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Tuesday 30 June 2015

Syrians in Calais: SOS UK

Syrians protest at La Place d’Armes, Calais. Photo: Passeurs d’hospitalités blog.

Via Oxford Solidarity For Syria

This is a letter from Syrians currently stuck in Calais. This letter is written independently of any charity or political party. It comes from an independent group of people fleeing war and seeking for asylum.

Here is our message :

1. Statement:
There is an average of 75 Syrian citizens staying in Calais. They are living on 3 different areas : the Jungle, the Parvis and the Gate. None of them is currently asking for asylum in France.

2. Facts:
We consider that the path to reach England is extremely dangerous. We are aware of the risks that we take and we suffer the consequences. For instance, Mouaz was a young Syrian who drowned on the English Channel. Shadi lost the use of his two arms after a truck crash. We also have already been threatened by a truck driver who was holding us at gunpoint. We are very frequently beaten and gassed by French policemen. It is really easy to find videos showing such facts on the Internet.

3. Why England?
Firstly, because we speak English. The language is definitely the most important factor when it comes to start a new life abroad.
Also, we all have relatives and kinfolk in England.
In the end, we think the welcoming conditions are far better than in France. Indeed, the country of Human Right offers asylum but keep us living outside for months and months while England accommodates, respects the dignity and the physical integrity of its asylum seekers.

4. Dignity:
We claim for the right to dignity. We are not animals but human beings, and we demand to be considered and treated as such.
So, we wish to communicate with both English and French governments in order to find reasonable and reliable solutions for us to reach England legally and safely.

Now we wait the answer to this question: will you accept us in UK?

Audio interview in English.

La réponse des autorités Françaises aux Syriens à Calais: Gazage et évacuation par la police, 29 June 2015, Passeurs d’hospitalités.

Thursday 25 June 2015

NGOs unite in urging UN Security Council to take urgent action to stop civilian attacks in Syria

Photo: Over 60 killed in Al Janudiyye, 8 June 2015 – Syria Civil Defence.

The #withSyria coalition of humanitarian organisations has written the following letter to the UN Security Council, calling for consequences for violations of UN Security Council 2139, in particular violations of the resolution’s demand for an end to shelling and air attacks in populated areas:

We are a coalition of human rights and humanitarian organizations working to protect and assist the civilians of Syria. We wish to express our collective outrage at the never ending state of unchecked brutality in Syria and call on the UN Security Council to take immediate action.  Given continuing indiscriminate attacks against civilians within Syria, we urge each member of the Security Council to now take steps to implement further diplomatic measures given clear and ongoing non-compliance with Resolution 2139, specifically measures to establish a mechanism to track and publically expose indiscriminate attacks by any means against civilians, including barrel bombs or car bombs, and to lay down clear consequences for violators.

Sixteen months ago the UN Security Council demanded an end to “…all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs” in Resolution 2139. Yet since then the Council has stood by as this demand has been repeatedly violated month after month with unrelenting and brutal attacks against schools, markets, and hospitals and the deaths of thousands of Syrian civilians. This must not be allowed to continue. Expressing “deep concern” in statements to the press while Syrians are killed and maimed in attacks which violate International Humanitarian Law day after day is a woefully inadequate response. Syrians deserve to be protected from all attacks, not just those involving chemical weapons.

We urge the Council to use the upcoming Arria meeting to seize the momentum on this critical issue and commence the process required to set up a mechanism to track and publically expose indiscriminate attacks by any means against civilians, including barrel bombs or car bombs, and to lay down clear consequences for violators.

  1. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture (ACAT)
  2. Algerian League for Defense of Human Rights
  3. Alkarama Foundation
  4. Alliance for Peacebuilding
  5. Amnesty International
  6. Andalus Institute for Tolerance and anti-Violence Studies
  7. Arab Coalition for Sudan
  8. Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
  9. Arab Organisation for Human Rights – Libya
  10. Arab Organisation for Human Rights – Mauritania
  11. Arab Program For Human Rights Activists
  12. Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society (BHRWS)
  13. Baytna Syria
  14. Bridge of Peace Syria
  15. Broederlijk Delen
  16. CAABU (Council for Arab-British Understanding)
  17. CAFOD
  18. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  19. CARE International
  20. Caritas Czech Republic
  21. Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)
  23. Concern Worldwide
  24. Darfur Bar Association
  25. Development and Peace
  26. Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN)
  27. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  28. Fraternity Center for Democracy and Civil Society
  29. Friends Committee on National Legislation
  30. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  31. Handicap International
  32. Hand in Hand for Syria
  33. Human Rights & Democracy Media Center “SHAMS”
  34. Human Rights First Society – Saudi Arabia
  35. Human Rights Watch
  36. Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (HIVOS)
  37. International Rescue Committee (IRC)
  38. Islamic Relief USA
  39. Karam Foundation
  40. Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH)
  41. Madani Organization
  42. Mayday Rescue
  43. Médecins du Monde/ Doctors of the World
  44. Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies
  45. Nonviolence Network in the Arab Countries
  46. No Peace Without Justice
  47. Norwegian People’s Aid
  48. Norwegian Church Aid
  49. NuDay Syria
  50. Omani Monitor for Human Rights
  51. Open Doors UKI
  52. Palestinian League for Human Rights – Syria
  53. Pax Christi Flanders
  54. The Peace Appeal Foundation
  55. People In Need
  56. Permanent Peace Movement
  57. Phenix Centre for Economic and Informatics Studies (Jordan)
  58. Physicians for Human Rights
  59. Refugees International
  60. Relief International
  61. Rethink Rebuild Society
  62. Relief & Reconciliation for Syria
  63. Save the Children
  65. Sudan Social Development Organisations (SUDO UK)
  66. Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS)
  67. Syria Civil Defence
  68. Syria Relief
  69. Syria Relief and Development
  70. The Day After Association
  71. The Helen Bamber Foundation
  72. The Syrian Emergency Task Force
  73. Trocaire
  74. Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights
  75. United to End Genocide
  76. United for a Free Syria
  77. Violations Documentation Center in Syria
  78. Vision GRAM-International
  79. Welthungerhilfe
  80. World Jewish Relief
  81. Zarga Organisation for Rural Development (ZORD) – Sudan
See also Amnesty’s press release, Syria: UN Security Council must not squander opportunity to save civilian lives:
“Unless resolution 2139 is enforced, Syria’s civilians will continue to be trapped in an endless cycle of bloodshed caused by the unlawful use of explosive weapons such as barrel bombs.”
More from What’s In Blue: Arria-Formula Meeting on the Indiscriminate Use of Weapons against Civilians in Syria

