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

Monthly Archive

Search Syria Solidarity UK

Monday, 29 February 2016

Launch: The Syrian Calendar

Since 2011, the Syrian people in the pursuit of freedom used their creativity to keep the fight for liberation alive. Today we take their lead and their inspiration, to reclaim their voice and narrative. We will use the ideas, initiatives and actions of the brave Syrian people to stand in solidarity with them. The Syrian Calendar is a solidarity platform that was created from that inspiration. It aims to unite the efforts of all the action groups in the UK working in solidarity with the Syrian people.

The Syrian Calendar on Facebook.

Each calendar round has a theme, the first round is going to be ‪#‎Women4Syria,‬ a month-long series of actions in solidarity with Syrian women.

The Syrian Calendar Round 1: ‪#‎Women4Syria‬
Solidarity with the brave Syrian women

Since 2011, Syrian women have been on the front line of the quest for freedom. In their journey for liberation, Syrian women managed to break a long history of silence and marginalization. They took to the streets as they saw their liberation through the freedom of their nation and people. They broke social structures and defied a dictatorship that has constitutionally placed women as inferior. Syrian women led demonstrations, worked in field hospitals, smuggled aid to besieged areas, and documented the destruction of their cities.

Syrian women paid a heavy price for their defiance as they faced detention, torture, hunger, displacement, rape and execution. March 2016 marks two important events, the anniversary of the Syrian revolution and International Women’s Day. We take this opportunity to stand in solidarity with Syrian women. We want to celebrate their courage and achievements.

Shedding light on the brave Syrian women tells one part of the Syrian tale. As thousands of civilians are facing the Assad’s killing machine, we stand in solidarity with them and the right for a free democratic Syria.



Some of the events taking place as part of the #Women4Syria calendar round:

Saturday 5th March
  • Dabke in solidarity with Syrian Women
    Joining the Million Women Rise march, starting 1pm from Oxford Street, London, and performing at the rally at Trafalgar Square, 3pm.
    Facebook event page.

Monday 7th March

Wednesday 9th March
  • Women in Black vigil for Syrian women
    6pm-7pm at the Edith Cavell Memorial, St Martin’s Place, London.
    Facebook event page.

Sunday 13 March
  • Syrian Women Rising: A Solidarity Action
    A planting action celebrating and commemorating Syrian women, by London Palestine Action.
    3pm, Trafalgar Square, London.
    Facebook event page.

More events being announced imminently—follow The Syrian Calendar on Facebook for updates.



Friday, 26 February 2016

Syria Untold

A series of events at the LSE on the conflict in Syria, telling the story of the Syrian revolt and civil war through the eyes of Syrian authors and civil society activists.

In association with DESTIN, the student society of the Department of International Development at LSE.

Understanding Syria – A conversation with Robin Yassin-Kassab
27 February, 5:30–7:30pm.
Venue: LSE Old Building, Room OLD 4.10, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE.

Join us for a conversation with author and journalist Robin Yassin-Kassab to mark the launch of his new book Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, which explores the horrific and complicated reality of life in present-day Syria. The event will explore the history of the five-year descent of Syria’s uprising into bloody conflict, as well as the rise of ISIS and the present refugee
crisis.

Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War will be available to buy on the night.

Screening: Our Terrible Country, followed by Q&A with Planet Syria activist Haid Haid
2 March 5:30–8pm.
Venue: LSE Clement House, Room CLM.7.02, 99 Aldwych, London WC2B 4JF.

Our Terrible Country takes the viewer on the perilous journey of Yassin Haj Saleh, a well-known Syrian intellectual and dissident, and the young photographer Ziad Homsi, who travel together on an arduous and dangerous route from the liberated area of Douma/Damascus to Raqqa in northern Syria, only to find themselves eventually forced to leave their home country for a temporary exile in Turkey.

The film will be followed by a discussion with Syrian analyst and Planet Syria activist Haid Haid on the role of Syrian civil society in the conflict.

