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Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Russian Airstrikes Continue to Target Medical Facilities

Syrian British Medical Society


Yesterday, at least five healthcare facilities in northern Syria have been targeted by airstrikes, widely believed to have been carried out by Russian Air Force bombers. These include Idleb National Hospital which was rendered dysfunctional, as well as four other hospitals and healthcare facilities in the Governorate of Idleb, which suffered severe degrees of damage, depriving hundreds of thousands of civilians of essential life-saving healthcare. Scores of doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, and other civilians, have been killed or severely injured as a result of this criminal act.

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 continuing outrage, and is deeply concerned about the safety of our staff, our patients, and our facilities on the ground. We demand the immediate cessation of all attacks on medical facilities and other civilian installations.

Furthermore, the SBMS is appalled by the lack of any international outcry for this blatant disregard of all international norms, laws, and conventions. The Government of the Russian Federation and the Russian Air Force have 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 convey 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 organizations, 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.

Editor’s 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 organization 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 organizations 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

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Break the sieges! Air drops now! Join us 6pm every day this week at Downing St.



Deadline: 1 June • Break the Sieges • Protect Civilians

Please join us at Downing Street, London, 6pm daily all this week.

We are calling on the UK to keep their promise to Syrians and start humanitarian air drops from 1st June.

57 NGOs have welcomed the proposed air drops, and called on ISSG governments including the UK to ‘ensure that the best conditions possible are put in place for air drops.’

Patrick Wintour writes for Monday’s Guardian on the UN’s reluctance to carry out aid drops:
Syria: Fears of UN reversal over aid airdrops plan

Concern is growing that the United Nations is backtracking on plans to use airdrops to send food and urgent medicine to besieged towns in Syria, amid indications that the organisation believes the tactic is too dangerous without the support of the Syrian government.

A meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) on 17 April in Vienna said it would start airdrops from 1 June if Bashar al-Assad’s government continued to block World Food Programme aid and prevent land convoys reaching besieged areas.

The decision was passed unanimously by the 20-plus countries in the ISSG, including the US and Russia, and was hailed as a breakthrough by the British foreign secretary, Phillip Hammond.

A number of UK politicians have criticised the UN stance:
The apparent reversal was condemned by the former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, who said: “The deadline set by the ISSG poses a serious question. Are the words of the international community meant to mean anything? We would all much rather airdrops did not have to be contemplated—they are complex operations—but if the 1 June deadline passes without ground convoys getting in then the UK has to see that the international commitment to the people of Syria is fulfilled. Not only are lives on the line, so is the credibility of the ISSG.”

Jason McCartney, the Conservative MP for Colne Valley and a former RAF officer, said: “We are at the stage of last resort where airdrops – however imperfect – are the only way to save lives.”

Jo Cox, the Labour MP who has raised the issue of airdrops most consistently, said: “If the words of the foreign secretary and the international community don’t turn to action, if we don’t see aid getting in by road or by air, then we’ve reached a new low making empty promises to starving children.”

Read the full story.

Email your MP about humanitarian air drops here.

Join us at Downing Street, 6pm every day this week, to call for humanitarian air drops.


If the UN won’t do the job, the RAF can and should.

Break the sieges.

Air drops now.



Saturday, 28 May 2016

Ask your MP to support UK humanitarian air drops to Syria



The UK Government, along with other members of the International Syria Support Group, has told the World Food Programme to begin air drops wherever they are needed from 1st June—but the World Food Programme says it will only deliver if the Assad regime gives permission.

The RAF has the resources needed to deliver aid if the World Food Programme won’t.

Call on the Government to deliver on the promise and start UK air drops from 1st June.

If you live in the UK, this app can help you write an email to your MP.

Please ask your MP to support UK humanitarian air drops of food and medical aid to Syria.



Monday, 23 May 2016

Deadline: 1 June • Break the Sieges • Protect Civilians



Deadline: 1 June • Break the Sieges • Protect Civilians

Join us at Downing Street, London, 6pm daily,
29, 30, 31 May, and 1, 2, 3, 4 June.

Hold the UK Government and the international community to account.
Keep the promise to break the sieges, with air drops if necessary.

Facebook event page.

