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Sunday 26 June 2016

The legacy of Syria


David Cameron now has little time to right a shared legacy of failure on Syria.

Reasons for the UK’s narrow vote to leave the EU are many. One is Syria: Both the Leave campaign and UKIP connected fears over immigration to the Syrian crisis. Assad’s war against Syria’s population has created the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

In or out of the EU, we have a duty to care for refugees. We also need to understand that this refugee crisis is not caused by EU rules on free movement; it’s caused by the failure of world leaders, including Britain’s leaders, to stop Assad.

Inaction has consequences. At every point when world leaders failed to act against Assad, the impact of the Syrian crisis on the world increased. The failure of British Government and Opposition leaders on the EU vote is in part a consequence of their failure on Syria, but this story doesn’t end with today’s result. Without action, Syria’s crisis will continue to impact on us all.

Leaders failed to act in October 2011 when Syrians took to the streets calling for a no-fly zone.

By the end of 2011 there were 8,000 Syrian refugees in the region.

Leaders failed to act in 2012 when journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik were killed reporting from the horror of besieged Homs.

By the end of 2012, there were nearly half a million Syrian refugees.

Leaders failed to act in 2013 when the Assad regime massacred as many as 1,700 civilians in one morning with chemical weapons. That August, there were 1.8 million registered Syrian refugees.

Also in 2013, the UK failed to act when the Free Syrian Army faced attacks by ISIS forces infiltrating from Iraq. Instead of strengthening the FSA to withstand this new threat, UK MPs denied moderate forces the means to defend themselves.

By the end of 2013, there were 2.3 million registered Syrian refugees.

Leaders failed to act in 2014 as the Assad regime ignored UN resolutions on barrel bombing, on torturing and besieging civilians. Diplomacy without military pressure only emboldened Assad to continue the slaughter.

By the end of 2014, there were 3.7 million Syrian refugees.

Leaders failed to act in 2015 as Russia joined Assad in bombing hospitals, humanitarian aid convoys, and rescue workers, and Syrians were denied any means to defend themselves.

By the end of 2015, there were over 4.5 million Syrian refugees.

Now the UK Government is failing to act as Assad breaks ceasefire agreements and breaks deadlines on letting aid into besieged communities. The UK has failed to deliver on airdrops. The UK has failed to apply serious pressure to stop Assad’s bombs.

There are now 4.8 million Syrian refugees in the region. There are many millions more displaced inside Syria. Just over a million Syrians have applied for asylum in Europe, but that is a fraction of the total who have fled their homes.

The refugee crisis is just one impact of Assad’s war on Syrians. Voting to leave the European Union won’t insulate Britain from further effects of Syria’s man-made disaster. This crisis can’t be contained and must be brought to an end, and it can only end with the end of Assad.

Act now. Break the sieges. Stop the bombs. Stop the torture. Stop Assad.

Welcome support for no-bombing zone from Diane Abbott

We very much welcome Diane Abbott’s recent letter recognising the targeting of populated areas by Syrian Government and Russian forces, and her expression of support for a no-bombing zone with explicitly outlined consequences to protect civilians in Syria.

We are pleased to offer all our support to help Diane Abbott in campaigning for effective action to protect civilians.

Syrians and their friends lost a champion of humanity when Jo Cox was killed. Effective humanitarian action needs now to be championed by MPs across Parliament.

Saturday 25 June 2016

Take the Fast-a-thon challenge!

Yesterday, Syria Solidarity UK activists were at the Ramadan Tent Project to announce our Break the Siege Fast-a-thon challenge.

We challenge you to experience the daily trauma of besieged Syrians through fasting.
Choose from 23rd June to 1st July, i.e. 18th-25th of Ramadan (lunar calendar).
Fasting times for London: from sunrise (2:40 am) till sunset (9:20 pm).

Raise awareness of starvation of civilians in areas besieged by the Assad regime
Exert pressure on the government to start air drops to besieged areas
Support advocacy to help break the sieges and to protect civilians

Please follow the link to fill the form or sign up at the stall today:

You can also email your details to info@syriauk.org

Please take a selfie with a sign saying you are fasting in solidarity with people in besieged in Syria, or record a short video message, and send to info@syriauk.org or message to our Syria Solidarity UK Facebook page.

To take part we ask that you pledge: £50 if you plan to fast one day, £150 if you plan to fast for three days, £200 if you plan to fast for seven days.

Start getting sponsorships from family, friends and colleagues!

