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Wednesday, 13 November 2019

The quiet soldier



By Clara Connolly

Syria Solidarity UK is devastated to hear of the death this week, at his home in Istanbul, of James Le Mesurier.

Whatever the circumstances, which are not yet clear, it cannot be seen as a coincidence in the week of his death that he has been attacked by the Russian Foreign Ministry, libelled as a supporter of jihadists; and that the Russian bombing of hospitals in Idlib has resumed.

For James le Mesurier, and his organisation Mayday Rescue, have been centrally involved in the training of the Syrian Civil Defence—more commonly known as the White Helmets—a volunteer group of first responders in Syria’s opposition areas, who also serve as vital sources of information about Russian and other atrocities in the Syrian conflict.

James Le Mesurier was a British soldier whose experience in Bosnia first led him to consider humanitarian work. He left the army and worked in the UN and then in private security companies for a time, but was dissatisfied with the effectiveness of either for the protection of civilians in conflict.

So in 2013, seeing Syrian civilians struggling to respond to relentless air attacks by the Assad regime, he launched the first training course for twenty-five Syrian volunteer first defenders, with the help of Turkish disaster response teams.

Since then, he was until his death intensively involved in training successive White Helmet teams. Their autonomy as Syrians remained essential to him: he has remained a trainer and provider of equipment rather than an organiser. He and they believed that their freedom from interference by outside political actors has remained essential to their integrity.

Le Mesurier is one of a number of remarkable British men and women whose individual initiatives have placed the protection of civilians at the heart of their work for Syria. I’ll mention two others: the surgeon David Nott who has trained Syrian doctors in the war zone; and Jo Cox, the MP who spoke often and eloquently in Parliament for the protection of Syrians.

The outstanding work of such individuals has been in stark contrast with British and other governments who have never placed first priority on the protection of civilians. They have remained unmoved by the pleas of the White Helmets and others (most recently Kurdish civilians) for a No-Fly Zone, and have been (to put it mildly) careless about civilian casualties in the Coalition war against ISIS.

At this sad time for his family and for his colleagues, we salute the quiet heroism and dedication of James le Mesurier, and we condemn the inaction of Britain and the world in the face of the continued suffering of Syrian civilians.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

WANTED for targeting hospitals



Putin and Assad’s forces are bombing hospitals—again.

In a single day this week, Wednesday 6 November 2019, two hospitals were targeted in Idlib province, Syria.

Al Ikhlas Maternity Hospital near Shnan village in southern Idlib province was bombed by Russian planes, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Two medics were injured. The building and equipment were severely damaged. Here’s a video.

The Kafranbel Surgical Hospital was bombed again. This hospital—run by a UK charity—has already been bombed several times this year.

It was bombed on 5 May by a Russian pilot who released four bombs on the hospital at five minute intervals. His radio communications were intercepted and analysed for a New York Times investigation.

It was bombed again on 4 July. First by military helicopters shortly before 3pm local time. Then again about fifty minutes later by air launched missiles.

Kafranbel Surgical Hospital was on the UN’s deconfliction list. This means that the hospital team, trying to protect the hospital, had given the coordinates of the hospital to the UN for them to share with military powers intervening in Syria, including Russia.

Of course medics in Syria already knew Putin’s forces were targeting hospitals, just as Putin’s ally Assad has targeted medics since the early demonstrations of 2011 were met with deadly force, and doctors and nurses went to try and help Assad’s victims.

The hope was that by establishing the fact via the UN that these were hospitals and therefore protected in law, that Putin and Assad might be dissuaded from attacking. That hasn’t worked.

But having shared coordinates with Russia means that there is now no doubt about the criminality of the two leaders, Putin and Assad, and no doubt about the criminality of the military officers with command responsibility for these attacks.

Assad’s top officers, Assad’s ministers, are all sanctioned by the UK, sanctioned by the EU. But no Russian individuals are sanctioned for crimes in Syria. It’s time for that to change.

In the current election, voters are hearing scary things about Russian government influence in UK politics. So will British politicians be willing take a stand on Russian crimes in Syria?

The following Russian officers and leaders should be sanctioned. Criminal cases should be prepared should the opportunity arise to prosecute them.



Lieutenant-General Alexander Chayko, Head of Russian group of forces in Syria.



Colonel-General Andrey Serdyukov, Head of Russian group of forces in Syria up to September 2019.



Lieutenant-General Andrey Yudin, Chief of the Air Force.



Colonel-General Sergei Surovikin, Commander in Chief of the Russian VKS.



Sergey Shoigu, Russia’s Defence Minister.



Vladimir Putin, President of Russia.