Update: As a patriotic Syrian, I never imagined I would do this – Address by Raed Saleh, head of the White Helmets, at the UN Security Council Arria Briefing on the 26th of June.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Good news from Friends of Raja and Mahmoud

We posted news last week of the campaign against the threatened removal from the UK of of Syrian women’s rights campaigner Raja Khouja and her husband Mahmoud Alhassan. Today comes good news from Friends of Raja and Mahmoud:
24 Jun 2015 — The judge has ruled that the forced removal of Raja and Mahmoud scheduled for tomorrow cannot go ahead!

Slightly earlier Qatar Airways had said they wouldn’t fly them anyway!

Amazing news and massive massive thanks to everyone who has pulled together and brought this about. Raja was in tears of joy and relief hearing the news and hopefully will sleep tonight for the first time in a while!

This is just the start of the legal fight though because the permission hearing was not done today – it ended up only being about whether the removal should go ahead. We are now awaiting a date for a permission hearing to see whether a judicial review can be made on the case so please keep in touch as we will need all the support we can get.

Thanks so so so much everyone, including change.org for their support!

A report from ITV News.

More from Right to Remain.

You can follow the ongoing campaign on Facebook.

Mouaffaq Nyrabia and Patrick Porter on the NFZ debate

The latest contributions to our No-Fly Zone Debate come from Mouaffaq Nyrabia, the Syrian National Coalition’s EU representative, and Patrick Porter, University of Exeter.

Earlier in 2015 we agreed on a call for a no-fly zone for Syria, a decision that has been controversial even within Syria Solidarity UK. To encourage debate we want to publish arguments both for and against, as well as analysis of issues involved in choosing one form of intervention versus another.

Please respond in the comments, or if you would like to submit an article please email us at info@syriauk.org

The case for a no-fly zone in Syria

By Mouaffaq Nyrabia, the Syrian National Coalition’s EU representative.
The senseless acts of terrorism in Paris and Copenhagen, the increasing use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, alongside the large numbers of refugees fleeing Syria for Europe, demonstrate that the crisis is one which the wider international community must urgently address. However the US-led anti-ISIL is not working. In order to save lives, alleviate the refugee crisis, and set the basis for a peaceful transition, the only feasible option four years into this bloody conflict is a no-fly zone.

Intervention means war

By Patrick Porter, Chair of Strategic Studies at the University of Exeter, Academic Director of SSI and Senior Associate Fellow at RUSI.
Syria in 2015 is not Libya in 2011, or Iraq in 1991. Each context is different, each correlation of forces is different. But there is at least a strong possibility, suggested by recent experience, that once we step into the conflict, the reasons we enter are replaced by a new set of pressures.

We don’t know enough, satisfactorily, about beleaguered countries like Syria or its wildly complex war. But we do know a little about ourselves to anticipate how we might respond if out intervention is met with defiance: and defiance we can reasonably expect, as we know that Assad is serious about his survival.

Mister, they’re coming anyway

Photo by Michael Honegger — www.michaelhoneggerphotos.com

Guest post by Timothy Jay Smith

This is a follow up to an earlier post, The evolving refugee crisis on Lesbos Island.

Timothy Jay Smith is a frequent visitor to Lesvos. Using private donations, he has been working closely with volunteers in Molyvos and Mytilini to provide food and water to refugees, as well as try to improve conditions at the largest refugee camp (Kara Tepe) by installing toilets and showers. He is also working towards establishing a primary care medical unit at the largest camp in Mytilini. If you wish to contribute to these efforts, you can donate through his PayPal account, kosmosfilms@gmail.com. For details, please contact him through his web page.

Sunrise over the Mediterranean. The island’s hills brighten as the chug of boat engines can be heard over the lapping waves. These aren’t your typical Greek fishing boats returning from a night at sea, but a flotilla of black rafts, nine total carrying some 400 refugees to land on the north coast of Lesbos island. Under five miles off the Turkish coast, Lesbos has become a beachhead for a flood of refugees that has come as unannounced as a tsunami, and for which local communities are even less prepared.