From the 17 May statement by the International Syria Support Group:

The ISSG insisted on concrete steps to enable the provision of urgent humanitarian deliveries to the following locations: Arbeen, Darraya, Douma, East Harasta, Mouadhimiyeh, Zabadin and Zamalka. Regular humanitarian deliveries must continue, according to the UN’s monthly plans, to all other besieged and hard to reach locations, including Fouah, Kefraya, Kafr Batna, Ein Terma, Hammura, Jisrein, Madaya, Zabadani, Yarmouk. Starting June 1, if the UN is denied humanitarian access to any of the designated besieged areas, the ISSG calls on the World Food Program to immediately carry out a program for air bridges and air drops for all areas in need. The ISSG pledges to support such a program, and also calls on all parties to the cessation of hostilities to provide a secure environment for that program. Air deliveries should also continue to Dayr al-Zour. The ISSG stressed that such access, as in other areas, must be continuous for as long as humanitarian needs persist. Humanitarian access to these most urgent areas will be a first step toward full, sustained, and unimpeded access throughout the country.

Full statement here.

Syria Solidarity UK welcomes this commitment by the International Syria Support Group to start air drops of food to all besieged areas on 1st June should the UN continue to be denied ground access to besieged areas in Syria.

We are particularly pleased that this proposal came from the UK since we and others have been active in promoting the idea in the UK Parliament and elsewhere over the last months. Since January 2016, almost 64,000 UK residents have signed the petition to Government calling for air drops of aid. Now we want to make sure the promise is kept.

Please join us at Downing Street, London, 6pm daily, on 29, 30, 31 May, and 1, 2, 3, 4 June.


Read: UK Syrian groups respond to the international commitment on air drops

If you live in the UK, this app can help you write to your MP asking them to support humanitarian air drops.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

To the participants and organisers of the ‘Crossing Borders’ Conference

Refugees conference invites Assad supporter as keynote speaker

The Cooperative Institute for Transnational Studies in collaboration with the University of Aegean (Laboratory EKNEXA-Department of Sociology) have announced a conference on the refugee crisis, ‘Crossing Borders,’ in Lesvos, Greece, on 7-10th July.

We are very concerned to note that the list of speakers includes Tim Anderson, a supporter of the Assad regime, for the reasons given in the open letter below.


UPDATE 2 June 2016: Following circulation of this open letter, the organisers of the Crossing Borders conference reversed their decision and disinvited Tim Anderson, without issuing a statement. Now it appears they have reversed yet again and reinvited him, still without issuing a statement.

Asked for comment via Twitter, conference organiser Maria Nikolakaki linked with no further comment to a petition by a pro Assad group in the US.



To the participants and organisers of the ‘Crossing Borders’ Conference

Your conference has been brought to our attention as one of your keynote speakers is outspoken Assad regime supporter, Tim Anderson. As the vast majority of Syrian refugees are fleeing the brutal oppression of the Assad regime, it is extremely disquieting to see an open supporter of the regime invited to speak at the conference.

Anderson has been open about his beliefs, having written numerous articles defending the Assad regime, published an ebook titled ‘The Dirty War on Syria’ and has taken part in a ‘solidarity’ delegation to visit Syria in December 2013 where he met with Bashar al-Assad. That Anderson chose to visit Syria after the regime had committed the August 22nd chemical weapons massacre against civilians in the suburbs of Damascus, shows his real level of concern for the lives of Syrian civilians. Academics who provide political cover for dictatorships should not be invited to participate in conferences concerning refugees fleeing those dictatorships.

We also note the conference does not appear to have any Syrian activists invited to speak, despite the violent suppression of the Syrian revolution being one of the central drivers of the refugee crisis. The conference statement actually makes no mention of the Assad regime at all, despite its central responsibility for the Syrian exodus. The fact the conference is sponsored by the Stop The War Coalition and stopimperialism.org, two organisations which have been unwilling to condemn or criticise the actions of the regime, causes us further concern.