Screening: Syria’s Rebellious Women
9 March, 6pm–7:30pm.
Venue: LSE Clement House Room 1.02, 99 Aldwych, London WC2B 4JF.

Made over a period of 18 months in northern Syria, these short films tell the individual stories of a diverse group of strong, resilient women. As well as facing the constant threat of bombing by the Assad government’s air force, they women must battle the conservative traditions of a male-dominated society, aggravated by a militarised environment from which so many civilians have fled.

Aid, development and the refugee crisis + Screening: Not Who We Are
March 16th
Venue: TBC

Dr. Rouba Mhaissen, CEO of SAWA for Development and Aid, will highlight the need to raise the profile of Syrians’ voices and experiences, to encourage the international community to collaborate with Syrian organisations in short and long term aid and development in its response to the crisis within Syria and the refugee crisis in neighbouring countries.

Rouba’s talk will be accompanied by a showing of Not Who We Are, a documentary about Syrian refugee women.

Monday, 22 February 2016

At school in Syria: Education under barrel bombs

Recently Syria Solidarity UK arranged two events focusing on schools in Syria, one in Parliament on February 10th, hosted by Tom Brake MP, and one at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, on February 15th. The following is an account of the latter event at SOAS.

The speakers were Heba Ajami, a Syrian activist who worked in refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan, and Marcell Shehwaro, Director of Kesh Malek. Clara Connolly chaired the meeting.



Heba Ajami started by summarising the damage to schools and schooling inside Syria: 3 million children are no longer in school; the enrolment rate across Syria is down to 50% from almost 100% prior to 2011; in Aleppo it is 6%. There have been 4,000 recorded bomb attacks on schools since 2011. School attendance is severely disrupted by security concerns; non attendance has led to early marriages among the girls and early recruitment by militias of the boys.

Education in the liberated areas is conducted under constant airstrikes from the regime: teachers and pupils work in an atmosphere of fear and stress, with a lack of text books and equipment or space to play. As the certificates issues by the opposition interim government are not recognised, there is no way of progressing to higher stages of education.

There are three main curricula used in Syria: Firstly the state sponsored curriculum which is infused by Assadist ideology; secondly an opposition version of the state curriculum minus the Assadism, produced by the interim government; and thirdly an Islamist curriculum sponsored by some donors for schools in liberated areas.

Heba then described some of the problems experienced by Syrian refugees in the neighbouring countries: with resources for education already limited in the host countries (eg average class size in a Jordanian classroom is 40) there is no room for Syrian children; Syrian teachers are not allowed to teach; refugees have fled with no identification or certification so access and progression are limited; there is increasing discrimination against Syrians; extreme poverty means no access to uniforms materials or books; and child labour and early marriage are seen as survival strategies by impoverished families.

Thirdly she described some of the opposition initiatives to improve access to education, despite these overwhelming problems:
  • The Syrian Opposition Coalition (ETILAF) has established an examination and certification system, but this is recognised only in Turkey;
  • The Assistance Coordination Unit and Syrian Education Coalition has helped to establish schools and print textbooks;
  • A virtual schools project has been piloted to provide education over the internet for those who cannot attend schools;
  • NGOS and civil society organisations based abroad, such as Human Care, Hand in Hand for Syria and Kesh Malek run schools and provide much needed support.



Marcell Shehwaro described herself as a trained dentist, Syrian opposition activist, blogger, feminist, and Director of Kesh Malek which is based in Turkey and funds and runs 7 schools in the Aleppo area. Despite the recent encircling of Aleppo by the regime and its allies, ISIS, and the YPG, the teachers in Kesh Malek schools are intending to stay with the besieged population rather than evacuating for their own safety – and indeed are considering enlarging the number of schools to 15. They are filling the vacuum left by aid organisations like UNICEF which works with the regime in Damascus, only operates with the regime’s permission, and has failed to reach children in the liberated areas.

