litter. The camps residents were bagging litter and made some attempts at keeping the place tidy, but with no bins or refuse collection this task was impossible. Another problem was the ramshackle aid efforts by some groups who were turning up at the camps without coordinating with the existing aid organisations. They brought unusable or unsuitable aid that ended up discarded, adding to the mess of the camp.

We found the Syrian encampment and started chatting to the refugees. Two very talkative guys welcomed us, they were Ahmed from Damascus and Ahmed from Hama and both spoke good English. They offered us shisha and coffee and asked us to sit with them. We took them up on this kind offer and sat down to speak with them. They reported there were about 300 Syrians in Calais out of a total of 5000 people. The other were from many nations; Sudanese, Eritreans, Afghanis, Kuwaiti bedouin, Pakistani’s and others. 150 Syrians were in the camp and 150 camped in town. Ahmed from Damascus was a mechanical engineer, while Ahmed from Hama was a computer programmer. Both had left to escape conscription drives, that are becoming more draconian as the regime runs short on manpower.



They described the situation in the camp as generally good, everyone getting on, but at night it was different, with the threat of violence due to the lack of law, and the fact the authorities didn't care what happened to the camps inhabitants. Ahmed from Damascus said “if someone was to stab me tomorrow, who would investigate? They don’t care, I would just be forgotten”. They reported a Syrian had died the previous day trying to climb onto the trains. He had been electrocuted after falling from a bridge and grabbing the electric cables.

Many of the people in the camp had injuries to their hands from their attempts to climb onto the trains and lorries, and from the barbed wire fences around the port. They also complained of being pepper sprayed regularly by police. A lot of them had red and inflamed eyes from the previous night when they tried to get into the port. Every night hundreds would gather and try and climb into the port, and the French police would beat them and pepper spray them until they retreated.

Both Ahmeds and the other refugees we spoke to later on had all left Syria recently, earlier this year. Those from pro-regime areas were all fleeing conscription. They were all graduates of some kind, many were just out of uni and were being subject to conscription and so fled. They had a variety of reasons for wanting to get to Britain. For some they had relatives in Britain so wanted to travel their to be reunited with them (Ahmed from Hama’s case) while for others it was because they knew English and preferred to settle there rather than have to claim asylum in France or Germany and have to learn another language (Ahmed from Damascus’ case).

There was a large group of men from Daraa in the camp who hung out together and took part in the protest together, but didn’t have any clear leadership or leading members that we could meet. They also didn’t have a good grasp of English so it was difficult for British SSM activists to communicate with them. A Syrian SSM activist did manage to speak with them, and they reported they were all fleeing the regime violence in their province. They were more overtly pro-revolution than those from pro-regime areas, painting revolution flags on their foreheads and clothes to demonstrate their support for Free Syria. Several didn’t want their photo taken because they feared regime reprisals against their family.

We had brought some phones and water proof jackets for the refugees to try and give them methods of contacting people in Britain or elsewhere. They rejected all offers of aid and said they simply wanted the border to open so they could claim asylum in Britain and work and support themselves. They all had smartphones already and said they could support themselves in the camp. Their demands which we heard again and again when we asked what help we could give were “open the border” and “stop the war.” They said they didn’t need or want anything else. Their response was dignified and humbling.

Eventually we managed to get them to accept some Arabic sweets and Turkish delight which we had brought, and they took them and began sharing them out among the Syrians and other refugees and migrants.

There was a march of several thousand refugees, migrants and supporters from the jungle to the border. It was led by a sound-truck playing music, which was clambered all over by people. The mood on the demo was amazing with refugees chanting in their own language, all chanting for freedom and to open the border. The march got to the border and had a rally with various speakers. One of the main French solidarity activists, Francois made an impassioned speech saying “You are not refugees! You are not migrants! You are people, you are human beings, you are individuals with rights!”. This was greeted with cheers from the crowd. A refugee from Syria spoke, criticising the nations of Europe for continuing the oppression of people who had already suffered so much war and oppression in their home countries. He stated that all the people in the camp had skills and could be productive and active members of society, if they were only given the same rights as others. The solidarity organisations organised activities like painting on the large sign, or people making signs to explain who they were and where they wanted to get to, trying to restore a sense of humanity and self-worth to people who were being kept in humiliating and dehumanising conditions.

We had to leave early to get the coach back. We managed to get contact details for a few refugees and interviewed a few about their situation. When we were getting back on our coach a group of refugees clustered around the coach and pleaded with us to take them. A few scouted around the coach to see if there was some way to stow away. Seeing this desperation firsthand was terrible.

The situation of the people trapped in Calais is a huge indictment of European border policy. The EU urgently must reform its border policy, create safe routes for refugees and share them across all the nations of the EU.


Women march in Calais, 19 September. Photo via Calais Solidarity.

Ros Ereira and Abdulaziz Almashi speaking at Solidarity with Refugees



Ros Ereira and Abdulaziz Almashi at Solidarity with Refugees, 12 September 2015.

See our earlier report.

Read more at www.refugeeswelcomehere.org

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

#ListenToSyrians on a No-Fly Zone

Tomorrow the Birmingham branch of the Stop The War Coalition are holding a meeting titled ‘Don’t Attack Syria’.

The Birmingham branch “are committed to providing a platform for comrades who support the democratic and progressive opposition to the Assad regime,” and so invited Abdulaziz Almashi, a Syrian and a founder member of Syria Solidarity Movement UK, to speak. However, early this morning Syria Solidarity were told that the invitation was being withdrawn as the Birmingham branch had been informed that Syria Solidarity supported an “imperialist imposed” no-fly zone.