We call on the conference organisers to disinvite Tim Anderson and issue a strong statement condemning the repression of the Assad regime against the Syrian people. If they are unwilling to do this, we call on other participants like Paul Mason and Nina Power, activists who are committed to the struggle for social change and against oppression, not to participate in the conference alongside known regime apologists. We welcome discussion and debate about the causes and solutions to the refugee crisis, but pro-regime apologists should not be a part of this discussion.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Boothroyd, Syria Solidarity UK
Yasmine Nahlawi, Rethink Rebuild, Syrian Community of Manchester
Dr Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal, Syrian Association of Yorkshire
Dr Mohammad Alhadj Ali, Syrian Welsh Society
Amer Masri, Scotland4Syria
Dr Abdullah Hanoun, Syrian Community South West
Oz Katerji, Journalist
James Bloodworth, Journalist and Author
Emanuel Stoakes, Journalist
Richard Seymour, Author
Thomas Pierret, Lecturer, University of Edinburgh
Hussein Kesvani, Journalist
Eliot Higgins, Bellingcat
Shakeeb Al-Jabri, Syrian activist
Tom Dale, Journalist
Idrees Ahmad, Lecturer, University of Stirling
Razan Ghazzawi, Syrian activist
Nick Cohen, Journalist
Tom Rollins, Journalist
James Sadri, The Syria Campaign
Shiraz Maher, King’s College London
Sharif Nashashibi, Journalist
Thomas van Linge, Researcher
Şenay Özden, Hamisch Syrian Cultural House in Istanbul
Robin Yassin-Kassab, Writer
Joseph Daher, Syrian-Swiss activist and academic
Antony Loewenstein, Journalist and author
Thomas Rieger
Jamie Dettmer, Journalist
Paul Raymond, Journalist
Kyle Orton, Journalist
Patrick Hilsman, Journalist
Molly Crabapple, Artist and author
Heydon Prowse, Broadcaster
Sam Charles Hamad, Journalist
Luke Cooper, Lecturer in Politics
Danny Postel, ​Center for Middle East Studies, University of Denver
Lydia Wilson, Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford
Haid Haid, Syrian researcher
Dr Jamie Allinson, Lecturer, University of Edinburgh
Michael Karadjis, University of Western Sydney
Maroin Al Dandachi, French-Syrian Student
Dr Rola Hallam, Doctor and humanitarian
Bissan Fakih, The Syria Campaign
Kenan Rahmani, Activist
Kelly Grotke, Cornell University
Clay Claiborne, Director
James Snell, Blogger
Henry Langston, Journalist
Fionn Travers-Smith, Campaigner
Charles Davis, Journalist
Clara Connolly, Women4Syria
Jafar Hassan, Green Party
Louis N Proyect
Andy Wilson
Yasser Munif, Syrian activist, Emerson College
Dr Ludek Stavinoha, University of East Anglia
Dr Francis Sedgemore, Journalist and science writer
Pete Klosterman, Humanitarian
Annie Power
Andreas Graube, Activist
Rosalind Stewart
Fred Mecklenburg
Paul Canning, Blogger and activist
Jonathan Brown, Liberal Democrats for Syrian Freedom, Peace & Reconstruction
Natalie Sedacca, Civil liberties lawyer
David Spiers, Jnr
Henry Lowi
Zachary Medeiros, Student, Socialist Party USA
Rafif Jouejati, FREE-Syria Foundation
Stanley Heller, The Struggle Video News
Bassam Barabandi, former Syrian diplomat, co-founder of People Demand Change
Dr Gregory Kent, Roehampton University London
Eric and Philippa Kempson, The Hope Centre, Lesvos
Zoe Gardner, Asylum Aid
Mariam Barghouti, Palestinian writer


PDF version.

If you would like to add your support to this letter, please contact: info@syriauk.org



Picture: Tim Anderson meeting Assad in Damascus, December 2013.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Khiyana: Daesh, the Left, and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution

Khiyana: Daesh, the Left, and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution, ed. Jules Alford and Andy Wilson, published by Unkant, London.

Review by Clara Connolly

This book should be required reading for every leftist, as an antidote to the growing mountain of ignorant comment on the subject of Syria. The title Khiyana (betrayal) is an accusing cry; the book is a trenchant denunciation of the Western Left for its abandonment of the principles of internationalism and solidarity in favour of an alignment with the ‘anti imperialist’ camp, a hangover from the geo-politics of the Cold War.

Assad An-Nar, like most of the authors, situates himself on the Marxist left, and his prefatory chapter could be considered a direct response to Tariq Ali’s infamous dismissal of the Arab Spring in What is a Revolution? (Guernica, Sept. 2013). He sets his critique in the context of the changing nature of revolution in an age of global neoliberalism, where post colonial states are collapsing because neoliberal policies have slashed the limited social protections they used to offer. In this world, he says, the principles of self emancipation and of collective and democratic struggle are ‘ideas in search of a subject.’ Ideas about democracy, socialism, and anti-imperialism used to run in the same direction, but now they are counterposed.

With the collapse of the progressive moment of secular Arab nationalism, Islamist organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood can rise beyond identity/sectarian politics in resistance to tyranny. Though not necessarily opposed to neoliberalism, they are the voice of those who are excluded from its benefits. Hezbollah’s current role in Syria shows that such movements can swing between revolution and counter revolution without moving in a socialist direction.