Read more about Russia’s chain of command targeting hospitals.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

UK and US keep secret the information that could save lives in Syria

After the Putin-Erdogan deal over northeastern Syria, there are growing fears of an undisclosed side-deal between the Turkish and Russian leaders trading part of Idlib to the Assad regime in exchange for Russian cooperation with Turkey along the northern border.

Reinforcing these fears, at the same time as Putin and Erdogan met in Sochi, Assad appeared for cameras with regime forces in southern Idlib, supervising artillery fire against the opposition held area. Russian air attacks have also escalated in recent days.

If the worst comes to pass and we see a full renewal of Putin and Assad’s campaign of eradication against people in Idlib, their aircraft will be watched in silence at every step by American and British military officers.

Back in 2015, Syria Civil Defence called on the US to share radar data to help give early warning to civilians of Assad’s air attacks. The US refused.

Since the UK joined the air war in Syria, we have been calling on them to publish tracking information to help identify parties responsible for the targeting of hospitals, aid workers, and markets, and to hold them accountable. The UK refuses.

In response to these calls, the UK Government has tried to obscure its capacity to track Syrian and Russian aircraft. The truth is that the UK has for years been part of the Coalition operation to track these aircraft for deconfliction.



This is a US Air Force photo of the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. See the original here.

Note the display at (A) showing aircraft flights over Syria. Journalist Michael R Gordon described his visit to Al Udeid Air Base in an article for The New York Times, 23 May 2017:
“The challenge in operating in Syria’s crowded airspace is clear from a glance at a large video screen inside the center that tracks aircraft across the region. Russian and Syrian planes are marked with yellow and orange icons; American and allied planes are delineated in green while civilian aircraft are blue.”

Note the British presence at (B) — including a picture of the Queen. Air Vice-Marshal Stringer, in oral evidence to the Commons Defence Select Committee on 15 May 2018, talking of the importance of the UK contribution to the Coalition effort, singled out the RAF contribution of “E-3 aircraft to support our awareness of what was going on in the air environment, and to aid deconfliction, as well as the flow of sorties.”

A fuller picture of how the system works was given in the most recent issue of Syria Notes:
According to Justin Bronk, Research Fellow, Airpower and Technology at the Royal United Services Institute, NATO AWACS aircraft and other Coalition aircraft “will track and share the locations of Russian and Syrian aircraft from the time that they take off to the time they land.”

NATO’s AWACS inventory includes Royal Air Force E-3Ds, US Air Force E-3Gs, French Air Force E-3Fs and the NATO pooled E-3A fleet. These are the cornerstone of the Coalition’s airspace surveillance and management over Syria, including deconfliction with Russian and Syrian aircraft, Justin Bronk explained to Syria Notes.

Coalition aircraft typically broad­cast a radio transponder signal which can be picked up by any radar controller, including by those in Damascus, and by the E-3 AWACS. Also, Coalition aircraft will be on Link 16, an airborne datalink network which allows all aircraft on the link—from fighters, tankers, surveillance aircraft to AWACS themselves—to share sensor data to build collective situational awareness. This means that all Coalition aircraft are typically well aware of allied aircraft and what those can see, with the AWACS fleets providing overall coordination as well as contributing a lot of situational awareness from their on-board wide-area surveillance radar.

For deconfliction and tracking of Russian and Syrian aircraft, which typically do not broadcast a transponder signal, more traditional tracking and radio communications are used. AWACS and fighter assets where available will track and share the locations of Russian and Syrian aircraft from the time they take off to the time they land. If there is a need to deconflict for flight safety, the AWACS crew will typically contact these aircraft via the internationally recognised ‘guard’ frequency—243.0 MHz for military operations—to advise or warn them.

To positively identify these non-transponder broadcasting aircraft, many Coalition assets such as AWACS aircraft and the US Air Force’s F-15 and F-22 fighters can use techniques such as Non-Cooperative Threat Recognition (NTCR) which involves using onboard radar to focus on and classify unknown aircraft by identifying distinctive features like engine fan blade size and engine spacing.

So when Putin and Assad return to bombing schools, hospitals, bakeries and markets, know that the UK and US militaries watch every move, but do nothing to warn the victims, nothing to publish evidence of who is responsible, and nothing to stop the slaughter continuing.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Stop forced deportations from Turkey to Syria



Cross-posted from The Syria Campaign.

Arabic version.

Turkish version.

Dear Commissioner Hahn, High Representative Mogherini and High Commissioner Filippo Grandi,

We, the undersigned Syrian and international human rights organizations, are writing to ask you to urge the Turkish authorities not to deport Syrian refugees from Istanbul and other cities to Syria, where they face a real risk of detention, torture, and death.