There has always been a trickle of refugees across the narrow channel. In the ten years that I have been coming here, every week I would find one or two rafts abandoned on the beach with ten or so life jackets or paddles. Until recently, most had been young men from Afghanistan and Iraq, escaping wars they didn’t want to fight, who would later be spotted on a road walking the forty miles or so to the island’s capital, Mytilini, to be processed and transferred to a camp in Athens. In the whole country, the number of such migrants has increased five-fold over the same period last year; but for the islands offshore Turkey, the numbers have risen far more dramatically. On Lesbos, the count has gone from a few dozen a month to over two thousand in one three-day period alone.

A surge in Taliban-led violence in Afghanistan, the rapid spread of the barbaric Islamic State in Iraq, and Syria’s devastating civil war have sent millions fleeing for their lives. Over half of the Syrian population has been displaced, and now accounts for half or more of the new arrivals. Often members of the middle class—teachers, IT specialists and engineers—more often Syrians come as families, forced to leave when their children’s school was bombed; or if from Aleppo, when their neighbourhood was razed. On the whole, Syrians have more money than others, but that doesn’t mean much when they have nothing else but the clothes they are wearing.

Sunday 21 June 2015

The MEPs who want to hide Assad’s crimes from public view – UPDATED

UPDATE: This decision has been reversed. The European Parliament is hosting a public exhibition of Caesar photographs, 13-16 July. Details here.

These are the College of Quaestors, a body of five MEPs at the European Parliament. They are blocking an exhibition of photographs of Syrian torture victims.

The exhibition organisers had hoped to show a selection of photographs from the 55,000 images smuggled out of Syria by the defector known as ‘Caesar’ in the parliament’s public exhibition space for a period of five days. Instead the MEPs’ decision means the photographs can only be shown for one day in a small conference room.

Both the UN in New York and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC have publicly shown photographs from the collection.

This month Vanity Fair published an in-depth report on the story behind the Caesar photographs, Documenting Evil: Inside Assad’s Hospitals of Horror, by Adam Ciralsky.

A rising number of Syrians are now making incredibly dangerous journeys to reach Europe, risking their lives to bypass the obstacles that European border policies have placed in their way. In Greece, tens of thousands have arrived this year alone. European politicians need to understand the reasons driving so many Syrians to flee. They need to see these images. To hide them away would show a dreadful moral cowardice.

The Syria Campaign have a letter you can send to Mr Martin Schultz, President of the European Parliament, via their website.

You can also write to the five MEPs of the College of Quaestors, or contact them on Twitter:

And you can email your own MEPs: Find UK MEPs here.

Earlier posts on the Caesar photographs: Whistleblowers, and Let’s talk about Crime.

Saturday 20 June 2015

And still no No-Fly Zone

Since the beginning of this year, more than 55,000 refugees have arrived in Greece by sea from Turkey. According to the UNHCR, over 60% of them are from Syria. Why are these tens of thousands of Syrians coming to Greece, a country in a state of economic crisis?

From an Observer article by Tracy McVeigh earlier this month:
With 2,000 migrants drowning in the Mediterranean this year, there is an exhausted euphoria among the newly-arrived in Kos. Coming off the police launch on Friday was a Syrian teacher, Mohamad al-Shamali. He showed photographs on his phone of the street he had left behind in Aleppo, all rubble and bloodstains and bombed-out cars. He is sad that he might not see his homeland again. “But life is more important,” he says.

Syrians aren’t only fleeing Assad’s bombs and prisons, some are also fleeing ISIS. But more than ever, air attacks are the major killer in Syria.

Last year over 40% of civilian killings confirmed by the Violations Documentation Center in Syria were caused by Assad’s air attacks. Amongst women and children the proportion was even higher: over half the number of women and children violently killed in 2014 were victims of Assad’s air force.

Recently the proportion of civilians killed by air attacks appears to have escalated even further. VDC Syria’s report for May 2015 shows 66% of civilians confirmed killed by Assad forces were victims of air attacks.

The VDC Syria statistics are far from complete, and comparison of their overall totals with earlier UN reports suggest they may only be managing to record half of all violent deaths, if even that. However other sources also indicate a rising civilian toll from air attacks.

Physicians for Human Rights report that May 2015 was the worst month yet for attacks on hospitals in the Syrian Conflict:
Eight of the 15 attacks on medical facilities in May were with barrel bombs, and the remaining seven were with rockets and missiles. All 15 attacks were conducted via aircraft, which has become the Syrian government’s preferred mode of attack for targeting locations in opposition-controlled territory, far from frontlines. Of the Syrian government’s 44 attacks on medical facilities between January and May of this year, 42 attacks, or 95 percent, were via aircraft.

Médecins Sans Frontières‎ report that Assad’s air attacks have continued unrelentingly this month, with at least ten hospitals bombed so far in June.

The UK has the capacity to stop these attacks. Grounding Assad’s air force would save lives. It would ease the pressure of refugee flows. It would allow medical workers in Syria some level of safety.

Lack of action makes us complicit in Assad’s slaughter: the greatest crime so far of this century. It is long past time to end our complicity.