She then listed ‘Ten things you may not know about schools in Aleppo,’ including:
  • The Kesh Malek schools took part in the recent UN disability day project and drew wonderful pictures, not of sieges but of the sea.
  • The schools have an ‘opinion box’ which encourages students to express their views—one class all complained together that their teacher was calling them ‘donkeys,’ so the school management had to address this. All other complaints and issues are investigated.
  • The schools have to constantly update their health and safety policies to take into account constant aerial bombing; for example no glass in the windows—even clocks and geometric equipment have to be banned in case they hurt children in an explosion.
  • The UN recently asked Kesh Malek to share the location of the schools with the Russians in the ‘hope’ that they would be thereby spared from bombing—Kesh Malek politely declined to share this information with the bombers.
  • Kesh Malek also refuses to share or publish teachers’ names because they can be targeted for arrest and torture by the regime for working in liberated schools.
  • Kesh Malek has established a project for teaching girls who have left schools for early marriages, they are visited by a teacher at home so their education can continue.
  • 70% of Kesh Malek teachers are women—something that should be noted by international NGOs who offer Syrian women classes in sewing and cooking.

She concluded by stating that Syrian schools—their pupils and teachers—need protection above all else. That is the priority. 10 billion dollars was granted in aid to Syria at the recent Donors Conference in London. This is taxpayers money: if no protection is provided (by way of a No-Fly Zone or otherwise) the money will simply be blown up by more bombs.

Funding for the schools is needed, also, and will probably be needed for some time. It costs $3,000 per month to keep each school open—not a large amount of money for the international community. Some of the funding could be provided by twinning projects, between schools in Europe and in Aleppo, as was piloted with a school in the Netherlands. Kesh Malek has prepared a profile of five schools for such a purpose: see below.

Understanding Syria: A Conversation with Robin Yassin-Kassab

Saturday 27 February, 5:30pm–7:30pm,
LSE Old Building, Room 4.10
Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE.

Facebook event page.

Join the LSE DESTIN Society and Syria Solidarity UK for a conversation with author and journalist Robin Yassin-Kassab. His new book, co-written with Leila Al-Shami, Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, explores the horrific and complicated reality of life in present-day Syria. The event will look at the history of the five-year descent of Syria’s uprising into bloody conflict, as well as the rise of ISIS and the present refugee crisis.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Stop Putin’s bombs targeting hospitals



PROTEST: Stop Putin’s bombs targeting hospitals
Tuesday 23rd February
19:00–20:30
Russia Today UK HQ
Millbank Tower
Westminster

Facebook event page.

Syrian civil society activists from Planet Syria have called for an international day of action against Russia's bombing of Syria on February 23rd. Syria Solidarity UK is calling on all those opposed to the Russian backed and perpetrated slaughter in Syria to join us in demanding an end to Putin's bombing in Syria.

The protest will take place at Russia Today UK's headquarters at Millbank Tower.

Planet Syria is a coalition of Syrian civil society organisations.

LINKS

Anatomy of a Crisis: A Map of Attacks on Health Care in Syria, Physicians for Human Rights.

Syria: Report documents war wounded and war dead in MSF-supported medical facilities in Syria, Médecins Sans Frontières‎/Doctors Without Borders, 17 February 2016.

Refugees are becoming Russia's weapon of choice in Syria, Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, 16 February 2016.

At Least 25 Killed in Attack on MSF-Supported Hospital in Northern Syria, Médecins Sans Frontières‎/Doctors Without Borders, 15 February 2015.

Syria crisis: Strikes on hospitals and schools kill ‘up to 50’, BBC News, 15 February 2016.

Syrian Hospitals Hit as Battlefield Grows More Chaotic, Anne Barnard, The New York Times, 15 February 2016.

Russia killed more Syrian civilians than Assad or ISIS in January: Report, by Damien Sharkov, Newsweek, 15 February 2016.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Debrief: ‘What next after the Supporting Syria and the Region Conference?’