On 20 August the Istanbul governor's office announced that Syrian refugees in Istanbul who are registered under the country's temporary protection policy in other provinces must return there by 30 October. Turkey's Interior Ministry has also said that unregistered Syrians found in Istanbul will be sent to other as yet unspecified provinces in Turkey. Since late 2017, Istanbul and nine other provinces have stopped registering newly arriving Syrian asylum seekers, forcing many to live in Turkey without a temporary protection permit.

In addition, in recent months, xenophobic sentiment towards Syrian refugees in Turkey has escalated , fueled in part by hostile rhetoric from politicians across the political spectrum who have promised voters to send refugees home.

Since mid-July, activists and human rights organizations have documented many cases in which the authorities have arrested and detained registered Syrian refugees outside their registered province. The arrests have included those traveling from other parts of Turkey to their registered provinces, as well as unregistered Syrians. The authorities have coerced Syrians into signing “voluntary return” documents before deporting them to Syria.

In July and August, 6,160 and 8,901 Syrians — both registered and unregistered — were deported to Syria from Turkey through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, according to the Syrian immigration authorities' website. This is a significant increase compared to previous months and coincides with the July policy change. These figures may also include Syrians intercepted and deported shortly after they crossed into Turkey, a practice that has been going on for a number of years.

Reports from media and activists in touch with our organizations confirm that the Turkish police have beaten detainees, denied them medical care and, in some cases, sent them to Idlib and northern Aleppo, where more than 1,180 civilians have been killed since February 2019, according to the local monitoring organization, the Response Coordination Group.

By deporting refugees and asylum seekers to a war zone or to areas where there is a real risk of persecution, Turkish authorities are in violation of their obligations under international law, and specifically the prohibition on refoulement. The Syrians being sent back not only face being caught up in the offensive in Idlib governorate but are at risk of arrest and torture at the hands of the Syrian government or armed groups.

Syrians we have spoken to describe how afraid they are now in Turkey. They stay at home to avoid arrest, including once they have returned to the cities where they were registered.

In August, the EU announced a further € 127 million to boost its Emergency Social Safety Net program for refugees in Turkey. In total, the EU has pledged € 6 billion in refugee funding to Turkey, while the UNHCR continues to support Syrian refugees in the country.

However, neither the European Commission, EU member states, nor UNHCR have spoken publicly about these deportations, despite the clear risk that large numbers of Syrians in Turkey's cities now face. They should press the Turkish authorities to stop all forced return of Syrians, including an end to coercing Syrians into signing voluntary repatriation forms, and to give those already deported to Syria the option to return to Turkey.

Member states, the European Commission and UNHCR should also commit to increasing their presence in Turkey's removal centers to ensure that Syrians are not coerced into signing voluntary repatriation forms.

If needed, they should support Turkish authorities to register unregistered Syrians and ensure ongoing financial support to Turkey to better protect Syrian refugees.

We also urge EU member states to resettle significant numbers of Syrian refugees from Turkey.

Sincerely,

11.11.11
Adopt a Revolution
Cairo Institute for Human Rights
Dawlaty
Human Rights Watch
Irish Syria Solidarity Movement
PAX
PÊL- Civil Waves Bell - 
URNAMMU
Syrian British Council
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression
Syrians for Truth and Justice And Justice
Syrian Network for Human Rights
Syria Solidarity UK
The Syria Campaign
Women Now for Development

Thursday, 3 October 2019

The Syrian Apple: Art by Amany Al-Ali in Lancaster, October 18-29



Rethink Rebuild Society and the Children’s War Museum are presenting an exhibition of art work from Idlib at The Storey gallery in Lancaster from October 18th to October 29th.

The Syrian Apple features art by Amany Al-Ali from Idlib, Syria. Her work reflects the feelings and experiences many Syrians of the journey and the fate of what was once their green revolution.

‘I made sure that I depicted the green apple as complete, healthy and beautiful in all the drawings in order to emphasise that the Syrian Revolution is still strong, alive and beautiful,’ explained Amany. ‘For me, the Syrian Revolution is an idea, and ideas do not die. Ideas cannot be killed or extinguished. An idea may test the patience of those who carry it; it might transform them or make them into heroes as they die for it.’

The exhibition also includes photography by Young Lens, Humans of Syria, and photojournalist Antonio Olmos. Young Lens are a group of young activists who have been recording their experience of the Syrian revolution since 2011. Humans of Syria are creating profiles of some of the thousands of children who have been displaced within Syria. Antonio Olmos documented the Syrian refugee journey across Europe in 2015.

The launch event is at 6.30 pm on Friday October 18th at the lecture theatre, and will include a film of interviews with some of the Syrian refugees who have come to the UK.

Pictured: Illustration by Amany Al-Ali from the latest issue of Syria Notes.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

LCID and SyriaUK call on Diane Abbott to distance herself from pro-Assad atrocity denier

A letter from Labour Campaign for International Development and Syria Solidarity UK to Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, on news that she is to join in the launch of a publication co-authored by David Miller.