Below is an excerpt from our response:
Syria Solidarity’s view is led primarily by our solidarity with Syrians rather than by a domestic UK political view. In our internal discussions on the possibility of direct UK military intervention, we arrived at the following principles:
  • Where Syrian doctors, Syrian civil defence, civil society activists call for international action to protect civilians by enforcing a no-fly zone to stop Assad’s air attacks, we support them.
  • Where Syrian revolution forces call for international support in fighting ISIS, we support them.
  • We are against any actions which fail to defend civilians, or which act against the Syrian revolution.
  • We are against actions which aim to realise the objectives of the intervening power at the expense of the aspirations of the Syrian people.
It is important to recognise where the call for a no-fly zone is coming from: not the White House, which has blocked even a partial no-fly zone proposed by Turkey; not the Pentagon which has argued against a no-fly zone by vastly exaggerating the difficulties involved; not the UK government which is primarily concerned with mirroring US policy. Where there has been recent talk of a no-fly zone from the UK government it has been secondary to the anti-ISIS campaign, and is certainly driven more by the xenophobic politics around refugees than by a purely moral view of the crisis.

Syrians have no illusions about Western motives, and any they might have held have been destroyed by over four years of callous disregard by Western governments who have paid lip service to civilian protection while doing nothing to act. But Syrians have an immediate crisis to deal with: the bombs falling on Syria now. Material means are required to stop the bombs, not unenforced UN resolutions, not empty words of Western politicians, and not empty words of Western peace campaigners.

The challenge for the peace movement is to find a way of standing in solidarity with Syrians being bombed today, and avoiding echoing US and UK government excuses for inaction. The way to do that is to listen to Syrians, and for that reason I urge you to urgently reconsider and welcome the offer by Abdulaziz Almashi to speak.

On whether there were alternative means of enforcing a no-fly zone “other than the air forces of the imperialist states either the US, UK or France,” we replied with the following:
… the alternative to enforcement by US, UK, France would be enforcement by supplying Syrian revolution forces with effective anti aircraft weapons. This I believe is the position favoured by Abdulaziz Almashi.

As an organisation we would support a no-fly zone enforced by any party that effectively protected civilians. We would not give blanket support to other actions by such parties in connection with this, as the principles outlined earlier should make clear.

We have been told it is too late for the Birmingham branch to meet and reconsider before tomorrow’s event. We believe it is absolutely necessary that the anti-war movement and peace campaigners listen to Syrians, even if they disagree with them. We hope that they do find time to reconsider and re-invite Abdulaziz Almashi to the meeting.

Read more on these issues at The No-Fly Zone Debate.

Sorry Syria: Iranian activists call for an end to support for Assad

Statement from Professor Nader Hashemi, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver and co-editor of The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future and The Syria Dilemma:

One day there will be democratic transition in Iran and all will be revealed. Not just the injustices and crimes committed within Iran also what was done in the name of Iran and Islam outside of Iran’s borders. At the top of this list is the Islamic Republic of Iran’s role in Syria post-March 2011. We don’t have all the documentation yet but the circumstantial evidence suggests that the Islamic Republic’s fingerprints are all over the Assad regime’s state-sanctioned war crimes and crimes against humanity. When the truth is revealed Iranians will be horrified by what was done in their name. A public apology and compensation must follow.

The struggle for democracy in Iran and Syria links the two countries. We now know that the Iranian regime’s fear of the Arab Spring spreading to Iran was the chief reason why the Green Movement leaders were arrested in February 2011. They remain in prison today to this day. I’m certain that if their voice could be heard they would support this Facebook campaign in solidarity with the Syrian people. It is the least than can be done to express moral outrage at the ongoing suffering of the Syrian people and the Islamic Republic’s complicity in perpetuating this suffering.

Reposted from Sorry Syria on Facebook.

Read more: Iranian Activists Call On Iran To End Support For Syria’s Assad.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Until the Assad regime’s murderous tyranny is halted, the refugee crisis facing Europe will continue to worsen



By Islam el Naayam & Harry Shotton. Cross-posted from Afroarabian.

It’s been infamously dubbed the “worst refugee crisis since WWII”, as thousands fleeing war in Syria embark on the treacherous journey to Europe in search of respite. Yet for all the grand humanitarian gesturing by Europe, few analysts and even still fewer leaders are willing to publicly acknowledge the root cause of the predominantly Syrian refugee crisis: the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Since the initial uprising against the regime began in 2011 almost 50% of Syria’s pre-war population have been internally displaced, whilst 4 million Syrians have fled. Although the majority of refugees sought safe haven in neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, the unrelenting violence perpetrated by Syrian government forces ensured the spillover would inevitably reach Europe’s shores. And it did, quite literally, culminating in the searing images of drowned infant Aylan Kurdi last week.

Although the crisis seems to have jolted European hearts into action, heads remain stubbornly fixated on forces symptomatic of the larger issues at hand, namely the group known as Islamic State (IS). The International Coalition’s determined pursuit of the marauding self-styled jihadis is rightfully justified by its humanitarian credentials. And yet this begs the question: if the concern for human life were indeed paramount, then why isn’t the Assad regime, which in 2015 alone has killed 7 times more civilians than IS, pursued just as vigorously – or better yet – pursued at all?

While the answer to that lies entangled in the complex decision-making of our superiors, one thing remains abundantly clear: until Assad’s murderous tyranny is halted, the refugee crisis facing Europe will continue to both expand and deteriorate. The facts paint an extraordinarily clear picture. Of the documented civilian deaths in Syria since 2011, a staggering 97% of victims were killed by Assad government forces, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR). Thus, if Europe is to have any success in stemming the flow of refugees, it must look beyond their unsustainable and financially costly absorption and towards tackling the perpetrators of their plight.