Protect civilians. Ground Assad’s air force.

This document sets out how the UK can act. Please share it with your MP, and with anyone else who may be able to help.

Friday 19 June 2015

Urgent petition: Stop the removal of Raja Khouja on Thursday

Via Change.org, an urgent petition to stop the removal of Syrian women’s rights campaigner Raja Khouja, threatened for Thursday 25th June.

Friends of Raja and Mahmoud write:

Raja Khouja, a women’s rights campaigner from Syria, is detained at Yarl’s Wood and threatened with removal to Saudi Arabia on Thursday 25th June 2015.

Raja (aged 56) is a member of the Syrian Republican Party and was involved in human rights activism on the internet, focused on the wider Arab world. She has written many times about her views on the denial of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Mutawa (the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice) has denounced her and she has received email and phone call threats of death, imprisonment and mutilation including for ‘the opposite limbs to be cut off the body' were she ever to go to Saudi Arabia, the very country to which she is to be removed.

Raja is a Syrian national who has been living in Leeds, UK, with her Saudi husband Mahmoud Alhassan (aged 67) for four years. They were stranded in the UK by the emergency in Syria. They are much loved and respected by their community of friends here in Leeds and we are gravely concerned for Raja’s safety were she to be forcibly removed to Saudi Arabia.

Raja and Mahmoud’s application for asylum has not yet been fully considered. Despite this the Home Office plans to remove them imminently to Saudi Arabia on Qatar Airlines, where Raja will be in extreme danger.

Please show your support for Raja and Mahmoud by adding your name to this petition, and joining the campaign to stop the forced removal of our friends.

Please sign the petition at Change.org.

There will be a demonstration in Leeds on Monday:

URGENT: Stop the forced removal of Raja Khouja and Mahmoud Alhassan
Monday 12:30 at Waterside Court Immigration, 471 Kirkstall Road, Leeds LS4 2QB.

More details on the Facebook event page.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Take Action to revive the Spirit of the Kindertransport – Wednesday 24 June

Kindertransport memorial by Frank Meisler.
Photo by Paul Dean via Wikipedia.
As part of their campaign on refugee resettlement, Citizens UK are lobbying Parliament on Wednesday 24th of June.

Daniel Mackintosh of Citizens UK writes:

On the 25th of June 2015 the Prime Minister goes to the EU Council.  One of the issues on the agenda is the European Commission’s plan to relocate migrants intercepted in the Mediterranean throughout the EU on a quota basis.  The Prime Minister has indicated that Britain will exercise its ‘opt-out’ and will not participate in that scheme.  However, given that the UK will not agree to relocation, we are calling on the Prime Minister to agree additional resettlement, given that only 187 Syrians (of the 4.27 million Syrian refugees) have been resettled since the crisis began. Resettlement takes people directly and safely from the camps, avoiding boats and smugglers and the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.

Therefore, on Wednesday June 24 2015, Citizens UK leaders, faith leaders, recent refugees from Syria and people who came to the UK on the Kindertransport (the British program that saved 10,000 Jewish children from the Nazis) will meet at Liverpool Street Station (where many of the Jewish children arrived) and walk to Parliament to lobby MPs prior to Prime Minister’s Questions.  We will hand over details of all the communities, organisations, and councils across the UK who are willing to welcome such refugees, with the proposal that the government aims to relocate the equivalent of at least 50 refugees in 50 local authority areas across the UK.

Today, we are asking you to take 2 actions.
  1. If you are in a Labour constituency across the country, please send the attached letter to your MP, asking them to ask Harriet Harman to dedicate on her PMQs on June 7 to increasing the UK’s commitment to resettlement. Please email me to let me know you have done so.

  2. Turn-out by joining us on the day—please can you send me, Daniel, the names of people who are joining us.

Contact Daniel Mackintosh for more details if you are coming to the demonstration.

Below is a draft letter to MPs. You can find details of your MP here, and also email them here, though a personal written letter may be more effective.

Dear —

Re: Support our action—Survivors of the Kindertransport and Syrian refugees call on the UK to resettle significantly more refugees

I am writing to ask whether you would ask Labour Leader, Harriet Harman MP, as part of her Prime Ministers Questions on 24 June 2015, to support our action by asking the Prime Minister why the UK has resettled so few refugees, in particular those from Syria.

As you know, on June 25 2015 the Prime Minister goes to the EU Council.  One of the issues on the agenda is the European Commission’s plan to relocate migrants intercepted in the Mediterranean throughout the EU on a quota basis.  The Prime Minister has indicated that Britain will exercise its ‘opt-out’ and will not participate in that scheme.  However, if the UK will not agree to relocation, then the Prime Minister may agree to additional resettlement, given that only 187 Syrians (of the 4.27 million Syrian refugees) have been resettled since the crisis began. Resettlement takes people directly and safely from the camps, avoiding boats and smugglers and the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.

On Wednesday June 24 2015, Citizens UK leaders, faith leaders, recent refugees from Syria and people who came to the UK on the Kindertransport (the British program that saved 10 000 Jewish children from the Nazis) will meet at Liverpool Street Station (where many of the Jewish children arrived) at 09:00 and walk to Parliament to lobby MPs prior to Prime Minister’s Questions.  We will hand over details of all the communities, organisations, and councils across the UK who are willing to welcome such refugees, with the proposal that the government aims to relocate the equivalent of at least 50 refugees in 50 local authority areas across the UK.