Diane Abbott MP
Shadow Home Secretary
House of Commons
London
SW1A 0AA

5th September 2019

Dear Diane,

We are deeply concerned to learn that you are to take part in the launch of a CAGE publication co-authored by David Miller, a notorious pro-Assad atrocity denier. You previously appeared with him at a ‘Spinwatch’ panel event back on the 26th of March.

David Miller, a professor of political sociology at the University of Bristol, is part of a group that systematically denies high profile Assad regime crimes against civilians in Syria, particularly the Assad regime’s repeated use of chemical weapons. David Miller has also sought to deny Russia’s responsibility for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

Labour’s 2017 manifesto, when referring to Syria, committed to work for justice for the victims of war crimes.

As Home Secretary in a future Labour government, you would have responsibility for policy towards Syrian refugees in the UK who are victims of—and witnesses to—the Assad regime’s crimes. Diane Abbott would also have responsibility for the UK’s own investigations into war crimes, currently dealt with by SO15, the Counter Terrorism Command of the Metropolitan Police.

If you associates herself with a committed war crimes denier such as David Miller, this must undermine confidence in the willingness of Labour to work for the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for crimes in Syria, including some of the worst war crimes and crimes against humanity seen this century.

We hope you will reconsider appearing on this panel and be more careful about who you associate yourself with in future given your responsibilities as an MP and as Shadow Home Secretary.

Yours sincerely,

Batool Abdulkareen,
Syria Solidarity UK

Bronwen Griffiths,
Syria Solidarity UK

David Taylor,
Vice-Chair LCID

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Photographers in Idlib



Merna Alhasan talks about a photography exhibition in Idlib.

The exhibition was organised by the Shafak Organisation and sponsored by the Al Karameh Community Centre.

Friday, 9 August 2019

The aftermath of bombing: video by Merna Alhasan



Merna Alhasan, in the town of Arihah, in the Syrian province of Idlib, speaks about the pain of the aftermath of bombing:

“Of course we all experience it, but in the immediate aftermath we don’t feel the full catastrophe that has befallen us. In the immediate aftermath of an airstrike, people are busy praying for those killed, pulling the injured from the ruins, and clearing up the town. But there is greater anguish that affects us after bombardment.

“Here, five people were killed, and many injured, including women and children. It’s not only people’s homes that are deliberately targeted, but also vital institutions and infrastructure. It is an attempt to completely cut the lifelines of towns. It is a policy of systematic destruction to force civilians to flee, targeting rural parts of south and west Idlib, Arihah and other towns. These areas have been under a vicious military campaign by Russian aggressors as well as Assad forces.

“Arihah today is almost empty, no longer the bride of the north, no longer the city of cherry trees. The ground is tinted with blood of the children and women killed.

“We witnessed devastating events. Rawan and her sister, the people who perished here, burned to death, because there was a fuel store here. “Here in the same place we had a local authority department, and a teachers’ union. People have left here now.

“Some will return to this town, to the cities they fled from, but they will find no home, no life. So where can these people go?

“Some people can’t afford to flee. This reflects the general situation of people living in liberated areas.

“But still, some people will return, return to find homes destroyed, their city decimated. So families are forced to leave, or forced to live in a small room, bare, with nothing but a roof, because they want to stay in their home town.

“That is why I wanted to talk about these less obvious effects, far reaching effects of bombing which amount to a humanitarian catastrophe. All that we worked for, that we spent our lives building, is under threat of destruction, of being ground down to the floor by Russian aggressors and Assad forces.

“But I want to send a message: Here in Idlib, there are millions of people, and they have not given up. This is our hope, God willing, that we will win our freedom, despite all the bloodshed, despite all we have sacrificed, and that victory will be with us.”

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Les répercussions des bombardements d’Ariha



Merna Alhasan, jeune journaliste syrienne d’Idlib, décrit la douleur ressentie par des civils des répercussions des bombardements depuis la ville d’Ariha, Idlib.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Sanction Putin’s officers. Ground Assad. It CAN be done.


Image from Channel 4 News report on Syrians fleeing the front lines.

Since late April, Russian and Assad regime forces have been relentlessly bombing civilians in northwestern Syria, in Idlib and northern Hama provinces.

From the start, the Russian and Assad regime escalation singled out hospitals as targets for bombing, along with Syria Civil Defence rescue centres, schools, water facilities, bakeries, markets, and agricultural crops.

The UK Government has adopted a line in recent years of saying that it has little leverage. But the UK does have the power to act.