Yet by no means is this a straightforward task. Any hawkish military intervention is likely to only exacerbate the crisis. One only needs to look to the turmoil currently engulfing Libya to realise the reckless laissez-faire approach by Western countries to humanitarian crises is extremely short-sighted and destined to fail without adequate provision for post-conflict peace-building.

Unfortunately there is no quick fix to the civil war now entering its fifth year. The complex dynamic on the ground involving various incohesive belligerents, their regional state-sponsors as well as the international forces invested in the conflict endlessly complicates a deteriorating situation.

However, the magnitude of the ongoing refugee crisis demands an immediate response that directly addresses its causes. The dogmatic non-interventionism of the West that triumphed in 2013 retains validity, yet the moral and political imperative here lies with concerted action. Here, the complexity of the political and military situation on the ground can prove advantageous. Rather than subscribing to the pacifist-interventionist binary paradigm traditionally dominating the discourse, policy-makers should adopt more nuanced positions befitting reality.

This could involve the ‘hard military force’ David Cameron referred to, taking the form of a defensive “no-fly zone” increasingly called for by Syrian civil society groups and human rights organisations, as well as international institutions such as the International Crisis Group. Considering the International Coalition is already operating in Syria against IS, it’s certainly not beyond its capabilities to expand its mission to encompass the Syrian Arab Air force – Assad’s major instrument inflicting misery. Global opposition to the regime’s use of barrel bombs, crude explosive devices filled with shrapnel and dropped predominantly on civilian areas, counts for little so long as the bombs remain the largest cause of civilian casualties.

A second approach to tackling the refugee crisis could involve supporting Syrian civil society and the political opposition with the governance of areas currently liberated from Assad. Refugees continue to flee rebel-liberated areas such as Idlib due to the ineffective and chaotic nature of self-rule, alongside the continued use of barrel bombs by Assad. Addressing such a failure by creating a safe-zone, as favoured by the Turkish government and Syrian opposition, would create a safe haven in which refugees could return to and in which local governance could operate without attacks from Assad. Such a policy would work to alleviate the current refugee crisis, whilst also contributing to creating the foundations for the essential long-term Syrian-led reconstruction of Syria, in the seemingly inevitable and eventual post-Assad era.

To borrow UK PM David Cameron’s words, if there is to be a long-term solution to the refugee crisis, then Europe must act with its “head and its heart.” Simply taking in more refugees, while morally commendable, will only perpetuate an unsustainable reality. Europe must think – and act – decisively. To end the Syrian refugee crisis, alleviate the suffering of millions and facilitate the healing of a torn nation, then we must pursue its primary culprit: the Assad regime.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Massive solidarity march with refugees organised by Syria Solidarity Movement



Last Saturday marked a historic day in Britain as the largest ever demonstration in solidarity with refugees took place in central London. The march was called by Ros Eriera and Abdulaziz Almashi, a co-founder of the Syria Solidarity Movement. Its aim was to pressure the government to accept more refugees, and create safe routes for refugees through Europe. It took place ahead of an EU wide meeting of heads of state on Monday 14th, held in order to attempt to work out a solution to the crisis.

The march was enormous as over 50,000 people turned up at the assembly point, spanning both sides of Park Lane. There were hundreds of home made placards in evidence as people brought their own message of solidarity with refugees. Syria Solidarity activists were central to the organising of the march, providing stewards from the Syrian community, and arranging the logistics. One of the main points we insisted on was that refugees themselves lead the march, and that most speakers be refugees, or those directly working to aid them.



Refugees from many different communities were invited to participate, with Afghan, Gambian, Bosnian refugees, and even Chilean refugees from the Pinochet regime taking part. Representatives of Southall Black Sisters and Women for Refugee Women took part as well. One hundred refugees marched at the head of the march holding the “Refugees Welcome Here” banner while wearing t-shirts saying “I’m a refugee”. The majority of the refugees present were Syrian and Eritrean, reflecting the fact they make up the largest number of refugees arriving in Europe at present. The Syrian community had mobilised from across the UK to show their support, and hundreds of Free Syrian flags were distributed and could be seen throughout the march.



Hundreds of placards with welcome messages were also distributed, alongside 20,000 leaflets laying out our demands on the government. The demands were agreed by all participating groups, and a website has been set up to coordinate campaigning efforts over the coming weeks and months so we can continue to keep the pressure on the government.



When the march arrived at Parliament it easily filled the square and the air rang to chants of “say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!”. The socialist musician Billy Bragg stared the show with songs, before making way for speakers. Newly elected leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn attended, and called for a humane policy towards refugees, and for changes to foreign policy to tackle the causes of the refugee crisis; war and poverty.

Due to the involvement of Syria Solidarity there were many speakers from the Syrian community on the platform who could give voice to the needs and suffering of the Syrian refugees. Dr Mohamed Najjar from the Syrian British Medical Society spoke of the many individual acts of kindness towards the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees coming to Europe which restored his faith in humanity, when contrasted with the thousands of broken promises from politicians towards Syrians. Dr Najjar criticised the Stop The War Coalition who sought to use the suffering of Syrians for their own political agenda, completely against the wishes of Syrians. He finished by calling to welcome all refugees, not just Syrians, and for support for all those people who had fled oppression in their own country.