The role of socialists is not to counterpose themselves to democratic revolutions, which gave rise (in Egypt) to the first democratic government, and (in Syria) to emancipatory projects such as networks of local councils against the existing state, but to take the democratic side against tyranny. Instead the left has responded by either supporting their favourite dictatorships (the neo Stalinists) or by re-hashing theories of ‘permanent revolution,’ i.e. insisting that revolutions can only end in socialism or defeat (the Trotskyists). Yes, he says, a democratic revolution is possible in these countries, but the outcomes are uncertain; the socialist left, while recognising its marginal role, should not condemn itself to irrelevance by denouncing the struggles for democracy because they are not socialist. Instead he urges the left to make the ‘democratic wager,’ in hope that the outcomes lead to more collective forms of struggle. There is little to lose for socialists, he believes, since neoliberalism has led worldwide to the fatal weakening of working class self-organisation.

The subsequent chapters examine and demolish the standard left myths about the Syrian revolution: the ‘jihadist’ nature of the ‘rebels’; the selective anti imperialism which admires Rojava but has no time for similar experiments in local democracy elsewhere in Syria; the role of regional imperialisms like Iran and Russia in propping up a monstrous regime; and above all the lies and distortions peddled by the institutional left (Stop the War Coalition, and the éminence grise of left journalism like Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, and Seymour Hersh) who place the national interests of states they consider to be in the ‘axis of resistance’ above solidarity with the struggles of the oppressed in those countries.

In a short review I can refer only to two further articles in the core of the book; but I cannot resist a passing mention of the glorious satirical piece by M Idrees Ahmad, The Anti-Imperialist Guide to Inaction in Syria. Anyone familiar with debate on Syria will recognise the strategies he lists: ‘Don’t defend Assad, attack his opponents; sympathise selectively; functional doubt where straight denial is risky; defend peace and sovereignty; champion the minorities; talk about ISIS, not Assad; talk about refugees but not the cause of flight,’ etc. Most of these strategies are shared with the establishment and the extreme Right.



Mark Boothroyd describes the responses of Stop the War Coalition (STWC) to Syria, in a case study that echoes the critique in the preface. It has consistently viewed developments through its relation to the US and the UK. In a multi polar world system with competing imperialisms, it persists in viewing events through the prism of the Cold War. The agency of Syrians is erased altogether.

In 2013, STWC opposed the proposed intervention of the UK and when this proposal was defeated in Parliament, it claimed victory; but Boothroyd claims that if the West had really wanted to intervene in Syria it would have done so—its actual strategy is to let the country bleed. I think he underestimates the power of popular protest in democratic countries, and the degree to which STWC was able to tap into post Iraq war weariness. But he is right in pointing out that STWC has missed a trick in failing to expose the real cruelties of the Western role.

In its weaker response to the 2015 intervention against ISIS, STWC has consistently refused to allow oppositional Syrians on its platforms—who have opposed the Coalition campaign against ISIS as useless and counter-productive, but have also proposed more positive measures for the protection of Syrian civilians. Once again, its failure to listen to Syrians has weakened its moral stance even in its own terms—in opposing its own Government.

It could have been different, he believes: the anti war movement could have risen beyond its current ethnocentric, isolationist positions to meet the challenge of changing times, and been a movement to build solidarity with the revolutions in the Middle East.



In The Rise of Daesh in Syria, Sam Charles Hamad attacks the myth of Saudi funding and support for Daesh; instead, in a detailed study, he convincingly shows their deadly rivalry despite their similar ideologies. He demonstrates the origins of Daesh in post invasion Iraq, and its nurture by the sectarian regimes in Iraq and Syria. He shows, by tracing its sources of income, how it is self sustaining. Finally he argues that the current tactics of the west, in fighting Daesh from the air but hampering the oppositions in their fight against the sectarian regimes of Assad and Maliki, are counter-productive. And the left’s narrative is complicit in this.

The book, and particularly its opening chapter, is weakened by a failure to examine more closely such terms as ‘democracy’ and ‘emancipation,’ given their ambivalent history among Marxists; and to analyse the demands of the revolution—Freedom Justice and Dignity—in more detail. This is particularly the case since there is little discussion of class, and no accounts of the role of women in the Syrian revolution, nor of the role of Western women’s peace groups or feminists in relation to Syria. My own recent experience of organising solidarity events with Syrian women suggests that the hostility to, and silencing of, Syrian voices is much less prevalent among feminist organisations than in the left as a whole. The ‘democratic wager’ which is urged upon us might be weighted more favourably with the inclusion of women activists, within Syria and in the West.



Videos via Al-Hamra’s Syrian Democratic Revolution blog.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

UK Syrian groups respond to the international commitment on air drops



PDF Version.