Here is a proposed PMQ for Labour Leader, Harriet Harman MP, to ask as part of her allocated 7 questions on June 24 2015:

We commend the Prime Minister for being one of the largest aid donors to Syria for the 4.27 million people who need help in the biggest refugee crisis in the past 20 years. But the UN says it is not safe for some refugees to remain in the area and so they need to be resettled in other countries. At the same time day after day after day we see the terrible deaths in the Mediterranean.

In another era great statesmen and women established the Kindertransport scheme which saved the lives of over 10,000 children, from Nazi persecution. You have indicated, Mr Prime Minister, that you have no desire to be part of mandatory relocation schemes from Europe. But given the desperate situation, members of charity Citizens UK, among whom are survivors of the Kindertransport scheme and recently resettled Syrian refugee children who’ve fled violence in Syria, have joined us here at Parliament. Citizens UK members have offered practical support, including housing in private accommodation and convincing their local authorities to join the resettlement schemes. They are here to ask you whether we can we do more than resettle the 187 Syrians refugees we have thus far? What number of lives, of families and futures will you commit us to for voluntary resettlement?

If you do write to Harriet Harman MP, please let us know.

Thank you for working with us to revive the spirit of the Kindertransport and provide sanctuary for a group of vulnerable refugees.

Sincerely —

Monday 15 June 2015

The evolving refugee crisis on Lesbos Island

Guest post by Timothy Jay Smith

A firsthand account by author Timothy Jay Smith of conditions faced by Syrian refugees arriving on Lesbos, Greece, and of how people living on the island are trying to help. Reposted from his Facebook page by kind permission.

This is indeed a dynamic situation, changing on almost a daily basis, and sometimes a lot more rumours available than facts. Lots of numbers get bandied about: a six-fold increase of refugees arriving on Lesbos from last year to this; according to the BBC, some 7,000 arriving in May alone (which personally I think is seriously underestimated). What is definitely indisputable is that numbers are increasing, and the ability of local officials, volunteers, and every support network has been overwhelmed.

Yesterday, Michael Honegger and I went to the island’s capital of Mytilini specifically to visit the three refugee camps. We started in the port, where the refugees also start. The process seems to be this:

Refugees first register with the port police, who only take the names of the people if they have space available in the camp. Since only two hundred refugees are processed and sent to Athens a day (after many arduous days ‘in the system’), you can imagine the backlog. The pictures below were taken outside port police's gate. Almost all have been waiting in the open with no support or services for a few days.

From there, the ‘lucky’ 200 are moved to a hellish camp. Called Kara Tepe, it was set up last month for 600 people, which was filled immediately, and is now at triple capacity. It is a squalid nightmare, with ten filthy toilets for 2000 people, but at least there are tents. There, they wait again, up to a week or perhaps longer, hoping their name will be called to be moved to the detention centre, which was originally a prison—razor wire fences, etc.—for illegals waiting deportation. It is also filled at more than double capacity. It is the last step in the process before the refugees are given papers that allow them to travel to Athens. Usually they are in the detention centre for several days.

Except for an increasingly vocal right-wing anti-immigrant movement, no one wants it to be so horrible for the refugees. It is an overwhelming task, and the international NGOs are just beginning to pay attention to it. That said, it is increasingly clear that the island government has failed to take some basic steps to alleviate problems. For instance, it is illegal for the refugees to takes buses or taxis; and private drivers can be arrested if they transport them. So from all over the island, they have to walk to Mytilini. In our case, that is 70 kilometres away, and except for the rare Good Samaritan who risks arrest to give someone a ride, it means that very pregnant women, very old people, and infants are walking the distance.

To address that particular and unnecessary problem, tomorrow there is an island-wide protest to form a major convey to drive refugees to Mytilini. Lesbos is the third largest Greek island, and apparently many villages are participating. We’ll see what happens. My next report may be from jail!

Not all stories are horror stories. We also visited a camp (PIKPA) built a few years ago, housing only 60 people: the disabled, pregnant women, families with very young children, and women who, in their journey, have been accidentally separated from their male family members (and are hoping somehow to find them). At PIKPA, Michael and I found some people we had helped a week ago. One older man on crutches (not the 29-year-old man crippled from childhood whom I wrote some days ago); and, a lovely family with five children whom I had worried about for the last few days. (Whew.)

Locally, we are still providing basic food and water as the refugees arrive. There has been a slight lull of arrivals in this village. I understand a naval ship has been the cruising the channel, perhaps to discourage them from launching in Turkey—but it is not going to stop them.

At a transit house that I visited this morning in a nearby town, there had to be at least 200 people camped out. As they start their walk to Mytilini, it’s been my initiative to make sure people have baseball caps. It’s hot, the sun is brutal, and the people are delighted with them. Despite having headscarves, even the women want caps with brims to keep the fierce sun off their faces. I have been really astounded by how generous people have been. Thank you all so much. If anyone still wants to contribute, the easiest way seems to be through PayPal. This is a growing problem, and will be a lot worse by the end of summer. I am staying on a couple of weeks longer than originally planned because I want to make sure that the donations that I have received are used as effectively as possible.