Thanks to the kind assistance of Jim Fitzpatrick MP, we were recently able to help organise an event for Syrian civil society activists visiting London for the Supporting Syria and the Region conference. The event took place in Portcullis House on the 5th of February, the day after the conference, allowing people to discuss their experiences.

The notes below are a summary of points raised in the discussion. Thanks to Howard Mollett of CARE International for his work in compiling these notes.

View and download a PDF of the event notes.

Basil: Film screening at SOAS, Friday 26 February



Please come on Friday 26 February to SOAS for a film screening fundraising for Watanili.

Basil: Syrian arts film screening,
Friday 26 February at 7pm, Room B102, SOAS, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG.

Facebook event page.

We will be showcasing Basil, a ground-breaking short arts film by Syrian director Adnan Jetto. It documents some of the creative education projects that Watanili has run with Syrian refugee children on the Turkey-Syria border. Basil (a plant that blossoms to reach its full growth) strives to show the creativity and enduring human spirit of Syrian children. When given the opportunity, these young refugees still have that war-defying hope and courage to rebuild. It’s a heartwarming film that we hope will inspire people to consider the bright future that is possible for Syria.

Watanili is a grassroots initiative, dedicated to providing support for displaced Syrians through arts therapy, educational programmes, and community orientated projects.

A number of their initiatives have been financially supported by the British Council and HIVOS. Their focus is primarily on creative education and community building.

Watanili’s most recent project is a small learning centre, Makani (‘My Place’ in Arabic), encompassing over 45 Syrian refugees, providing them with access to literacy, numeracy, arts and crafts and more. Read more about the Makani centre here.

Read our July post about one of Watanili’s projects: A children’s cinema in Aleppo.

Suggested donation for the screening: £3.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Russian Airstrikes Target Medical Facilities

Syrian British Medical Society Press Release, 15th February 2016.

Today, five healthcare facilities in northern Syria have been targeted by airstrikes, widely believed to have been carried out by Russian Air Force bombers.

Scores of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers, as well as patients, have been killed or severely injured as a result of this criminal act. Furthermore, all targeted facilities have been rendered completely dysfunctional, depriving hundreds of thousands of civilians of essential life-saving healthcare.

The start of the Russian airstrikes in Syria marked a significant increase in the targeting of medical facilities. In the month of October 2015 alone, the Russian Air Force has carried out more than 10 strikes(1) on hospitals in Idleb, Aleppo and Hama, resulting in the closure of six, as well as the death of 35 healthcare workers including at least two doctors, and serious injuries in substantial numbers of healthcare staff and patients using the facilities. At least six further strikes against medical facilities could be attributed to Russian Air Forces, bringing the total to a possible 16 in the first month of Russian air strikes(1). There has also been a similar increase in targeting schools and other civilian installations, leading to loss of life and serious injuries amongst teachers, school staff, pupils, and other civilians.

The pattern of these airstrikes is significantly different from those experienced before the start of the Russian air campaign. Whereas the Syrian Government Air Force has resorted to indiscriminate bombing using the so-called “barrel bombs” dropped indiscriminately from helicopters, the more recent airstrikes seem to be specifically targeting medical facilities and schools, and seem to hit their targets with remarkable accuracy and with devastating results. All that coincided with the start of the airstrikes by Russian bombers.

The SBMS is enraged by this latest development, and is deeply concerned about the safety of our staff, our patients, and our facilities on the ground. We deeply deplore the targeting of medical facilities and other civilian installations. We strongly feel that the Government of the Russian Federation and the Russian Air Force have a duty and a responsibility, under International Law in general, and under the Geneva Conventions in particular, to take every action possible to ensure the safety of medical teams on the ground, even in areas where combatants are operating. We wish to express to the Government of the Russian Federation, in the strongest possible terms, our profound concern that such precautions are not in place.