Response to the 17 May ISSG Statement

As UK-based Syrian groups and organisations, we welcome the statement by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) on 17 May calling on the World Food Programme (WFP) ‘to immediately carry out a programme for air bridges and air drops for all areas in need’ if by 1 June there has been no progress on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

At the same time, however, the world must forgive us for being only cautiously optimistic. Particularly, we are fearful that this will become yet another broken promise, yet another failed international decision, of which the Syrian have people seen time and time again over the past five years.

To ensure that the 17 May ISSG decision does not become another such broken promise, we urge the following key steps that will ensure the delivery of the ISSG’s intent:

1. Enforcement of the 17 May statement should be intensive and sustained. Other international decisions, such as those banning the use of barrel bombs or instating a ceasefire, witnessed initial implementation which waned as the international community failed to address the Assad regime’s continuous breaches of these respective agreements.

2. Delivery of humanitarian aid must be comprehensive, thus spanning the entire geographic area of Syria.

3. The delivery of humanitarian aid should in no way be conditional, whether explicitly or implicitly, upon the consent of the Assad regime.

4. Humanitarian organisations, including the WFP, must be guaranteed their security by ISSG Member States, including military escorts for airdrops if necessary.

5. If the WFP is not able – or is not permitted by the Assad regime – to provide humanitarian assistance across the entirety of Syria, then the onus is on Member States of the ISSG to unilaterally take necessary measures that alleviate the humanitarian suffering.

6. In parallel, the ISSG should intensify its focus on the effective enforcement of the Cessation of Hostilities and press for progress on the detainees track.

We are also seeking clarification as to the specific means of support that Member States of the ISSG will provide to humanitarian operations in Syria, in line with their pledge to ‘support such a program’ of air drops. The credibility of the ISSG and its Member States is now on the line. There needs to be a significant response if at any point after 1 June the Assad regime denies aid access to Syrians in need.

As UK-based organisations, we welcome the UK’s leadership on the humanitarian track and call on call upon the UK to be at the forefront in delivering humanitarian aid to besieged and other at-need communities in Syria, whether through ground deliveries or through air drops if necessary. We stress that there is a clear legal mandate for doing so.

We hope that the full and long-term implementation of the 17 May ISSG decision will help save lives and deliver life-saving assistance to at-need communities. We also hope that it can represent one step forward towards achieving a political solution in Syria after five years of war.

Signatories:

Rethink Rebuild Society ● Syrian Society in Nottinghamshire ● Scotland4Syria ● Syria Solidarity UK ● Syrian Community of the South West ● Syrian Platform for Peace ● Peace and Justice for Syria ● Syrian Association of Yorkshire ● Help 4Syria ● Kurds House ● Syrian Welsh Society

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Road to Freedom

Syria Solidarity UK spoke to Tania of Road To Freedom about their work with refugees in Idomeni, on Greece’s border with FYRO Macedonia. 

What is Road to Freedom?

Road to Freedom is an organisation that aims to provide refugees fleeing war-torn countries with immediate aid, which includes food, clothing and hygiene kits.Working with official NGO’s and charities on the ground at borders and refugee camps, Road To Freedom personally hand aid to those men, women and children in desperate need.

What have you been doing in Idomeni?

We spent eight days in Idomeni carrying out different tasks. These included helping Al-Khair Foundation prep for lunch and dinner distributions, organising a children’s party at the Idomeni Cultural Centre, and doing a PE lesson at the Idomeni Cultural Centre school. We travelled to a school squat in Athens, and distributed aid there. We distributed aid to individual tents in Idomeni, making sure every tent got what they required.

We sat and listened to many stories so we could share to the world.

What is the situation like in the camp now?

The situation is very tense at the moment, some people are refusing to be relocated to other camps, some people are setting up pop-up shops in order to survive, some are simply too tired to know what to do, many fights broke out between the Kurds and Syrians. Many families are being moved to other camps on a daily basis, this usually happens early in the morning. There is a very heavy police presence in the camp now.

Are there enough basic services for people?

There isn’t enough basic services available for everyone, the disabled people are affected the most because they’re unable to access such services.

What services and support are the volunteers providing?

Volunteers are providing food, clothing, medical services, psychological support, education and creative activities.

What is the attitude of the refugees to the situation, now that there seems no quick solution to their plight?

They’re in despair and anguish, they’re visibly exhausted and emotional. Many are reverting to alcohol to numb the pain.

Are people still determined to make it to Northern Europe?

Yes absolutely, I would say 70% of those in Idomeni are refusing to leave. Many try to cross the Macedonian border late at night; every night I would see small groups of men, women, children, carrying all their belongings, walking towards the back of the forest.