Dr Rola Hallam, Medical Director for Hand in Hand for Syria gave a powerful speech, full of the passion and bravery typical of a doctor who has repeatedly returned to Syria to carry out vital medical relief work, placing herself in great danger to help others. Dr Hallam harshly criticised the government for failing to act when dozens of bombs were being dropped everyday across Syria, bombs which murder hundreds and smash lives and dreams to pieces. She called for the bombs to be stopped “by any means necessary” and for the governments of the world to enforce UN resolution 2139 which called for the halting of barrel bomb attacks.

One of the last speakers was Clara Connolly from the Syria Solidarity Movement. Connolly’s message was a simple plea, that governments and activists “listen to Syrians!”. Having ignored Syrians for four and a half years, the only way lasting solutions to the  crisis will be found is by listening to those who participated in the struggle for freedom in Syria. Only by listening to the activists who make up Syrian civil society; the Civil Defence activists and Planet Syria calling for a No-Fly Zone to stop the barrel bombs and protect civilians, those non-violent activists who continue to struggle for a democratic civil state in Syria despite the chaos and destruction of the war. Only by listening to them will solutions be found which can stop Assad, and end the conflict in favour of the Syrian people, and not the regime or its myriad international backers.



The march was an amazing success and will be remembered for years after. It sets the tone for what will be a long period of campaigning and struggle to force governments to adopt humane policies towards refugees to ensure they do not suffer more than they already have in their attempts to find sanctuary.

To aid campaigning efforts, the activists who organised the demonstration are forming a campaign group Solidarity With Refugees, to coordinate campaigns for all refugees over the coming months. While the demonstration hope to pressure Cameron into allowing more refugees into Britain, his Monday morning visit to Lebanon and focus on Britain’s aid efforts overseas shows the intention is still to try and keep the refugees stuck in camps in countries far away from Europe's shores.

The determination of Syria’s refugees has shown this approach will not work. It is now our task to bring our governments to acknowledge this and do all they can to rescue more refugees before they feel forced to take the dangerous journey to Europe by war, poverty and their human desire for freedom and a future.

Read more at www.refugeeswelcomehere.org



Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Report from a House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee meeting



Report from Syria Solidarity UK observer at the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on British policy on Syria. 8th September 2015.

Video of the event here. Full transcript here.

This was a Witness session where the Select Committee takes oral testimony from invited expert witnesses. Those invited included: Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent, The Independent; James Harkin, freelance reporter; Professor Raymond Hinnebusch, Professor of International Relations and Middle East Politics and Director of the Centre for Syrian Studies, University of St. Andrews; Professor Eugene Rogan, Director, Middle East Centre, St Anthony’s College, University of Oxford; Julien Barnes-Dacey, Senior Policy Fellow, Middle East and North Africa programme, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR); Professor Michael Clarke, Director, Royal United Services Institute; Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP, former Attorney-General.

The meeting began with an opening statement from the chair Crispin Blunt, who said that although there were no Syrians on the ‘expert’ panel today, it was not because they did not wish to hear the views of Syrians, but rather because they wanted to hear ‘all’ the views on Syria. He emphasised that they ‘do’ actually want to hear Syrian opinions, and said that the Planet Syria event earlier the same day was an example of their willingness to hear Syrian voices.



The session then began with the MPs on the Committee posing questions to journalists Patrick Cockburn and James Harkin.

Mike Gapes MP opened the questioning by asking if the Assad regime was weakening “despite the continued use of barrel bombs and chlorine against civilian populations.”

Cockburn replied that that ISIS was certainly advancing, a view that Harkin seconded. Neither took up Gapes’ reference to the actions of the Syrian regime. Cockburn’s overall message was that “ISIS dominates the armed opposition to Assad.” When asked about the non-Alawite minorities in Syria, his response was that the ‘minorities’ were not necessarily pro-Assad, but rather were “anti the anti-government”, because they view the alternative to Assad as “much worse.” He portrayed all rebel factions as being on a par with ISIS in their ‘Islamist’ ideologies, even going as far as saying, “we mustn’t exaggerate the differences between ISIS and the other Islamists.” He made no mention of Assad’s crimes and when asked whether the West should align itself militarily with Assad, he responded by saying, “yes”, and then called for the US to coordinate airstrikes with Assad in order to defeat “Daesh”. He also spoke of the danger of ISIS taking over Damascus.

James Harkin’s comments included some interesting suggestions but did not provide any coherent solutions. For example, he suggested that there needed to be some sort of “reformed Syrian army” that would include Kurdish and rebel forces, but he did not elaborate on the political pre-conditions for this.

He did not endorse Cockburn’s support for Assad, although he did say that the collapse of the Assad regime would lead to political fragmentation and “greater anarchy”. He stated that in his view the power of Daesh was being over estimated. To his credit, when asked the question, “What do Syrians want?” he responded by saying that this was a question that needed to be answered by Syrians. Ultimately both Cockburn and Harkin accepted that Assad would eventually have to go, but Cockburn’s views on this seemed very confused not explaining how you could shore Assad up and then expect him to go, and seemed to end up proposing some sort of partition.

Harkin suggested that attention needed to shift to the “micro-level” and things like local truces, which would need to be backed up by unspecified “local guarantees” – presumably to prevent local truces being shattered by the barrel bombing of local communities. (Perhaps an indicator of the unreality of the discussion was the fact that the phrase “barrel bombs” was never uttered once in this first session.) This seemed to lead Harkin towards favouring some form of external intervention, with the creation of “protected areas” where the civil activists of 2011 could return from exile and begin to rebuild civil society institutions.