We will hold this meal opposite 10 Downing Street to remind the government that starving Syrians are still waiting for air drops and that each hour of delay costs lives.

Time: 9:00pm 1st July — Place: Downing Street
Please RSVP: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/solidarity-iftar-tickets-26119844157

All event details will be on our event page on Facebook:

PDF version.

Thursday 23 June 2016

The line between life and death is a VISA

By Raed Fares, via Facebook

If you were a journalist sharing the reality of what’s going on in Syria, and you are on the front lines of death, the regime might try to bomb you, people might try to assassinate you, in order to silence and kill the truth. This makes sense to us. The criminal wants to kill those who share the crime to the world.

But what we can’t understand is how countries considering themselves friends, which support freedom of press and democracy, stand in the way of someone and his life, letting him die, because of a visa. Khaled al-Essa is in need of a visa to Germany.

Khaled al-Essa, a Syrian journalist who was sharing the reality from inside Aleppo, showing the crimes of Assad and ISIS, in the end when they assassinate him for showing the truth, the countries that claim to be friends of the Syrian people refuses to transfer the voices of truth for medical treatment, all because of a visa.

Background: Syrian journalists in critical condition after bombing, The New Arab, 17 June 2016.

Update: Khaled al-Essa has died. Author Robin Yassin-Kassab writes:
The wonderful young revolutionary journalist Khaled al-Eissa is dead of his wounds. The very best are being murdered. The very worst grow in power.

Report: Syrian journalist Khaled al-Essa dies after bomb attack

Photo by the journalist Khaled al-Essa: Emergency workers after an airstrike hit a civilian neighbourhood in eastern Aleppo, wounding three, from the Observer, 31 April 2016.

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Defiling the Graves of Lesvos

By Brian Slocock

Graves of unidentified refugees on the Greek island of Lesvos. Photo by Giorgos Moutafis.

The fund established to continue the work of slain MP Jo Cox has come under attack from assorted far right forces (and unfortunately someone once associated with the British left) for including in its list of beneficiaries the White Helmets—the volunteer civil defence service that act as first responders to bombing attacks on Syrian opposition communities, digging dead and injured victims out of the rubble.

The White Helmets have been subjected to a vicious slander campaign by a network of Syrian regime supporters, centred around Australian university lecturer Tim Anderson.

These people have long supported Assad’s bloody campaign of repression against anyone who dares to challenge his power, but their attack on the White Helmets carries this to a new level: not only do they cheer on the mass slaughter in Syria, they also seek to deny Assad’s victims the elementary right to rescue their loved ones and to bury their dead. This is akin to the ‘double tap’ attack favoured by both Assad and the Israeli air force: first you bomb a community and then you drop a second bomb to hit those who come out in response to the attack. But in this case the first attack comes in the form of the rhetorical onslaught by Anderson and his supporters, who seek to prevent the very existence of any form of civil defence in Syrian opposition communities—and then the real bombs drop.

This is a regression to medieval standards of warfare—as far as I know not even Lord Haw Haw objected when the British authorities appointed air raid wardens in the Second World War.

Nick Griffin’s tweet smearing Syria Civil Defence and the Jo Cox Fund.

Most of those contributing to this campaign have come from various sections of the far right: Nick Griffin of the BNP, British and US groups associated with the ‘libertarian right,’ climate change deniers, and opponents of the great ‘globalist’ conspiracy to take over the world—which they describe as linked to Jews, to Freemasons, and of course to green lizards from outer space. One vociferous supporter of Anderson can be found on the internet engaged with white supremacists branding Nelson Mandela a ‘terrorist.’

An unexpected, recent denizen of this fetid milieu is erstwhile British leftist Tariq Ali, who has reposted one of the cruder attacks on the memory of Jo Cox and the White Helmets on his Facebook page.

However, while all this chatter is going on the White Helmets are going about their work across large parts of Syria, braving Assad’s bombs to save lives and recover bodies (some 50,000 lives saved in the course of their operations at the cost of over 100 of their own lives), with modest support from some western governments, from public fund raising, and from sympathetic bodies like the London Fire Brigades Union. This gives them an annual budget about one-third the size of the fire service for a small English city, which usually has nothing more serious to deal with than chip fat fires and motor accidents. Clearly the resources that Jo Cox’s fund will provide to them can make an important contribution to saving lives in Syria.