The Syrian British Medical Society would urge Her Majesty’s Government, the international community, and the international medical relief organisations, to condemn in the strongest possible terms the deliberate targeting of medical facilities, and to exert pressure on all parties to respect international laws to ensure the safety of medical installations and workforce.

Editors Note
The Syrian British Medical Society was established in 2007 as a forum for healthcare professionals of Syrian descent working in the UK. It is a non-profit, non-political organisation that aims at promoting the highest professional and ethical standards amongst British-Syrian Healthcare Professionals, and the creation and promotion of academic and professional links with the Healthcare Profession in Syria and related organisations worldwide. Since the start of the uprising in Syria in 2011, the SBMS has redirected most of its activities towards helping the devastated healthcare sector in Syria.

References
1. http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/press/press-releases/russian-forces-carried-out-at-least-10-attacks-on-medical-facilities-in-syria-in-october.html

PDF version.

Friday, 12 February 2016

At School in Syria: Education under barrel bombs – SOAS, Monday 15 February, 7pm



For anyone who missed our recent event in Parliament, there is another chance to hear about schools in Syria, and particularly Aleppo, this coming Monday evening.

At School in Syria: Education under barrel bombs
7:00 to 9:00pm, Monday 15th February,
Room 116 First Floor, School of Oriental and African Studies, Russell Square, WC1H 0XG.

Speakers:

  • Marcell Shehwaro of Kesh Malek (Check Mate), on running schools in rebel-held Aleppo.
  • Heba Ajami, on the state of the education system in Syria.

RSVP to info@syriauk.org

A Save the Children report on education in Syria published in September 2015 found that 3 million Syrian children were not in education, that 25% of Syria's schools had been damaged or destroyed, and that over four hundred teaching staff had been killed. The majority of the destruction is caused by aerial bombardment.

This event will be a rare chance to hear directly about the difficulties of running schools under these most hostile conditions, where schools have to go underground, and teachers have to preserve anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Meeting capacity: 40.

Facebook event page.

Read more on Syria’s schools under bombardment.

Read a Reuters interview with Marcell Shehwaro.

Read a Save the Children blog post on Dania and Abdullah, two refugee children from Aleppo, seen above in a reconstruction  of a bombed Syrian school outside Parliament.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Syrians tell world leaders: Stop Blaming the Victim, Protect Civilians



On Wednesday, two dozen Syrian civil society organisations from inside and outside of Syria delivered a joint letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius calling on world leaders to take concrete action to protect innocent civilians in Syria and uphold international humanitarian law, including by breaking the sieges across Syria through the delivery of airdrops. The full text of the letter, which was delivered in advance of the ISSG meeting in Munich, can be found below.


The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State

His Excellency Philip Hammond
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
United Kingdom

His Excellency Laurent Fabius
Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development
Republic of France

10 February 2016



Your Excellencies,

We write to you on behalf of 24 Syrian civil society organizations and humanitarian aid groups, who together provide millions of Syrians with life-saving assistance. Many of our representatives were present at the London Donor’s Conference for Syria, and we welcome the generous commitments the United States, the United Kingdom and France have made to the Syrian people. But humanitarian assistance cannot be a substitute for the action needed to stop the bloodshed. Syrians need more than your generosity: we need civilian protection.

Our people are being annihilated. Every month, more than 600 civilians are killed by indiscriminate airstrikes by either Russia or the Syrian regime. Every week, more than one million Syrians live under siege, with the denial of food, water and medical care being used as a weapon of war. Every day, more innocent civilians are detained, imprisoned and tortured.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

At School in Syria: Education under barrel bombs


Photo: Primary school north of Anjara town, Aleppo governorate, hit by suspected Russian air attack killing eight children, 11 January 2016.

At School in Syria: Education under barrel bombs
5:30pm to 6:30pm, Wednesday 10th February,
Committee Room 7, House of Commons, Westminster.