  • Call for the UK to draw a red line on hospital attacks and other attacks on civilian targets.
  • Call for the UK to respond to hospital bombings as it does to chemical attacks.
  • Call for the UK to sanction Putin’s officers with command responsibility for crimes in Syria.
  • Call for the UK to ground Assad’s air force—responsible for both chemical attacks and hospital bombings.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights reports 606 civilians killed by Russian and Assad regime forces from 26 April to 12 July 2019, including 157 children.

From the start, the Russian and Assad regime escalation singled out hospitals and Syria Civil Defence rescue centres as targets.

The Syrian Archive has posted open source investigations into two hospital bombings in particular, the 5 May 2019 bombing of Nabed Al Hayat Hospital in Hass Town in Idlib, and the bombing of Kafranbel surgical hospital the same day.

These reports are a small sample from a campaign which has seen at least 32 medical facilities bombed from 28 April to 10 July 2019, according to UOSSM, the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations.

In recent days, Channel 4 News has broadcast evidence of an apparently deliberately targeted attack on White Helmets rescuers as they were trying to save lives.

Channel 4 has also broadcast reporting on the Assad regime’s targeting of farmers and deliberate destruction of crops.

Why do Assad and Putin target hospitals, rescue workers, and even farmers? The answer is that these attacks are part of the same strategy as the chemical attacks and starvation sieges seen earlier in Assad’s war on Syria’s civilians. The aim is to make life unliveable in areas outside regime control, to force the population to either submit or flee.

And hundreds of thousands have fled, sheltering as close to the Turkish border as they can. An unknown number succeed in crossing the border, despite Turkey’s wall and armed patrols. UN OCHA reports 330,000 people internally displaced in these last two and a half months.

Once again, a report from Channel 4 News gives a clear picture of the situation amongst Syrians who have fled to the border.

Despite all the evidence, there are no EU or UK sanctions for Russian crimes in Syria. But the UK has the means to gather evidence of Russian attacks, and to identify officers in the chain of command. And the UK has the means to impose its own sanctions even if other EU states won’t agree.

UK action on chemical weapons shows that the UK can deter crimes by the Assad regime, Now the UK also needs to set a red line on hospital attacks and other attacks on civilian targets.

We saw the cost of failing to act in 2012 and 2013. UK leaders now again have a choice: allow this suffering to go on, once again escalating the refugee crisis, or act at last to protect civilians.

Sanction Putin’s officers.

Ground Assad.

It CAN be done.


Thursday, 11 July 2019

Thank you!



We would like to thank everyone who came to our Freedom Across Borders conference on Saturday 6 July, and who helped make it such a success—all who came to talk, to listen, to discuss and share.

We are turning now to editing videos and preparing transcripts, and then to working on a book of the conference, and looking at how else to take these strands of work further.

And we look forward to updating you as we publish the results on the Freedom Across Borders website in the coming weeks and months.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Rukban camp: A case study in reviewing the UK’s protection of civilians strategy



Dr Kate Ferguson

Excerpted from Preventing While Protecting: The UK’s Protection of Civilians Strategy in review, a report by Protection Approaches.

Rukban camp, Southern Syria

Rukban is a camp of tens of thousands of displaced Syrians who have fled violence elsewhere in the country but have been prevented from crossing over the nearby border into Jordan. The camp lies next to the Tanf US military base and falls within a 55 kilometre radius ‘de-confliction zone’ controlled by the Global Coalition against Daesh. The UK helps to defend the Tanf zone. While the UK may not consider itself singularly responsible for Rukban, those inside the de-confliction zone nonetheless fall within the care of the UK’s broader protection of civilian commitments.

The deteriorating humanitarian situation inside Rukban has led to growing concerns about the safety and well-being of Syrians within the camp, as well as those who have now left for temporary regime-run shelters in Homs via ‘humanitarian corridors’ set up by Russian forces in February 2019. Assad’s forces and allies are deliberately blocking food and medical aid from reaching Rukban, effectively forcing thousands of vulnerable people—including women and children—to leave the camp. There are reports that some of these civilians face conscription, arrest, torture, or death once entering regime-controlled territory.

Rukban is a civilian protection crisis for the international community. The level of humanitarian suffering experienced by those remaining within the camp, and the fate of many of the thousands that have left, illustrate the limits of current protection frameworks. Even when vulnerable populations reach the apparent safety of the Coalition zone of military control, there is a singular lack of clarity about the extent to which these forces and their partners are able or willing to uphold their responsibilities to protect civilians from identity-based violence, torture, and direct or indirect forced displacement.

The UK’s commitments to the people in Rukban, and the Syrian people more broadly, cut across its stated responsibilities to help protect populations from mass atrocities and to protect civilians in armed conflict. Given the widespread, systematic, and deliberate nature of the targeting of civilians throughout the crisis, any POC activities which the UK engage in require the additional analytical framework of atrocity prevention.