The next section saw the committee members pose questions to Julien Barnes-Dacey, Professor Raymond Hinnebusch, and Professor Eugene Rogan.

MP Yasmin Qureshi suggested that “we have talked a lot about Daesh, but we don’t talk enough about what Assad has been doing” and asked “what do we do in practical terms to deal with what Assad has been doing to thousands of people regularly?”

Professor Rogan replied that we should send “bricks rather than bombs” to Syria, citing statistics about the extent of damage to urban housing, but sidestepped the MP’s question. He went on to call for “policies that prioritise the needs of Syrians and provide not a safe haven but a safe habitat” but gave no indication of how Syrian’s needs were to be determined nor how that was reconcilable with his previously expressed view that Assad could not be removed (the point of sending “bricks” to towns being systematically bombed by the Syrian air force seems particularly obscure).



Mike Gapes MP, made a perceptive comment that is worth quoting in full:
The only air force in Syria at the moment … is the Syrian air force. The only air force that is dropping barrel bombs and killing civilians is the Syrian air force. As I understand it, Assad has killed six or seven times as many people as ISIL, yet the whole thrust of the discussion I have just been hearing is saying, in effect, “Well, we’ll just have to allow this guy who is dropping chlorine and bombing civilian areas,” and is the main cause of the millions of people who have been displaced and the millions who are outside Syria. So, frankly, isn’t this just a recipe for a continuation of that kind of policy for years to come?
Gapes then called for “a no-fly zone to protect the civilian population” and suggested that Assad might be allowed to remain in office if his destructive power was reined in.

Rogan responded “I would be totally for it, but I just do not think that we are going to achieve that if we are going in with air strikes” (which seemed to muddle separate issues) and immediately qualified this statement by adding that it could only be done in agreement with Russia and Iran.

Hinnebusch did not express the Assad vs ISIS dichotomy, although he talked about large segments of Syrian Sunni communities migrating to regime-controlled areas such as Latakia and Tartus because the rebel-held areas were they had lived before were insecure. He failed to mention why those areas were insecure, which made it sound like a further justification for preserving the Assad regime due to its ability to provide “security”. He then shifted the policy argument in another direction when he expressed the necessity of a “power sharing” solution, perhaps modelled on Zimbabwe, with Assad remaining as President alongside a Prime Minister from the opposition. He added that such a power sharing solution would only be a safe and workable option if there was a strong Free Syrian Army to “balance Assad’s army.”

Julien Barnes-Dacey gave more of an analytical perspective dealing with the regional powers. Some MPs asked him what it would take for Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Gulf states to join the West’s war on ISIS, to which he replied that those countries didn’t see ISIS as much of a threat. He added that whilst the West was involved in a war against ISIS, those regional powers did not feel any need to go after the radical group since the West was already doing it themselves, effectively leaving the regional players to focus on their own national interests. He also stated that these powers actually used ISIS and the West’s fear of it in various ways in order to further their interests in the region and in Syria. At one point, he did say that in order to take on ISIS, Britain would need to send ground troops into Syria.

Like Rogan, Barnes-Dacey believed that any regional agreement would have to include Iran in the negotiations. All three analysts believed that a negotiated settlement between the regional players, including Russia, would bring the war to a close. None of them, however, seemed to have any idea of how this negotiated settlement would materialise on the ground.

After the meeting we had a short discussion between the observers from Syria Solidarity UK and those from Rethink Rebuild (Manchester Syrians), and Planet Syria. We all felt that it was now our turn and we should try and get the Foreign Affairs Committee to hear a more focused and sustainable strategy for Syria, with a concrete workable plan.

Planet Syria at the House of Commons



On Tuesday of last week, Planet Syria activists spoke at an event at the House of Commons. Titled Planet Syria: The view from Syria’s non-violent civil society activists, the event was hosted by Gisela Stuart MP and organised with the help of Syria Solidarity UK. Speaking on behalf of Planet Syria were Assaad Al-Achi of Baytna Syria, and Mustafa Haid of Dawlaty.

Planet Syria is a coalition of 107 non­violent civil society groups caught between the Syrian government and ISIS that are struggling for a democratic, just and pluralistic society. These groups believe deeply in human rights and in the necessity of protecting civilian life in Syria. Planet Syria represents Syria’s largest civil society grouping and its peace movement. This movement is based on consultations with non­violent activists from across Syria on what they think are ways to resolve this conflict.

Planet Syria aims to end the violence in Syria by seeking international support to end the aerial attacks and killings carried out by the Syrian Government, and to bring about inclusive, internationally backed peace talks. The Planet Syria statement says, “we need the barrel bombs to stop—even if it takes a ‘no-fly zone’—and meaningful peace talks. They need to happen together.”

Read the complete Planet Syria statement at planetsyria.org.

Baytna Syria is a leading institution fostering the Syrian civil society movement. It promotes an inclusive and democratic future for all Syrians, thus laying the foundation for long ­term stability across the country. It was founded with help from the Danish government. Through the Danish Syria Programme, which main focus is on stabilisation, Denmark provides substantial support to the Baytna Civil Society Centre in Gaziantep. Besides from its role as a civil society hub in Gaziantep, Baytna conducts capacity building activities and runs a small-grants mechanism providing support to a broad range of civil society initiatives inside Syria.

Read more at baytnasyria.org.

The Dawlaty Foundation, a Syrian nonprofit foundation that works with nonviolent activists on capacity building, democratic transition and transitional justice in Syria. They produce print and audiovisual materials on these topics (including comics!) and hold training courses and conferences.

Read more at dawlaty.org.