Speakers:

  • Marcell Shehwaro of Kesh Malek (Check Mate), on running schools in rebel-held Aleppo.
  • Heba Ajami, on the state of the education system in Syria.
  • Chaired by Tom Brake MP.
RSVP to info@syriauk.org

A Save the Children report on education in Syria published in September 2015 found that 3 million Syrian children were not in education, that 25% of Syria's schools had been damaged or destroyed, and that over four hundred teaching staff had been killed. The majority of the destruction is caused by aerial bombardment.

This event will be a rare chance to hear directly about the difficulties of running schools under these most hostile conditions, where schools have to go underground, and teachers have to preserve anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Facebook event page.

Read more on Syria’s schools under bombardment.

MPs call again for air drops to besieged civilians


Hamish de Bretton-Gordon on air drops, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, February 2016.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon on air drops: “I’ve seen it with my own eyes many times under fire in Afghanistan and I see absolutely no reason why it cannot be done in Syria.”

Roger Godsiff MP has tabled an Early Day Motion calling on the Government to “act immediately to airdrop food, fuel and medical supplies” to besieged communities in Syria. So far the motion has received cross-party support from 39 MPs.

On 27th January, Roger Godsiff chaired a meeting on civilian protection which discussed air drops and other possible measures.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, British Army veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, spoke at the meeting. He talked of the work done by Syria Relief and UOSSM for whom he’s worked for the past four years, including giving them training on responding to chemical attacks.

“UOSSM runs 32 hospitals and clinics across Syria. The main hospital in Bab Al-Hawa near the Turkish border has been deliberately targeted by Russian airstrikes in the last few weeks, and in fact in the last two weeks an airstrike just next to the hospital killed a number of employees and family members. For those who’ve been to Bab Al-Hawa you know there’s no way it could be anything else but a hospital. We’ve also had to evacuate the hospital three times in the last few months, and this has had a huge impact. Bab Al-Hawa does about 25% of surgical procedures in north-west Syria, about 1,500 procedures per month, and this has been tremendously hampered since the Russian attacks on it,” he said.

“The UOSSM hospital in Moadamiya in Ghouta, Damascus, is virtually on its knees. It’s being pounded by Assad forces, there’s virtually no medicine left, and as I’m sure you’re aware the people of Moadamiya are starving, as are people across Syria. Given these two illustrations of dreadfulness, which are repeated across Syria, it’s not difficult to see why the refugee crisis in Europe is what it is, and why it will get even worse if there’s no direction coming to it.”

Everybody knows exactly where these hospitals are, he said, “Putin, Assad, Turkey, the US, the UK,” and it must be time for the British Government to demand that Putin stop targeting hospitals, and that he also forces Assad to do the same.

“Giving protection for civilians from air strikes, especially in north-west Syria which I know well, would start to give hope to some of the seven million displaced within Syria that there is a future for them which doesn’t involve trekking across Europe to countries who at best do not welcome them,” he continued.

And moving on to air drops, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon said:

“Along with 17 other cities and suburbs in Syria, the people of Moadamiya are starving and getting to a point where their only option is to run the gauntlet to Lebanon, and then the winter seas to Europe, or die in situ. Either stay and starve to death, or flee and face a likely death at the hands of Assad, Daesh, or the sea. And I think we in Britain can do a lot more. I’ve seen the accuracy of precision RAF air drops in Afghanistan where they can now drop these five ton containers into an area the size of this room. People tell me that some of this food might fall into the wrong hands; so what? The odd bit of water, the odd food or medicine going into the wrong hands, whatever that might mean? The excuse that it can’t be done—I’ve seen it with my own eyes many times under fire in Afghanistan and I see absolutely no reason why it cannot be done in Syria. And for the UK operating out of Akrotiri in Cyprus is but a ten minute flight to Damascus, and actually RAF Hercules can probably cover the whole area of Syria without the necessity to refuel. And given the fact that a Hercules can take ten to fifteen tons of aid you can very quickly, rapidly, build up a huge supply of water, food, and medicines to these besieged cities and towns where people are dying in almost a mediaeval type context. I find it unbelievable in the 21st century that people are being starved to death,” he said.
“We in the UK could have a massive impact. We have the skills, we have the base in Cyprus to do it. I keep hearing that we are providing a billion pounds worth of aid, but actually what we need is to make sure that aid gets into Syria to the right people, and I personally believe air drops are a way ahead.”