If the UK were to integrate the concept of ‘preventing while protecting’ into its analytical and decision-making framework in Rukban, it would at the very least assist UK POC actors in ‘doing no harm’ and inadvertently leaving Rukban populations vulnerable to future atrocities.

Immediate prevention could include: Prioritising the direct delivery of aid by UK and international Coalition forces and/or Jordan to alleviate the desperate conditions that force many back to territory where atrocities are ongoing.

Mitigation prevention could include: Investing in medium-term safeguarding of Rukban camp against further possible incursions by Syrian and Russian forces, and working with Jordan to facilitate asylum and resettlement in order to prevent de facto refoulement.

Long term prevention could include: Supporting community and capacity-building within the camps and Jordanian communities at the border including peace education, trauma support, and other safeguarding.

Download the full report from Protection Approaches.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Come to the Freedom Across Borders conference, 6 July in London



Freedom Across Borders is a conference on 6 July in London being organised by Syria Solidarity UK with Amnesty International UK, the Syrian Legal Development Programme, Dawlaty, Migrants Organise and others.

We’re going to be talking about refugee experiences in the UK, in Europe, and in the countries neighbouring Syria.

We’ll be talking about surviving trauma, and seeking justice.

We’ll be looking to connect Syrians’ experiences with others in the UK who have been forced to cross borders in their search for freedom.

Rouba Mhaissen of Sawa for Development and Aid will tell of their work with refugees in Lebanon. Reem Assil of Common Purpose will talk about their diaspora leaders programmes, including with Syrians, and Zrinka Bralo will talk about bringing her experiences as a Bosnian refugee to her work with Migrants Organise.

In our Survivor Strategies workshops, we’ll be talking to people from Freedom From Torture and Art Refuge UK about surviving trauma, and we’ll have a discussion on security challenges for activists.

We will be talking about preserving Syrian memory, about Dawlaty’s work archiving Syrian oral history and about Qisetna’s work with Syrians on telling personal stories, and about Positive Negatives’ work with survivors of several conflicts, presenting personal testimony in the form of comics.

Syrian refugees who reach the UK are survivors of perhaps the biggest crime scene this century, so we are working together with the Syrian Legal Development Programme on legal accountability issues. Women Now for Development will talk about justice and accountability from a feminist perspective. Airwars will be explaining their work on reporting casualties from international military interventions in Syria.

To see the latest on Freedom Across Borders, visit the website.

To join us on 6 July in London, register via Eventbrite.

Below: From Khalid’s Story, one of a trilogy of short comics collectively titled A Perilous Journey, illustrated by Lindsay Pollock for Positive Negatives in 2015.

Friday, 3 May 2019

UK failure to protect: Barrel bombs are back in Syria



Photo: A vehicle streaked with blood after Syrian regime aircraft targeted civilians fleeing bombing in northwest Syria on 1 May 2019. Two men and a woman were killed.

What can the UK do?

1. The UK can act to protect civilians by striking Assad’s helicopter fleet on the ground.

2. The UK can make a case for targeted EU sanctions in response to Russian attacks on hospitals.

Putin and Assad are escalating bombing of civilians in Syria’s northwest.

Russia has once again been targeting hospitals, and the Assad regime has again started dropping barrel bombs—improvised high-explosive weapons—on residential areas.

Just over a year ago, the UK joined with the US and France to strike Assad regime targets in response to a chemical attack in Douma.

That chemical attack was carried out by a helicopter dropping a chlorine weapon onto a residential building where civilians were sheltering.

The UK part of that April 2018 joint response targeted the Him Sinshar chemical weapons storage site, located some fifteen miles west of Homs.

The UK Government’s legal justification for the 2018 strike was based on the concept of ‘humanitarian protection’. But because the Government’s action only focused on chemical weapons and not on other weapons causing suffering to even greater numbers of people in Syria, the action cannot be judged a true humanitarian intervention. A more comprehensive strategy of civilian protection by the Government is necessary to qualify.

In particular, the joint action by the UK, US, and France failed to act against Assad’s helicopter fleet, used not just to deliver the weapon in the Douma chemical attack, but used in several other chemical attacks in Syria, and used in several more attacks with high explosive bombs against residential areas, and against prohibited civilian targets such as hospitals.

Hospital attacks have been a central feature of the Assad regime campaign against civilians. These have been carried out by Assad regime helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, and by Russian aircraft. There has been no direct action taken by the UK to stop them.

Assad’s use of chemical weapons needs to be understood as part of the Syrian regime’s wider strategy of waging war directly against civilian populations in areas outside regime control, to kill, maim, and starve them, to make them flee or surrender.

Civilian casualties of Assad’s bombing are by design, not by accident. Hospitals ARE a target for the Assad regime. Refugee movements are not a side effect but a deliberate objective of Assad’s campaign to make life unliveable in areas of Syria beyond his rule.