It is amazing to witness what is happening. It is also extremely satisfying to help in a relief effort. Those of you who know me know that I used to work in international development. I never had a chance to do emergency relief. It is as compelling as it is emotional.

Friday 12 June 2015

At the ‘Confronting a World at War’ conference

By Mark Boothroyd

Syria Solidarity activists attended the Stop The War Coalition’s “Confronting a World at War” conference last Saturday to call for solidarity with the Syrian people.

We started leafleting the conference early, and almost immediately came into contact with Stop The War’s less savoury side. Several older activists leafleting the conference for their respective causes asked us if we “support the jihadists” and referred to us as “the pro-ISIS lot”. While not necessarily representative, the fact these comments were heard at all tells you a lot about the milieu that Stop The War has been attracting with its political positions.

Around half those attending took our leaflets, and the start to the conference must have been small as less than 100 entered the doors at the beginning. Several organisers came out to urge people to go inside as the event was starting; a bit of desperation to fill empty seats perhaps.

Several more of us returned at the lunch break to leaflet again. As activists came out we engaged several in discussions. Some quickly descended into arguments with people who were openly pro-regime. However we found lots of people sympathised with the Syrian revolt, and pro-revolution activists were in attendance too and were glad to see us arguing the case for the revolution. One thing to note was the make up of the conference. The conference was overwhelmingly white and middle aged. Absent were the hundreds of young Muslims who were the vanguard of the Stop The War movement in its heyday. Not surprising when Stop The War has effectively turned it back on providing solidarity with the largest democratic revolts in the Muslim world.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Sanctuary for Syrian Refugees: London event on Tues. 16th

Sanctuary for Syrian Refugees: Tuesday 16th June at 7:30pm, Room B102, Brunei Gallery SOAS, London WC1H 0XG

Facebook event page.

Confirmed speakers: Zrinka Bralo, Citizens UK; Caroline Russell, Green Party; Luke Cooper, Left Unity; Zoe Gardner, Movement against Xenophobia.

So far the UK has admitted only 187 Syrian refugees under its Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. Citizens UK initiated a campaign in the run up to the election to persuade 50 councils to pledge to host 50 refugees each, in hopes of thereby encouraging the new government to expand the programme. Five boroughs including the Conservative borough of Kingston upon Thames agreed. Islington Council failed to agree, with Labour councillors refusing to commit social housing to the project.

Post election, with a Conservative government confidently hostile to migrants and refugees, and with no social housing building programme in sight, we will be discussing how best to renew this campaign.

Friday 5 June 2015

Don’t mention the war

With the Syrian revolution in its fifth year, the Stop The War Coalition is failing in its duty of solidarity to the Syrian people.

Having risen up en masse against the brutal Assad regime, the Syrian people have been subjected to mass murder, torture, rape, and starvation. The toll now includes over a quarter of a million killed; another quarter million in regime prisons; over four million Syrian refugees; half the population driven from their homes.

This oppression has fragmented and radicalised the opposition, transforming a popular revolution for freedom and democracy into a military struggle between the regime and Islamic and Free Syrian Army rebel groups. Da’esh (ISIS) has grown in the devastation, cynically aided by the regime in order to destroy the revolution.

And yet the revolution has not been defeated, thanks to the resilience of the Syrian people. Many towns and villages in liberated areas are attempting to rebuild civil administration, despite daily barrel bombs and chlorine gas attacks by the regime.

While there has been massive outpouring of solidarity from Muslim community organisations, the Western Left has, with a few honourable exceptions, failed to show similar solidarity.

Anti-war activists have a duty of solidarity to the Syrian people. It is not enough to oppose US/UK intervention, while remaining silent about the governments of Iran and Russia intervening on the side of Assad. Refusing to support activists on the ground who continue to organise and fight for the the original goals of the revolution is a terrible betrayal. The abandonment of Syrians is a primary reason for the growth of extremist factions like the Al-Qaeda linked Jabhat Al-Nusra.

Syria is complex, but complexity is not a worthy excuse for inaction or silence. Understanding Syria starts with talking to Syrians and Syrian civil society. Saturday’s Stop the War event is yet another anti-war conference without a Syrian activist or speaker talking about the situation in Syria. This shameful stance must be corrected, or Stop The War will be forever known as the organisation which turned its back on Syria.

The Stop The War Coalition has a loud voice in the UK. Why don’t we hear it raised on behalf of the Syrian people in their time of need?


Read about the Syria Freedom Charter, modelled on South Africa’s Freedom Charter and developed from interviews with over 50,000 Syrians.

Read about practical solidarity efforts with Syria by Bridge of Peace.

Support Hand in Hand for Syria.

PDF leaflet of this post.

Photos: Counter-demonstration at Stop the War’s 2013 conference, via Syrian Community in the UK.

Wednesday 3 June 2015

Opening contributions to the No-Fly Zone debate

Articles by Syria Civil Defence head Raed al Saleh, left activist Brian Slocock, foreign and security policy specialist Bente Scheller, aid agency CEO Barry Andrews, Syria Solidarity UK founder member Mark Boothroyd, EA WorldView editor Scott Lucas, and human rights activist Clara Connolly.