As the UK government considers extending anti-ISIS strikes into Syria, this event was a valuable chance for MPs and peers to hear from civil society activists on the front line of the fight against extremism. Their message was clear: A narrow targeting of ISIS without also addressing the greater violence being unleashed by the Assad regime is not the way to defeat extremism in Syria. Civilian protection against air attacks in particular is essential, not just to save lives but also to allow the strengthening of civil society and thereby help the population to resist extremist forces.

Planet Syria’s view on UK Syria policy (PDF)

Daniel Adamson, guest editor of the current issue of New Internationalist focusing on Syrian civil society activists was also at the event. He picked out one story from the issue, that of Dr Majed Abu Ali, one of the volunteer medics who treated victims of the 2013 Ghouta chemical weapons massacre. Forced eventually to leave Syria to keep his young family safe, Majed’s story illustrated how the refugee crisis, driven mostly by the violence of the Assad regime, is a tragedy not just for those who flee, but also for the fractured and depleted society they leave behind.

Syria’s good guys: New Internationalist, September 2015, Issue 485.

Also present at the event was Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former soldier who advises UK based charity Syria Relief on treating the victims of chemical weapons attacks. As well as talking about the impact of Assad’s air attacks on hospitals–every bombed hospital in Syria was bombed by Assad’s forces—he also gave his thoughts on the practicalities of enforcing an end to barrel bombing. He explained that this was much easier to do than generally realised, and that Assad’s helicopters could be prevented from bombing by naval weapons systems with no need to target what remains of Assad’s air defences.

We’re missing the point about Syrian refugees, by Hamish de Bretton-Gordon.

Amongst the MPs and peers listening to the Syrian visitors and asking questions was Jo Cox MP. She has since written a clear argument for doing more: Syria is not Iraq—we must take action now. In her article she takes a clear view that both ISIS and the refugee crisis are consequences of inaction, and that we need to deal with cause as well as effects. She writes:
Two years ago, a Government motion on Syria was defeated in the House of Commons. Tabled in the wake of a chemical weapons attack that outraged the world, the motion sought to condemn the attack and give, in principle, support for airstrikes against the Assad regime that had wrought it.

Since that vote, badly handled on both sides of the House of Commons, British policy on Syria has wandered aimlessly, a deadly mix of timidity and confusion. The lack of a coherent response, not just by Britain but by the wider international community, has allowed the situation in Syria to fester into the greatest humanitarian crisis of our lifetime. The international community put Syria on the “too difficult to deal with” pile and we now see the consequences of that – from the creation of ISIS to a new refugee surge.
Read the rest.

The first step in formulating a workable strategy on Syria is to listen to Syrians. Our thanks to Gisela Stuart MP for hosting this event, and to all those who came to hear what Syrians have to say.



Monday, 14 September 2015

#ListenToSyrians



“What do Syrians want? Ask them,” says Clara Connolly.

Listen to the White Helmets, the rescue volunteers of Syria Civil Defence: whitehelmets.org

Listen to the non-violent activists of Planet Syria: planetsyria.org



Thursday, 10 September 2015

To help Syrian refugees, stop Assad

Tonight’s Stop The War meeting has been cancelled. Below is the leaflet we had prepared to offer to those attending.

PDF version.

To help Syrian refugees, stop Assad

Having risen up en masse against the brutal Assad regime, the Syrian people have been subjected to mass murder, torture, rape, starvation, and enforced exile.

Now their struggle has again captured the world’s attention as the flight of tens of thousands of Syrians into Europe has finally  forced governments to discuss a solution to the crisis.

This is not just a refugee crisis, it is a crisis of Syria, of the whole country experiencing brutal oppression. There can be no solution to the refugee crisis without the removal of the regime responsible.

Some Syrians are fleeing ISIS, but most flee the Assad regime’s violence. The family of Aylan Kurdi’s, whose tragic death caught the world media’s attention, originally fled their home in Damascus after their father Abdullah was detained and tortured by the regime. The same is true for millions of others: this year alone the Assad regime has killed seven times more civilians compared to ISIS.

The only people who can remove the regime and resolve the crisis in Syria are the Syrian people. But they cannot do it alone. They need our support and solidarity.

We call on Stop The War to vocally oppose Assad’s violence, to demand the end of the barrel bombing, the lifting of the starvation sieges, and the end of Russian and Iranian intervention in Syria. It is this intervention which has preserved the regime, and allowed it to keep killing.

Above all we call on Stop The War to listen to Syrians.

Syria Solidarity Movement opposes the bombing of civilians, and opposes extra-judicial killings, be they by the Assad regime, or by ISIS, or by the US or UK. But it is Assad’s bombs which must be stopped if his regime is to be defeated, and Syrians to be allowed to return home.

Anti-war activists have a duty of solidarity to the Syrian people. To automatically oppose US/UK intervention, while remaining silent about the governments of Iran and Russia intervening on the side of Assad, is to abandon the Syrian people. Refusing to support activists on the ground who continue to organise and fight for the the original goals of the revolution is a terrible betrayal.

#ListenToSyrians

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Stop The War: “Not appropriate” to hear Syrians at meeting on Syria

UPDATE 10 Sept: The Stop The War event referred to in this post has been cancelled.

Syria Solidarity UK letter to Stop The War Coalition:

7 September 2015

Dear Stop The War Coalition,
We understand you are aware of the open letter from Syrian activists involved in the Planet Syria campaign:

http://on.planetsyria.org/stop-the-war-coalition-please-include-a-syrian-on-your-panel-on-syria/

We are asking that you formally reply to the letter, and that you allow an activist of their choice to speak from the platform at the Stop The War Coalition meeting on 10th September.
Please respond ASAP to this message. We will be attending the meeting and will continue to raise this issue publicly if we do not receive a response from you.