The UK’s minimal response wholly failed to address this strategy of death, destruction, and displacement. The UK has failed to protect civilians.

What can the UK do?

1. The UK can act to protect civilians by striking Assad’s helicopter fleet on the ground.

Nobody likes this option, but it is there. It is just as real an option now as at any other point in these years of mass-murder in Syria.

The legal basis is the same as used by the UK in responding to the 2018 chemical attack, and the case is stronger, as Assad’s helicopter fleet is responsible for many more civilian deaths than his chemical weapons programme.

2. The UK can make a case for targeted EU sanctions in response to Russian attacks on hospitals.

In the past week, four medical facilities were bombed in four days:

Kaston Primary Health Care Centre, Hama, 1 May.
• Alhbeit Primary Health Care Centre, Idlib, 29 April.
Al Latamna hospital, Hama, 28 April.
Al Madiq Hospital, Hama, 28 April.

There are zero—ZERO—sanctions by the EU on Russia for its actions in Syria, despite years of targeting hospitals, targeting rescuers, targeting aid workers.

The UK thinks it can’t get sanctions on Russian entities or individuals passed by other EU states.

The UK has evidence from multiple sources of Russian responsibility for attacks on hospitals, from the Sentry Syria early warning system which is supported by the UK, and from the Coalition air campaign in Syria which monitors Russian and Assad regime aircraft for deconfliction.

The UK should now publicly make the case for EU sanctions on Russian officers with command responsibility for crimes such as hospital attacks. And the UK should back up that case by publishing evidence to whatever level of detail is compatible with security concerns.


We have been here before.

Turn the sound on for the above video and you will hear the distress of the couple looking at the ruins of their home, bombed by an Assad regime helicopter.

We have been here before, through the siege and assault on Baba Amr, on Daraya, on Aleppo, on Madaya, on so many Syrian communities. Routine statements now from UK politicians and officials are worse than meaningless. Only actions count.

Below: Words from a UK official: “Monitoring…” “grave concern…” “must stop…”



Monday, 15 April 2019

Rukban camp: A new Srebrenica



On 11 July 1995, the Bosnian Serb Army entered Srebrenica, a town in Bosnia-Herzegovina that had been declared a ‘safe area’ by the UN Security Council. Six hundred Dutch soldiers were stationed in Srebrenica as UN peacekeepers. Civilians who sought refuge in the UN base were forced to leave and handed over to Bosnian Serb forces by the Dutch soldiers. 8,372 men and boys were shot over the course of the next few days, with the majority being murdered between 11–13 July.

In 2013, after over five years of trials, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands found that the Netherlands had been in control of Dutch soldiers in Srebrenica, and was liable for the deaths of civilians whom they had forced to leave and who were then murdered.

A few days ago, on Friday 12 April 2019, Syria Solidarity UK received a report about the killing of three civilians by Assad regime forces. The three people killed were amongst thousands forced in recent weeks to leave Rukban camp because of hardship and starvation caused by the blocking of humanitarian aid. Russia, the Assad regime, and UK ally Jordan, are all blocking or restricting humanitarian access to the camp.

The three young men were killed at an improvised detention facility in a school in the Baba Amr neighbourhood of Homs, where several people transferred from Rukban camp had been taken by Russian and Assad regime forces. According to EA WorldView’s account, one source said that “everyone, even women and children, witnessed it.”

We cannot know if others forcibly transferred from Rukban have also been killed. We cannot know if more will be killed in the coming days.

There are clear parallels with Srebrenica. Rukban camp is within an area militarily occupied by the US-UK Coalition. Rukban camp is next to Tanf base, occupied by US troops. A zone of 55 kilometre radius around Tanf base is patrolled by US and UK military aircraft. Under Geneva Convention IV, the US and UK both have clear legal duties to civilians in Rukban camp which is within their area of military occupation. In particular the UK and US have a legal duty to provide humanitarian aid.

The UK, US, and Jordan are all complicit in the forcible transfer of population from Rukban camp by Russia and the Assad regime, and are complicit in the killing of forcibly transferred people by the Assad regime.

The UK and its allies must deliver needed aid NOW to civilians in Rukban camp, whether by RAF airlift to Tanf base, or by airdrop, or by land via Jordan.

It took eighteen years for a court to find the Netherlands liable for killings in Srebrenica. Syrians and their friends won’t rest. We will seek to hold legally accountable all those responsible for this unfolding crime against civilians in Rukban.

Image from a UN video of their last aid delivery to Rukban camp in February 2019.



Above: Tweet by Refik Hodzic, former spokesperson for International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, on forced transfer and reported killing of civilians from Rukban camp.