There is a bitter twist to this tale: Assad supporter Tim Anderson, who is intimately associated with this attack on the White Helmets, has been invited to speak at the Crossing Borders conference on the Greek island of Lesvos, where many Syrian refugees have landed after a perilous sea voyage, and where over 60 who died in the attempt are buried. These are some of the pearls of wisdom he wants to share with the Conference:
“Most civilians in the areas said to have been ‘barrel bombed’ left a very long time ago… Every attack on al Nusra is thus portrayed as an attack on ‘civilians’ and clinics, or on emergency health workers. Much the same applies to Medicin Sans Frontiers (MSF), which funds al Nusra clinics… in several terrorist held areas.”
“The photos of dead and injured women and children in the ghost towns inhabited by the armed groups are simply borrowed from other contexts…”
“The Syrian Army has been brutal with terrorists but, contrary to western propaganda, protective of civilians.”

The spectacle of a supporter of the Assad regime being feted at a conference ostensibly concerned with refugees, just metres from the graves of victims of that same regime, would seem to be something that could only take place in a particularly bad dream. Yet it is due to happen next month, with Tim Anderson speaking under the sponsorship of Stop the War and the People’s Assembly against Austerity, and with Tariq Ali also on the platform. Anderson’s supporters are already crowing at this recognition.

While two scheduled speakers have refused to take part in this absurd farce, repeated attempts by Syrian solidarity activists to persuade Stop the War to take a stand against it have met a stone wall.

The reputation of the British left, of peace activism and of refugee support movements, is being challenged here. Pause and reflect for a moment how Syrian refugees will feel on hearing of this event, of what it says about how much real understanding and concern there is in this country for their suffering and lived histories. Anyone with political understanding should appreciate how callous this act is; anyone with an ounce of moral conscience should feel compelled to speak out in protest to the conference organisers, sponsors, and speakers.

PRESS RELEASE: Who is attacking the Jo Cox Fund for supporting Syria’s rescue volunteers?

Tariq Ali repeats the smear against Syria Civil Defence and the Jo Cox Fund on Facebook.

Monday 20 June 2016

Support Syrian civil society—the alternative both to Assad’s failed state and to the terror state of ISIS

A tribute to Jo Cox by the Syrian civil society organisation Women Now for Development.

Syrians and their supporters are mourning the loss of their bravest friend in UK politics. In our previous post we called on others to step forward and continue her work, and listed five ways to carry on the work of Jo Cox on Syria:

  1. Support Syria Civil Defence—the ‘White Helmets’

  2. Support Syrian civil society—the alternative to both Assad’s murderous failed state and the terror state of ISIS

  3. Break the sieges—call for UK humanitarian airdrops NOW

  4. Stop the bombs—call for UK action to end Assad’s mass murder: No-Bombing Zone NOW

  5. Safe passage for refugees—end the UK and EU’s hostile policies towards refugees NOW

There is more on how you can support Syria Civil Defence in that earlier post, including by supporting the Jo Cox Fund.

Syria Civil Defence are just one of very many civil society organisations to grow during Syria’s revolution against dictatorship. Local councils have been formed in communities across Syria, experimenting with democracy in a country that has suffered more than four decades of dictatorship under the Assads. These local councils, along with very many Syrian civil society organisations, are working to build a humane alternative both to the murderous failed state of Assad, and to the terror pseudo-state of ISIS.

“There’s a thriving civil society, against the odds. I mean, it’s amazing that there is still a civil society inside Syria.”

A lot of support for Syrian civil society comes from the Syrian diaspora. And international NGOs rely greatly on Syrian civil society organisations to deliver on the ground. Read this article focusing on Hand in Hand for Syria to get an idea. As well as established NGOs, British and Syrian doctors in the UK are supporting medics working under fire in Syria. London Fire Brigade support Syria Civil Defence with donations of equipment. But we believe there is much more UK civil society can do to support civil society in Syria.

One key area is education. We are working with NGOs who support and run schools inside Syria, schools that now have to use classrooms in basements because of the deliberate targeting of civilian areas by the Assad regime. These schools are looking to build contacts with schools in the UK. Their need is is not just for funds; it is a need for teachers working under the worst circumstances to have the support of their colleagues outside Syria; it is a need for children to see hope in contact with a world beyond the war.

Please get in touch with us—info@syriauk.org—if you would like to help make civil society links between the UK and Syria, on education, on local governance, health, emergency services, culture and more.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group co-chaired by Jo Cox, the APPG Friends of Syria, produced several issues of Syria Notes with information on Syrian civil society organisations and their work, including articles on the Syrian Network for Human Rights, on volunteering in refugee schools run by the Karam Foundation, on the Badael Foundation and their work with women peacemaking activists inside Syria, on the many local activists working to sustain life inside besieged areas, on the work done by the Syrian British Medical Society and Syria Relief to support services under attack by the Assad regime.