Earlier in 2015 we agreed on a call for a no-fly zone for Syria, a decision that has been controversial. Even within Syria Solidarity UK opinion is not uniform: some supporters have strong objections, and some have caveats.

We make our call for a no-fly zone in solidarity with Syrians: with Syria Civil Defence rescue volunteers, with non-violent activists of the Planet Syria campaign, with Syrian doctors, with the Syrian Coalition, with Syrians who first called for a no-fly zone in street demonstrations as long ago as October 2011.

To encourage debate we wanted to publish arguments both for and against, as well as explorations of issues involved in choosing one form of no-fly zone versus another. We hope this set of articles will be only the beginning. Please respond in the comments, or if you would like to submit an article please email us at info@syriauk.org

Stop the barrel bombs in Syria

By Raed al Saleh, head of Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets. This article was first published by The Washington Post.
No words can adequately describe what it is like to save a life. It is pure elation to find and rescue a baby from beneath mountains of rubble. But for us the elation never lasts because we are constantly under attack.

In Aleppo, as in many Syrian cities, the sky has become an obsession. Children on street corners stand watching for helicopters. A clear sky in the morning means we must prepare for barrel bombs.

The NFZ demand risks diversion and division

By Brian Slocock, a long-time left activist and retired political scientist.
The simple fact is that a No-Fly Zone will not happen within the next two years. The US government has recently reiterated what everyone knows to be its policy—it will not support any form of NFZ. Given the geopolitical context of the Syrian conflict—involving both a major regional power like Iran and a global power like Russia—regional states like Turkey will not act on their own.

Moreover there is nothing that the SSM can do to influence this fact. We have no prospect of mobilising a large body of popular sentiment on this issue (and anyway public opinion has little influence over security-related decisions).

Incredibly loud and extremely ignored

By Bente Scheller, Director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Middle East office in Beirut, and author of The Wisdom of Syria’s Waiting Game: Foreign Policy under the Assads.
There are many ways to die in Syria. Silently, through malnutrition as a result of starvation campaigns, or as a result of the devastation of the country’s deliberately targeted health system. Visibly, because the victims die at the hands of ISIS which wants to convey the message of its ruthlessness and absolute brutality. And incredibly loud but mostly unnoticed through the continued airstrikes the regime’s air force is carrying out on daily basis.

A measure of last resort

By Barry Andrews, CEO of GOAL, the Dublin-based international aid agency.
Four years ago the government of Syria began, in effect, to prosecute a war against its own civilian population. Since the carnage began, the world community has stood by and did little while Syria has torn itself apart. This “hands-off” attitude (one could hardly elevate it to the status of a policy) has failed miserably. The conflict in Syria continues unabated, with no prospect of an end in sight, and casualties mounting by the day. One measure of the desperation of ordinary Syrians to escape the never-ending conflagration is the growing numbers of them risking their lives in over-laden, barely seaworthy boats to cross the Mediterranean and Aegean seas.

No-Fly Zone: A dangerous illusion

By Mark Boothroyd, a founder member of the Syria Solidarity Movement.
As proposed by the White Helmets and currently supported by the Syria Solidarity Movement, the demand is that the governments of Britain, France and the US act in accordance with UN Resolutions 2139 and 2209 and implement a NFZ to stop the barrel bombing and chemical weapon attacks and provide a safe zone for civilians, refugees and aid workers.

While this demand would be supportable if those countries were honest and pure in their intentions towards Syria, they are not. They are imperialist powers whose history of interference and reactionary policy in the region goes back to the Sykes-Picot agreement and before.

A No-Fly Zone to save lives—and to change the political dynamic

By Scott Lucas, Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham, and founder and editor of EA WorldView.
I have supported no-fly zones and safe havens inside Syria since 2012. I still support them.

I support no-fly zones and safe havens, first and foremost, because I believe they will save the lives of some Syrians and improve the lives of many others.

In early 2012, to save his regime, President Assad unleashed Syria’s missiles and warplanes across the country. Cities such as Homs were devastated, tens of thousands of people were killed, and millions were displaced in the next three years.

Sins of omission can be mortal

By Clara Connolly, immigration lawyer and human rights activist.
When Assad began to show his people, and the world, that he was prepared to destroy the country so that he could continue to rule it, neither his people, nor the watching world, could comprehend the manic destructiveness to which he would descend. When things get that mad, bad, or surreal, human beings tend to think ‘surely something can stop this?’

But throughout these 4 long years, during which time a peaceful revolution has descended into a vicious and often sectarian struggle, the inescapable fact is that Assad first and last has had a monopoly of air power, and therefore a monopoly of destruction. Despite the best efforts of some of the recent Syrian actors, the regime could and did kill by far the most non-combatants.

Monday 1 June 2015

Whistleblowers – UPDATED

The Syrian Army defector known by the protective alias of Caesar, disguised in a hooded blue jacket, testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, US Congress, July 2014. Photo Reuters.

UPDATE: An account of the Stand Up For Truth event in London

The Stand Up For Truth campaign is making a speaking tour of European cities this week, June 1-7th in London, Oslo, Stockholm, and Berlin.

Stand Up For Truth features speakers who have made personal sacrifices to uphold a commendable objective. Several are critics of American foreign policy and we endorse their efforts to strengthen transparency and democracy.