Regards,

Mark Boothroyd

Kellie Strom

Abdulaziz Almashi

Mario Hamad

Clara Connolly

Syria Solidarity Movement UK

Today’s response from Stop The War Coalition:

Dear Syria Solidarity Movement,
Thank you for your letter. The meeting on Thursday is to oppose UK military intervention. Nothing on Planet Syria's website opposes such intervention, therefore an invitation to speak is not appropriate.

The meeting is not a debate between those for and against intervention. Such a debate might be appropriate at some time, but in that case it should be discussed and agreed.

You are of course welcome to attend the meeting but I hope that you will respect the parameters and conduct of the meeting.

Best wishes,
Lindsey German
Stop the War Coalition

Below is the full text of Planet Syria’s open letter to Stop The War Coalition:

‘Stop the War’ Excludes Syrians Stopping the War

August 28, 2015

Dear Stop the War coalition,

It has come to our attention that you are hosting a panel on September 10  titled “Don’t bomb Syria” to discuss why you are against anti-ISIS strikes by the UK in Syria. You say the strikes will only lead to resentment and “more deaths and destruction. [1] The panel will be attended by Diane Abbott MP, Seumas Milney and Andrew Murray. The Stop the War coalition is adamant that the best role the UK can play at this stage is to stay out of Syria completely. We understand why you are wary of getting involved in another war in the Middle East. We are grateful that people in the UK are giving this issue so much consideration. However, given that the Stop the War coalition’s pronouncements on the situation in Syria hold sway among a great deal of the British public we, as nonviolent Syrian activists, urge you to consult us on this grave matter. It is our own lives you’re discussing with such conviction after all and to that end, we believe it is necessary for a Syrian to participate on the panel.

To be clear, we are not taking a position for or against these strikes. The truth of the matter is, whether the UK intervenes to strike ISIS or not, it is not about to start or stop a new war in Syria. A brutal war has already been raging in Syria for the past four years and ISIS is but one of the parties wrecking Syrian lives every day. In fact ISIS has inflicted less casualties than the Syrian government, which has made a daily habit of launching air strikes on defenceless besieged towns. To date, the Syrian government has killed at least seven times more civilians than ISIS according to the Violations Documentation Centre and the Syrian Network for Human Rights, two reputable Syrian organisations. [2]

You claim that anti-ISIS strikes will increase terrorism but as activists working on the ground to build peace, we know very well that there are many factors driving the radicalisation of young hearts and minds in Syria. The main one by far is the crude and unsparing barrel bomb made of scrap metal and high explosives. Barrel bombs, which are cheap and easily manufactured, are dropped by government helicopters on a daily basis. They turn entire neighbourhoods to rubble, destroy schools and hospitals and tear apart families, neighbourhoods and communities. A UN resolution banned these bombs in 2014, yet more than 11,000 of them have been dropped on populated areas since that resolution was passed. [3] This is because the international community has failed to enforce its ban. Many of these bombs are dropped on areas like Ghouta where people have been living under a crippling siege for two years with no access to food, water or much needed medical supplies.

Syrians who have had to hold in their arms the bloodied disfigured bodies of their loved ones really wish they could take part in discussions regarding the fate of their own country, but they’re often not invited. It is regrettable that Syrian speakers who represent these victims and have lived the quintessential painful Syrian experience have not been invited to take part in this panel.

We are nonviolent activists who are part of the Planet Syria network, a group of over a hundred civil society groups in Syria. We work on the ground to shore up nascent civil institutions and to provide basic services to residents in areas outside of government control.  Our network has not taken any position vis-a-vis intervention on against ISIS because we consider ISIS a symptom of the problem rather than the crux of it. We are saddened that debates in the UK are centred around ISIS but wilfully ignore the Syrian government’s vicious aerial war on its own people. The government killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions of Syrians long before ISIS ever materialised in Syria. If it’s human lives the UK public and the Stop the War coalition are concerned about, then shouldn’t people there get a chance to hear the perspective of those who have borne the bulk of the suffering? We believe that inviting a Syrian representative of the Planet Syria network to sit on your panel will enrich the conversation and make it more constructive.

We have been living this nightmare for almost half a decade now and we feel we are entitled to take part in conversations regarding our fate. We are dismayed at the number of anti-war panels and lectures that have taken place in the West which have failed to include Syrians in their impressive lists of participants. We hope you won’t continue to exclude us from these important conversations about the fate of our country because when you do so, you further disempower the very same Syrians who have been disempowered by various perpetrators in this conflict.

All we want is a chance to voice our perspective as Syrians who see potential solutions where others only see challenges. We can add a much needed layer to this debate which has remained stubbornly removed from the reality most Syrians are living. There is the status quo in Syria and there is the ‘Stop The War’ movement in the UK. Until you take that extra step to consider that what we have to say is indispensable to the conversation around Syria, your conversation unfortunately has little bearing on Syrians’ fate.

On the event description, you write that military intervention in Syria could be ‘catastrophic for the whole region.’ There is already a huge catastrophe in the region. Syria is hemorrhaging flows of refugees into neighbouring countries. Syrian migrants are drowning every week as they try to reach European shores on dinghy boats to give their children a shot at a decent life. But they’re fleeing so much more than ISIS, so our biggest hope is to broaden the UK debate to take that glaring fact into account.