How are the refugees treated by the Greek government and police?

Unfortunately they’re treated like animals, according to the police they’re seen as an inconvenience to the Greek people, although it is the greek people that have stepped up and supported the refugees.

Are local Greeks welcoming of the refugees, or is there animosity?

The local Greeks are very welcoming, we know the owner of a local BP petrol station, he allows them to set up tents there, he built a large sink with fresh water for them, he also protects them when journalists come to interview them.

What is the next project that Road to Freedom is planning?

The next trip is RoadToCalais2, a one day trip to the jungle to provide food and hygiene parcels. Myself and Ellie are heading to Lagkadikia, a UN operated camp near Thessaloniki at the end of June, we know many families and friends who’ve moved there from Idomeni recently and would love to work closely with the UN for a week.

Where are the refugees from?

The majority of the refugees are from Syria, and half of those are Kurdish Syrians and a few are Palestinian Syrians. I have spoken to refugees from Pakistan, Somalia, Algeria, Morocco and Sudan.

How had they travelled to Greece?

They travelled from Syria to Turkey, where they paid thousands of dollars to cross the Aegean Sea in a rubber boat onto the greek islands, the most popular island is  Lesvos. From Lesvos they travelled to Athens via ferry, from Athens to Thessaloniki on a bus. Many walked from Thessaloniki to Idomeni, while others caught a bus to the border.


We’ve seen protests by refugees from Aleppo against the bombing of their home; what other examples have you seen of refugees protesting and self-organising?

Every day I would witness some sort of protesting in Idomeni, whether it was small children shouting ‘open the border,’ or men standing silently by the train tracks with placards, or new graffiti on tents and walls, or seeing small group discussing next steps by the assembly tent. Protesting in Idomeni has become a vital part of their everyday life; they see the importance of making themselves heard.

Find out where Road To Freedom are going next, and how you can help, on their website: roadtofreedom.org.uk

Aleppo Council’s message to London’s new Mayor



Today Aleppo Council issued a message of congratulations to London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan:

Mr Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

Dear Mr Khan,
We extend our warm congratulations to you on your election as Mayor of London. The people of Aleppo value the support of friends in London; friends such as the London Fire Brigade who have sent equipment to help the rescue volunteers of Syria Civil Defence; friends such as the British doctors, health workers, and aid workers, who recently marched in London in solidarity with medical workers in Syria.

London’s Great Fire is over but Aleppo is still burning. The world knows of the brave spirit that carried London through the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, a terror that killed 40,000 civilians across Britain. After five years, we are still living through air attacks in Aleppo. Tragically, many times more civilians have been killed in Syria than were killed in the Blitz. The Syrian Network of Human Rights documented 186,689 individual civilians killed by the Assad regime and its allies up to the end of April. The 27 April bombing of the Al Quds hospital in Aleppo killed as many civilians and medical workers, killing the last paediatrician in the city.

We hope that as Mayor of London you will be a friend to Aleppo, to stand in solidarity with the city Aleppo that is still burning. The people of Aleppo and London have much to offer each other in a common struggle for peace and freedom.
With kind regards,
President of the local Council of Aleppo


Syria Solidarity UK is very pleased to see Aleppo Council reach out to London’s new Mayor. We call on London to help Aleppo where it can: To help Aleppo’s hospitals, bombed by Assad and his allies, to help Aleppo’s schools, forced into basements by barrel bombs. We call on the new Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to show solidarity: twin London with Aleppo!

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Food not bombs!

From today’s statement by the International Syria Support Group:

The ISSG insisted on concrete steps to enable the provision of urgent humanitarian deliveries to the following locations: Arbeen, Darraya, Douma, East Harasta, Mouadhimiyeh, Zabadin and Zamalka. Regular humanitarian deliveries must continue, according to the UN’s monthly plans, to all other besieged and hard to reach locations, including Fouah, Kefraya, Kafr Batna, Ein Terma, Hammura, Jisrein, Madaya, Zabadani, Yarmouk. Starting June 1, if the UN is denied humanitarian access to any of the designated besieged areas, the ISSG calls on the World Food Program to immediately carry out a program for air bridges and air drops for all areas in need. The ISSG pledges to support such a program, and also calls on all parties to the cessation of hostilities to provide a secure environment for that program. Air deliveries should also continue to Dayr al-Zour. The ISSG stressed that such access, as in other areas, must be continuous for as long as humanitarian needs persist. Humanitarian access to these most urgent areas will be a first step toward full, sustained, and unimpeded access throughout the country.