But the Truth must be the whole truth. Along with criticising our own governments’ actions, we have an obligation to provide a truthful account of what is happening in the world and to speak out against all abuses of power.

In that regard it is deeply disappointing to see that one of the speakers, Coleen Rowley, has a history of attacking Syria solidarity activists in the US, and has said the US should co-ordinate bombing in Syria with the Assad regime.

In Syria today we see the worst kind of abuses of power: we see a regime deliberately targeting civilians, targeting health workers, attacking schools, imprisoning and torturing civilians, terrorising and killing its own population.

Stand Up For Truth acknowledges the work of western whistleblowers who have risked their careers to speak the truth. We must also recognise the efforts of those in Syria who risk their lives to speak out.

People like ‘Caesar’ who brought to the outside world photographic evidence of 11,000 detainees tortured to death by the Assad regime.

People like the hundreds of local activists who are working with the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) to collect legal proof of the regime’s crimes.

Several of the Stand Up For Truth speakers are lawyers—we call on them to add their voices to the campaign by the CIJA to bring Assad and his regime before the International Criminal Court and be held accountable for their crimes.


Images of Syrian torture on display at UN: ‘It is imperative we do not look away’, by Raya Jalabi, The Guardian, 11 March 2015.

Syrian torture: Will photos turn US opinion?, by Kim Ghattas, BBC News, 27 January 2015.

Smuggled Syrian documents enough to indict Bashar al-Assad, say investigators, by Julian Borger, The Guardian, 12 May 2015.

Syria’s truth smugglers, by Julian Borger, The Guardian, 12 May 2015.

In response to “Selling ‘Peace Groups’ on US-Led Wars”, by Louis Proyect, 29 December 2014.

UPDATE: An account of the Stand Up For Truth event in London, by Clara Connolly

Four of us from Syria Solidarity Movement attended the meeting, mainly to distribute our leaflet, accepted with good grace by most of the 120 or so in  attendance. We also hoped for an opportunity to speak from the floor.

There were seven speakers on the panel, organised under the auspices of the Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA) in Washington, and hosted by Justin Schlosberg of Birkbeck College. They consisted of  veteran whistleblowers of North America’s various wars: Daniel Ellsberg of the Vietnam war, and Coleen Rowley of 9/11 and the Iraq war, as well as Thomas Drake, whistleblower at the NSA, and Jesselyn Radak, his legal defence at the Government Accountability Project. Norman Solomon of the IPA also spoke.

Local colour was ably added by Eileen Chubb of the BUPA 7, who blew the whistle on the abuse of elderly people in care homes in the UK. But it was mainly an American affair, full of righteous anger at the lies told by the authorities in the wake of 9/11 and leading up to the Iraq war, and at the sacrifices made by the brave people on the platform to expose these lies. There was also a sense of dismay and disillusionment that under the current Obama administration, although some of  the lies have been exposed, the curbs on press freedom, as well as the intense surveillance of the population, continue.

There was no real attempt to distinguish the current administration from the Bush era, nor any attempt to name villains other than the US and to a lesser extent its lapdog the UK.  Hardly surprising then that it proved impossible for the panel to express solidarity with whistleblowers elsewhere in  the world.  In particular they were invited to stand with  Syrian whistleblowers, risking  torture and death to expose the war crimes of Bashar Assad. But they failed to do so. In response to that question, Norman Solomon simply referred to the continued failures of American administrations in Iraq and then in Libya, and caustically remarked that the US administration in 2013 had wanted to bomb Assad, and was stopped by the people. In 2015 it was bombing ‘the rebels’ instead. This got a cheer.

As the only one of us given the opportunity to speak from the floor, I reminded Coleen Rowley that she had recommended that the US coordinate with the Assad regime against ISIS, though the Assad regime was responsible for the vast majority of Syrian deaths. I referred to her tactic, used commonly by Assadists, of denying the stories from Syrian whistleblowers by saying “there is no way of knowing the truth.”

I insisted  that there are ways of discovering the truth, which are familiar to panel members, by testing the evidence and putting this evidence before experienced jurists. The United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International among others, have provided a large amount of evidence which corroborates that of the Syrian whistleblowers.

Coleen Rowley’s answer was to say that “democracy promotion has been exploited to create wars,” that the former Director of Amnesty International was too close to the US government, and she quoted Hilary Clinton as saying, “it’s a good thing to use NGOs because then it doesn’t look like the government.” Thus she followed Mother Agnes Mariam, notorious propagandist for Assad, in dismissing the painstaking work of international human rights organisations, as well as Syrian civilian activists, in documenting the truth about Syria.

No-one else on the panel responded, although I had invited them all to do so. People who are famous for discovering, or uncovering, conspiracies tend to keep looking, and to see them everywhere. There was no room left for considering the wishes of ordinary Syrians, caught in the most terrible humanitarian catastrophe since the Second World War, nor the voices of Syrian whistleblowers, risking their lives to reveal the terrible truth.

Norman Solomon reminded us of Aldous Huxley’s words: “Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth. By simply not mentioning certain subjects… propagandists have influenced opinion much more effectively than they could have by the most eloquent denunciations.”

What we heard tonight from the panel, among some old and familiar truths, was that silence.

Note: A PDF of the leaflet distributed by Syria Solidarity UK at the meeting is here.