Friday, 12 April 2019

REPORT: Three executed in Russian forcible transfer of displaced people from Rukban camp

According to a report received from a source in Rukban camp, three young people who were amongst those transferred from the camp in a Russian-organised displacement have been executed by Assad regime forces.

The three people executed were in a group taken to a school in the Baba Amr neighbourhood of Homs. Women in the group were released and men were detained. The three executed were killed in the school.

Syria Solidarity UK is unable to verify this report, but the source has been reliable in the past.

Monday, 8 April 2019

The UK is complicit in a crime against humanity at Rukban camp

PDF version. Updated 12 April 2019.

While MPs have been absorbed in Brexit, the UK Government and Ministry of Defence have failed in their legal duty to civilians under Geneva Convention IV, and are now complicit in a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The UK must now urgently deliver aid to Rukban’s civilians by any means necessary.



Where and what is Rukban camp?

Rukban camp is in southern Syria on the border with Jordan, near where it meets the Syria-Iraq border.

Rukban is a camp of internally displaced Syrians, numbering between 40,000 and 50,000, who fled towards Jordan and were blocked by Jordan from crossing the border.

Rukban camp is next to Tanf, a Coalition base. The base is currently held by US forces and supports the Coalition’s Syrian client militia forces in the Tanf zone.

Rukban camp is inside a 55 kilometre radius zone around Tanf base controlled by Coalition forces, including the Royal Air Force.

What is happening with Rukban camp?

Russia and the Assad regime are trying to forcibly displace people from Rukban camp by blocking access for food and medical aid.

Russia and the Assad regime want the population to return to areas under the control of the Assad regime, as a step towards the regime regaining control of the area.

Most people in the camp are afraid to go to regime-held areas, fearing conscription, imprisonment, torture and killing.

Latest report 12 April 2019: Over two thousand women and children, and some men, have been forced to leave for regime-held areas, due to aid being blocked.

(2,254 people up to 12 April, approx. one in twenty of Rukban’s population. Data source: SARC)

Jordan’s government also wants Rukban camp cleared in order to avoid any further responsibility for the people living there.

Jordan has been blocking most cross-border humanitarian access for years.

The US-UK Coalition as the occupying force has legal duties to civilians in Tanf zone under Geneva Convention IV, including to bring in aid when necessary. The US and UK are not fulfilling this legal duty, or even acknowledging it.

How is the UK responsible for Rukban camp?

The UK is a senior partner in the anti-ISIS Coalition which is occupying Tanf zone.

The UK holds the post of Deputy Commander in the Coalition’s military campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria: Operation Inherent Resolve. This post is currently filled by UK Major General Christopher Ghika CBE.

The Coalition is enforcing a military occupation of the 55km radius Tanf zone which includes Rukban camp.

The Royal Air Force plays a part in enforcing the Coalition’s occupation of the Tanf zone.

This military occupation is part of a Coalition operation in Syria which claims legal justification under Article 51 of the UN Charter as collective self-defence of Iraq, as set out in a letter to the UN Secretary General on 23 September 2014 from then US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power.

Geneva Convention IV Section III sets out legal duties that come with any military occupation.

Article 49 prohibits individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory.

Article 55 states that: To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate.

The UK has the legal duty and the means to bring aid in to Rukban.

The RAF already operates in the Tanf zone. It has the aircraft and the experience to do the job. US forces have already demonstrated military air drops in the Tanf zone. Now the RAF must fly in aid.


The UK must now urgently deliver aid to Rukban’s civilians by any means necessary.


The latest news is that as many as 2,254 people have been forced to leave for regime-held areas. Those leaving are disproportionately women and children, as men in particular fear conscription or imprisonment by the Assad regime

Forcible transfer of population is a crime against humanity under Article 7 (d) of the Rome Statute of the ICC.

By failing its legal duty under Geneva Convention IV — and thus allowing conditions for forced displacement — the UK is complicit in a crime against humanity, and is at risk of future prosecution by the International Criminal Court.

Both the UK and Jordan are ICC State Parties.

By blocking cross-border aid, Jordan is similarly complicit and at risk of prosecution.

Jordan’s government, which is blocking cross-border aid access to Rukban camp, is also a recipient of major sums of UK aid.

The UK should privately and publicly press Jordan’s government to restore cross-border aid access to Rukban camp. Until Jordan does so, the UK must fly aid in to Rukban, either by air bridge via Tanf base or by air drop.

Write to your MP and call for the UK to do its legal duty towards civilians in Rukban camp.



Above: US military airdrop to US forces inside the Tanf zone, September 2018.

The US has repeatedly demonstrated that military air drops and airlifts to the Tanf zone are viable.

The UK military must now do its duty under Geneva Convention IV: deliver aid to civilians in Rukban camp.