We would like you to listen to us because right now, absent Syrian voices, the debate ignores the valuable real-life experiences of nonviolent Syrians who can offer solutions. We would be more than glad to send a representative of Planet Syria to the panel and we patiently await your invitation.

About Planet Syria: http://on.planetsyria.org/about/

Yours Truly,

Planet Syria

References:

[1] http://www.stopwar.org.uk/events/stop-the-war-events-national/10-sep-london-public-meeting

[2]  These are the figures for 2015 only from 1 January to 31 July. If you go back to the beginning of the uprising the difference between the government and Isis is much larger, since Isis was born from the conflict and did not exist in 2011. Source: Syria Network for Human Rights and Violations Documentation Center (http://sn4hr.org/ and https://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/ ).

[3]  Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (http://www.syriahr.com/en/ ). UNSCR 2139 was signed in February 2014. This is the number of barrel bombs from February 2014 to July 2015. According to the US State Department, more than 2,000 barrel bombs were dropped in the month of July alone. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/30/syrian-army-air-strikes-aleppo-islamic-state


Saturday, 5 September 2015

Solidarity with Refugees – March in London 12th September



Please show solidarity with refugees on Saturday 12th September.

In London we will be assembling at Marble Arch at 12 noon, and then marching to Downing Street.

Facebook event page.

Twitter: @solidarity_2015

PRESS RELEASE: 
Demonstration in London on 12 September to show Solidarity with Refugees

A grassroots internet-based campaign to show Solidarity with Refugees has galvanized the British public to call for greater moral leadership by the UK and the EU ahead of emergency talks on 14th September. Over eighty thousand people have signed up to demonstrate in London on Saturday 12 September, beginning with a march from Marble Arch, culminating in a rally at Downing Street.

Supported by Syria Solidarity Movement, the Refugee Council, Refugee Action and Amnesty International.

The world is facing the biggest refugee crisis since WWII. 60 million people have been uprooted, and thousands of people are dying in increasingly desperate attempts to reach European mainland. Suffocating in lorries, drowning in the Mediterranean - the horrific images we are seeing daily are testament to a profound failure of political and moral leadership.

The European Union has announced emergency talks on 14 September to deal with the escalating crisis. Solidarity with Refugees is providing an outlet for the voice of British public who want to ensure that our moral obligations, and not political expediency are put front and centre of the talks. When Theresa May, UK Home Secretary, attends the talks she must be able to carry a loud and clear message: instead of reinforcing a fortress, we need to be providing sanctuary, and we must stop failing humanity.

The number of migrants to have arrived so far this year (200,000) is so minuscule that it constitutes just 0.03% of Europe’s total population of 740 million. By comparison, Lebanon has taken in 1.1 million Syrian refugees, which amounts to 26% of the population.

Germany has registered 44,417 asylum applications from Syrians in the first seven months of this year alone. So far, the UK has legally welcomed only 187 Syrians. Britain’s Refugee Council, using figures from the UN, says that the number of refugees in the UK has actually fallen in the last 4 years from 193,600 to 117,161.

The response must no longer be a national and regional embarrassment. We can help many, many more people than we are currently helping. We can and should do more.

Since Solidarity with Refugees was launched, there has been a growing consensus across civil society and experts about how to tackle the crisis in a more humane way. We want to make sure that these points are front and centre of the crisis debates on 14th September.

Specifically, the crisis talks must ensure a focus on:


  • Providing safe and legal routes and transportation into Europe for asylum seekers, reducing the potential for exploitation by traffickers and smugglers.
  • Supporting efficient and humane processing of applications in the EU, especially in Greece and Italy, while housing and caring for refugees in ways that provide security and maintain dignity.
  • Expanding resettlement regionally – so all EU countries should follow the stance of Germany, and help to ease the pressure on Greece and Italy. The UK in particular should be doing more to help find a place of safety for those who need it.
  • Strengthening search and rescue efforts - to deal with the growing humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean, focusing on saving lives not policing borders.
  • Ending punitive policy regimes that make it harder to claim asylum rights – including EU directives that place travel restrictions on refugees in contravention of the Geneva convention.


We call on Theresa May to take this message to the EU talks on 14 September: we want to help people to reach Europe safely, we want to welcome more refugees in the UK, we have the means, and we have the methods.

STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT

“The current global refugee crisis has, to date, numbed public and political opinion. The general feeling has been that the situation is hopeless and people don’t want to hear about it. In the face of this numbness, I have been calling for a change in the narrative, for a way of creating hope, for showing we can help. When we look back, I very much hope that we will see this summer as the point that the narrative changed. And what is especially heartening is that citizen action and grassroots campaigns have been in the vanguard of this change. I wholeheartedly support the Solidarity with Refugees event in London on 12 September and call on leaders in the UK and EU to listen together, to think together, and to act together in the best interests of humanity.”

Jan Egeland, Secretary General, Norwegian Refugee Council, and former Under-Secretary-General, United Nations.

“The EU’s migrant crisis is not going to be resolved by razor wire in Hungary, by xenophobes bent on creating a moral panic or by European leaders who turn their backs on refugees. The time has come for citizens to draw a line in the sand and demand action. We need to send a clear signal to political leaders across Europe, including those in the UK. As a nation, we are not doing enough. But the groundswell of support among the British people has been remarkable. They are sending a simple message: Britain cares. We must now amplify that message. The Solidarity with Refugees march, organised on the internet as a grassroots campaign, is more than just another demonstration. It is a public mobilisation in defence of our shared humanity and our shared values. I am proud to give it my support.”

Kevin Watkins, Executive Director, Overseas Development Institute.