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Friday, 16 June 2017

Jo Cox’s compassion on Syria had no borders—nor should ours

By Dr Yasmine Nahlawi, Dr Mohammad Isreb and Kellie Strom

First published by the i paper

Today marks the first anniversary of the murder of Jo Cox, who was a great friend, a beautiful soul, and a true humanitarian.

While the entire country grieves for Jo, for Syrians in the UK her death represents a double blow.

In Jo we lost a voice for tolerance and inclusion, a voice to counter racism and xenophobia.

Syrian refugees particularly appreciated her strong compassion, which lives on in the Jo Cox Foundation’s support for Hope Not Hate, and in the Great Get Together events marking this anniversary.

But for Jo, supporting refugees was not enough. She also wanted to help those Syrians still inside Syria, the ones unable to escape.

• Supporting Syrians

She supported Syria Civil Defence, the rescuers known as the White Helmets. In parliament, Jo made one central demand: protect civilians. She didn’t just sympathise with Syrians, she fought for their rights with relentless passion.

Many on both the left and the right are content with the UK’s role in accepting refugees, delivering humanitarian aid, and fighting only ISIS.

But Jo understood that the refugee crisis, the humanitarian crisis, and the terrorism threat all stemmed from a single atrocity: Bashar al-Assad’s war against those Syrian civilians who opposed his rule.

Jo rejected the suggestion that we ‘need to make a choice between dealing with either Assad or ISIS.’ She recognised that ‘Assad is ISIS’s biggest recruiting sergeant, and as long as his tyranny continues, so too will ISIS’s terror.’

She advocated a comprehensive approach to Syria involving humanitarian, diplomatic, and military measures.

• More than words

Those three aspects of UK policy—diplomatic, military, humanitarian—remain out of sync. British diplomats demand an end to the killing, but have nothing to give force to their words.

Britain’s military focuses only on ISIS, constrained from acting to stop Assad’s bombing, or even from acting when Assad uses chemical weapons.

Britain’s aid workers deliver record amounts of aid, but don’t have the backing from government to do aid airdrops to besieged communities.

An ever-worsening situation for civilians in Syria and refugees outside Syria is matched by a strengthening of pro-Assad forces dominated by militias, by Iran’s foreign fighters, and by Hezbollah, who are a growing terrorist threat.

ISIS is pushed back, but there is no end to terror in sight.

Jo’s analysis has proven true: fail to protect civilians and we fail by every other measure.

• Where are we now?

Jo would have been utterly disappointed to see that her calls for a no-bombing zone and aid drops, including in her last speech as an MP, were ignored.

The UK has stood by as residents of cities such as Daraya and East Aleppo were forced from their homes by starvation sieges and air attacks.

She would have been horrified by the chemical attack on the city of Khan Sheihoun in April, and by the continued daily bombardment of hospitals and residential areas by Assad and Putin, most recently in Daraa.

What would she have thought of the US strike in response to the chemical attack?

She did call for the UK to use the threat of just such a targeted response as a deterrent, not just against chemical attacks but against all bombing of civilians.

Her aim would have been to stop the killing, not to stop just one type of weapon.

• Jo’s legacy on Syria

Jo would clearly have found it unacceptable that the International Coalition against ISIS is now itself killing hundreds of civilians in Syria, outpacing even Assad and Russia’s toll in the month of May. The Coalition even reportedly used white phosphorous on the city of Raqqah.

The RAF is not implicated in these escalating killings. But as UK Syrians recently wrote to the Prime Minister, the UK is ‘a major partner in the Coalition, with a British officer as deputy commander, and therefore carries joint responsibility for such actions.’

In the aftermath of her murder, Jo’s brave and passionate work for Syria was praised by UK political leaders from both major parties. The reality, however, is that her legacy on Syria has not been honoured in Westminster.

• Compassion without borders

In reflecting on today’s anniversary, let us renew our commitment to the ideals to which Jo pledged her life.

Let us embrace our diversity as a country and advocate for tolerance. And let us make a fresh start for Syria with civilian protection at the core of our policy.

Let us ensure accountability for our own actions and those of our allies. Let us listen to Syrians, and work for a solution that respects Syrians’ rights and enables them to enjoy a peaceful future in a free Syria.

Jo’s ideals and her compassion were not limited by borders. Let them not limit ours.


Dr Yasmine Nahlawi is Research and Policy Coordinator for Rethink Rebuild Society, a Manchester-based Syrian advocacy and community organisation.

Dr Mohammad Isreb is a member of the Syrian Association of Yorkshire.

Kellie Strom is Secretariat to the Friends of Syria All-Party Parliamentary Group and a member of Syria Solidarity UK.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

How to plug the manifesto gaps on Syria




By Clara Connolly

What do the election manifestos say on Syria, a crucial issue for any future government? There are some surprises: I’ll highlight policies for each party below, before trying to identify the gaps and outline some proposals from UK Syrian groups (but more widely supported) which could help to end the conflict.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

One year on: The UK’s broken promise on Syria aid airdrops


Photo: Syrian demonstrators at the Foreign Office, London, one year ago.

This time last year, the UK and other ISSG states undertook that they would begin aid airdrops to besieged communities in Syria if the Assad regime continued to block ground access past the 1st of June 2016. We are now one year on from that failed deadline.

The World Food Programme, which has by now flown 250 aid airdrops to regime-held Deir Ezzor, refused to fly aid to areas besieged by Assad unless the regime itself first gave permission.

The UK Government backed away from its commitment, the sieges continued, and the Assad regime and its allies forced the displacement of entire civilian communities, each of thousands and even tens of thousands of people.

THE COST OF FAILURE

In the past year, civilian communities have been forced from their homes in Daraya, Moadamiyeh, Wadi Barada, Al Waer, Madaya, Zabadani, and more, as well as from eastern Aleppo city.

This mass displacement makes the prospect of resolving the refugee crisis ever more distant. Forced displacement creates conditions for future conflict and empowers extremism.

The Global Report on Internal Displacement for 2016 calculates that a further 1.3 million people were displaced in Syria last year, bringing the total to 6.6 million people internally displaced in Syria.

Detailed costed proposals were put forward last year to use unmanned drones for airdrops. These proposals were drawn up by UK experts who had military experience, knowledge of the situation on the ground, and understood both the risks of action and the costs of inaction.

Despite this, Theresa May rejected calls for airdrops.

Over 146,000 people in the UK signed a petition calling for Parliament to debate airdrops. But Theresa May wouldn’t debate the issue.

WE NEED A FRESH START FOR SYRIA

This week the new French President Emmanuel Macron declared that for him humanitarian aid access is a red line.

We hope that President Macron’s remarks may now give an opportunity to reopen the call for airdrops here in the UK, with the possibility of France as a partner. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians are still under siege and threatened with forced displacement. The Assad regime continues to block medical aid as well as food. There is still a chance to help, and still further risks in continuing failure to help.

• Please do your part to hold the Government to its promise.
• Speak up on the 1st anniversary of the broken aid deadline.
• Call for the UK along with France to commit to aid airdrops.

Syria groups in the UK have drawn up a list of eight pledges on Syria, including on airdrops.
Please use our simple online form to email your local candidates. Ask candidates to support these pledges.

For much more detail on sieges, see the series of reports produced by Siege Watch, a project by The Syria Institute and PAX, the Dutch aid NGO.