On the current air strikes, he said, “As far as the average person in the UK is concerned, they’re concerned about Daesh, about Islamic State doing something here in London or in cities around the UK. To them that is the key thing, but conducting a battle just to get Daesh without simultaneously supporting and protecting the civilian population to me is a completely nonsensical approach; a very short term approach to repeat the mistakes particularly of Iraq 2003. It must be done together.”
Questions from the audience began with Audrey, a midwife, relaying a description of conditions in Deir Ezzor, of increasing air bombardment of civilians by the Russian air force at the same time as those same civilians are trying to resist ISIS/Daesh on the ground, and are gathering evidence of ISIS crimes.

During questions, Fardous, a Syrian living in London, raised the Government response to the current petition to Parliament calling for air drops to begin. Her question was, “When will the Government come to admit that most of the aid going into Syria is controlled by Assad, and understand it’s not going to the intended people? Even charities doing work with good intentions have been used to support Assad in his crimes against Syrians. The Government say air drops are high risk and they want to save them as a last resort. That’s frustrating, when is it the last resort? How many more Syrians do we want to see starving and dying?”

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon responded, “Ideally you do get stuff in on the ground, but as you say it’s being controlled by Assad, and it gets in very irregularly. I personally think we are at the last resort. We know that in Madaya fifty, a hundred people, have already starved to death.”

When is it time for the last resort, he asked, if not now? “It’s very much up to, hopefully, members of this House to convince the Government that we have a very excellent capability, and we could make a real difference, and it is the last resort, and if we don’t use it now then we’re going to lose the window.”

In response to a question on whether there are people on the ground in besieged areas to coordinate with on air drops, who can distribute food fairly and organise where aid is dropped, a Syrian activist talked about the civil society groups working in besieged areas.

“There are a lot of grassroots organisations that have created their own means of verification to make sure that the world knows that they are doing the actual work on the ground. One of the ways that they are doing the verification is by using media; they document everything. They even for example if the diaspora community have a donation, the receipt of that donation and where it went, it’s published online, on Facebook, on Twitter, on YouTube. And the actual action is documented, for example they open a hospital unit, or they provide food for someone. So they have actually created ways of verification, and they are very well known for this in the Syrian diaspora because the main funder of these groups is the Syrian diaspora community.”

She said that what is missing is communication with these groups:

“I work in international development, and I can understand why big NGOs may fear going onto this ground, because it’s uncharted territory, but that is not an excuse for anyone; if Syrians created ways of verification, others can come half-way and find ways to help them.”

Read a full report of the event in Syria Notes.

Clearly the UK military can do the job, and there are local medical workers, local councils, and local civil society organisations to coordinate with. Even if air drops cannot substitute for ground access, they can provide critical emergency relief, particularly of urgently needed medical supplies as well as of food. Every day of excuses means more lives lost.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

What next after the Supporting Syria and the Region Conference?

‘What next after the Supporting Syria and the Region Conference?’

A discussion with Syrian civil society organisations, Lebanese, Palestinian, Iraqi organisations, and others from the region, INGOs, and UK policy makers.

Event hosted by Jim Fitzpatrick MP,
With support from Syria Solidarity UK, the All Party Parliamentary Group Friends of Syria, CARE International, and WILPF.

9.30am to 11am, Friday 5th February,
Grimond Room, Portcullis House, Victoria Embankment, Westminster.

To attend please RSVP to info@syriauk.org

Facebook event page.