Full statement here.

Syria Solidarity UK welcomes today’s statement by the International Syria Support Group that the World Food Programme should start air drops of food to all besieged areas on 1st June should the UN continue to be denied ground access to besieged areas in Syria.

We are particularly pleased that this proposal came from the UK (according to Mr Philip Hammond) since we and others have been active in promoting the idea in the UK Parliament and elsewhere over the last months.

Since January 2016, almost 64,000 UK residents have signed the petition to Parliament for air drops of aid.

The Government's initial response was that air drops ‘cannot operate effectively.’

In response to an Urgent Question from Jo Cox MP on 11 January, which proposed emergency air drops, the Government stated that while ‘we do not rule anything out’ there was a risk of the aid ‘ending up in the wrong hands,’ and suggesting there was a lack of ‘people on the ground to distribute that aid fairly.’

On 5 April the women of Daraya (a suburb of Damascus a short drive from the UN’s quarters in the Four Seasons Hotel) issued an urgent plea for help to end the starvation sieges.

Women4Syria (a coalition of women’s groups coordinated by women in Syria Solidarity UK) responded with a public statement calling again for air drops, and organised a demonstration on 30th April, where bread was thrown over the gates of 10 Downing Street to urge David Cameron to ‘drop food not bombs’ on Daraya and other besieged areas.

Following that demonstration, and in response to it, Daraya Council contacted the UK directly calling for humanitarian airdrops. Clearly there were ‘people on the ground,’ i.e. democratically elected local councils who could reliably distribute food and medical supplies.

Other groups such as Women in Black (a peace group and member organisation of Women4Syria) took up the call to ‘drop food not bombs’ in their monthly vigils for Syria.

Meanwhile, in an iniative led by UK MPs, European MPs spoke out on 28 April. And Syrian and UK doctors and aid workers of UOSSM, Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, also called for airdrops to all besieged areas.

The catastrophic failure of the UN’s attempted delivery of aid to Daraya on 12 May was the moment when excuses ran out. Not only did the regime turn back the convoy, but it bombed the civilians awaiting the delivery.

Finally today in Vienna, there was a glimmer of hope for the townspeople of Daraya and the many other besieged areas, and it seems the bluff of the Assad regime has been called. But public and parliamentary vigilance and pressure, which has led to this breakthrough, will need to be maintained until all the starvation sieges are broken.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Hope and tragedy of an uprising: An interview with Abdel Basset Sarout

First posted at EA WorldView by Scott Lucas.

Abdel Bassel Sarout is one of the leading figures in the uprising against the Assad regime in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, Homs. A former member of Syria’s under-20 football team, he was prominent in protests, singing and leading chants.

As protesters defended themselves against attacks by the regime’s security forces, Sarout took up arms and organised a brigade of local men. His uncle and all four brothers were killed, and Sarout survived assassination attempts.

He persisted with resistance, notably during the protracted siege of Homs. When almost all of the city fell to the regime, he continued the fight by organising another brigade to fight in central Syria.
Sarout has drawn controversy for his activity, notably when he was accused by the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra of fighting for the Islamic State.

Last month, he gave an hour-long interview to talk about the Homs uprising, his decision to fight, and the battle to clear his name. The translation is by Malcolmite.



The Rising in Homs

Tell us about the beginning of the revolution.

I cannot describe the beginnings of this revolution with just mere words or actions, it was the most beautiful at its inception, and the beginning was much more difficult than what we are witnessing today. I was at the grassroots of the revolution, and I went out to support the people.

Tell me about your first protest where you proceeded to sing?

My first protest was at the clock tower in Homs. I went out with the protestors it was in honour of the martyred and there were Assad regime snipers posted around the area. So I led the chant, “Listen, listen oh sniper, this is my neck and this is my head”

You also used to host other celebrities at your demonstrations such as the starlet Fadwa Suleiman. Could you tell us about this experience?

Firstly, we hosted many shining celebrities from all sects, Homs was gaining the reputation as the capital of the revolution and spirit of the revolution. We represented the most beautiful demonstrations and of the people of this country, among them Fadwa Suleiman and other actors and many from the area of Salmaniyah. We all had the same objective, the fall of this regime and calling for freedom.

We were all united in speaking up against this tyrannical regime and all its oppression.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Daraya Council call on the UK to deliver humanitarian air drops


Following #Women4Syria’s statement in support of the women of Daraya, Saturday’s demonstration at Downing Street calling for air drops, and today’s protest at the MBDA missile factory calling for bread not bombs, the Local Council of Daraya City issued the following statement:

We call on the UK government to play a vital humanitarian role in Syria. Let history remember that the UK contributed in breaking the siege and delivering humanitarian aid into the besieged areas via all possible means. This includes humanitarian airdrops instead of paying millions of pounds in order to bomb Syrian regions.

Local Council of Daraya City

Daraya Council on Facebook

Daraya Council on Twitter

READ MORE:

Daraya Women: We are on the verge of witnessing deaths from starvation

Syria’s Darayya needs air drops to save its people from starvation, Glenys Kinnock, The Guardian, 13 April 2016.

Time for Europeans to drop aid to Syrians, (UK) Jo Cox MP, Stephen Doughty MP, Lindsay Northover, Stephen Twigg MP, Nicholas Soames MP, Jason McCartney MP, Charles Tannock MEP, Greg Mulholland MP, Tom Brake MP, Dr Lisa Cameron MP, Alyn Smith MEP (Germany) Roderich Kiesewetter MP, Franziska Brantner MP, Marieluise Beck MP (Netherlands) Marietje Schaake MEP, Sjoerd Sjoerdsma MP (France) Christophe Premat MP, Karima Delli MEP, José Bové MEP, Michèle Rivasi MEP, Eva Joly MEP, Pascal Durand MEP, Jean-Michel Couve MP, Guardian Letters, 28 April 2016.

Syrian and UK doctors and aid workers call for airdrops to all besieged areas

Petition: Start aid drops to the starving people of Syria (Over 63,000 UK signatures)

Bread not Bombs: Today’s #BrimstoneBlockers protest



Sisters Against The Arms Trade are protesting today at the MBDA missile factory in the UK, closing its operations. MBDA are manufacturers of the Brimstone missile, a weapon which played a key role in David Cameron’s arguments in favour of precision British airstrikes.

Since the vote in favour of airstrikes, the UK has bombed oil wells and tankers, but left alone the Assad regime, the No.1 customer for ISIS oil.

Now Assad and his allies are escalating their bombardment of Syrian civilians while the UK stands by offering nothing but words in response. The Assad regime and its allies are maintaining starvation sieges against Syrian civilians while the UK refuses to drop aid. The Assad regime’s violence is driving more and more Syrians to flee, while the UK refuses to give sanctuary to unaccompanied child refugees.

An excerpt from the Sisters Against The Arms Trade press release:

At least a million people are living under siege in Syria. Aleppo has been subject to intense bombardment by Assad’s forces, with hundreds killed in the last week alone. Women in the besieged town of Daraya are facing starvation and have issued an urgent call for help:

“There is no food at all in Daraya. There are cases of malnutrition and we have resorted to cooking soups made purely of spices in order to stave off hunger. We call on the United Nations and all humanitarian and relief organisations to enter the town immediately and deliver humanitarian aid.”

Over 470,000 people have been killed since the war began, and an estimated 4 million are living as refugees. In November 2015, Parliament made the decision to bomb Syria despite widespread condemnation by the British public, and just over a week ago voted against a proposal that would have seen the UK accept 3,000 Syrian children from refugee camps in Europe.

A Sisters Against the Arms Trade spokesperson added: “Syrian women are bearing the brunt of war, siege, starvation and exile in refugee camps across Europe, besieged towns and cities, and suffering from or resisting ISIS and other forces which have co-opted Syrian resistance to dictatorship for their own interests. We call for safe passage and support for all refugees and for an end to the war profiteering arms trade.”

A spokesperson for Syria Solidarity UK said, “With the UN failing to deliver, others have a duty to protect civilians. The UK, the US, the Netherlands: all of them have a proven ability to carry out air drops, but all they drop in Syria are bombs. The UK already has the necessary capacity nearby in Cyprus. The UK should stop making excuses and start saving lives.”

Read the Sisters Against The Arms Trade press release in full here.

Photo via Ewa Jasiewicz.



Activists read a letter from women of the besieged town of Daraya. Read the words of the Daraya women here.

#Women4Syria statement in solidarity with the women of Daraya.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Aleppo is burning: To stand by is to be complicit in the crime



On 30th April, Syrians and their friends protested in London against UK inaction; demonstrated in solidarity with the women of besieged Daraya; and marched in support of the people of Aleppo.

This weekend has seen protests worldwide against the renewed bombing of Aleppo. We call on all in the UK to join us as we continue to campaign for action to protect civilians and end the violence. We will be supporting British and Syrian doctors and medical workers marching in London this coming Saturday.



March With Medics Under Fire.

Saturday 7th May at 2pm, Trafalgar Square, London.

Facebook event page.