Also in back issues of Syria Notes, you’ll find extensive discussion by Syrian civil society activists at the close of February’s aid conference in London, an appeal from women activists under siege organised by Women Now for Development's centre in Daraya, a call for airdrops from UOSSM, the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, and a detailed account of the rise of Syria’s local councils.

Find out more about how to support the causes Jo Cox believed in on our TAKE ACTION page.

Read our appreciation: Jo Cox, humanitarian.

More In Common: A Worldwide Celebration of Jo Cox

From the Facebook event page:
On Jo Cox’s birthday this Wednesday, show the world that we have far #moreincommon with each other than that which divides us.

Across the world, we will gather together to celebrate Jo’s life, her warmth, love, energy, passion, flair, Yorkshire heritage, and her belief in the humanity of every person in every place, from Batley and Spen to Aleppo and Darayya.

London: 4pm–5pm, Trafalgar Square

Batley and Spen: 4pm–5pm

New York City: 11am–12pm

Washington DC: 11am–12pm

Brussels: 5pm–6pm, Ancienne Belgique

Nairobi: 6pm–7pm

Sunday 19 June 2016

Honour her memory through action

Read our appreciation: Jo Cox, humanitarian.

Syrians and their supporters are mourning the loss of their bravest friend in UK politics. We need others to step forward and continue her work.

Here are five ways to carry on the work of Jo Cox on Syria:

  1. Support Syria Civil Defence—the ‘White Helmets’
  2. Support Syrian civil society—the alternative to both Assad’s murderous failed state and the terror state of ISIS
  3. Break the sieges—call for UK humanitarian airdrops NOW
  4. Stop the bombs—call for UK action to end Assad’s mass murder: No-Bombing Zone NOW
  5. Safe passage for refugees—end the UK and EU’s hostile policies towards refugees NOW

Syria Civil Defence: Also known as the ‘White Helmets,’ Syria Civil Defence are rescue volunteers working inside Syria. Unarmed and neutral, these heroes have saved more than 51,000 lives from under the rubble and brought hope for Syria’s future.

They are one of three causes being supported by the Jo Cox Fund. The other two worthy causes are The Royal Voluntary Service, to support volunteers helping combat loneliness in her constituency, Batley and Spen in West Yorkshire, and HOPE not Hate, who seek to challenge and defeat the politics of hate and extremism within local communities across Britain.

Donate to the Jo Cox Fund here.

Read more about the White Helmets and their call for a No-Fly Zone in Syria.

Follow Syria Civil Defence on Twitter.

Sign a petition calling for the White Helmets to be awarded the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize.

Find out more about how to support the causes Jo Cox believed in on our TAKE ACTION page.

More In Common: A Worldwide Celebration of Jo Cox

From the Facebook event page:
On Jo Cox’s birthday this Wednesday, show the world that we have far #moreincommon with each other than that which divides us.

Across the world, we will gather together to celebrate Jo’s life, her warmth, love, energy, passion, flair, Yorkshire heritage, and her belief in the humanity of every person in every place, from Batley and Spen to Aleppo and Darayya.

London: 4pm–5pm, Trafalgar Square

Batley and Spen: 4pm–5pm

New York City: 11am–12pm

Washington DC: 11am–12pm

Brussels: 5pm–6pm, Ancienne Belgique

Nairobi: 6pm–7pm

Friday 17 June 2016

Jo Cox, humanitarian.

Humanity lost a champion when Jo Cox was stolen from us. We are deeply saddened by the loss. We extend our most sincere condolences to Jo’s family and friends, and our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Syrian groups in Britain learned of her last year as a new MP prepared to speak up on Syria after two years of near-silence in the UK Parliament. Her view of the crisis was both moral and realistic, rigorous in seeking to understand what was happening, and clear in seeing what could and should be done.

The Syrian war is not just a humanitarian crisis; it is a crime against humanity. Jo Cox was not content to settle for helping the victims, she demanded action to end the crime.

Her focus was civilian protection: achieve that, and the rest follows; fail on that and no lasting good can come of our actions. She advocated action by the UK and allies to stop Assad’s deliberate bombing of civilian areas as the single greatest threat to civilians. She advocated humanitarian airdrops by the UK to besieged civilians to force an end to Assad’s deliberate use of starvation as a weapon.

Jo Cox abstained on the December 2015 vote on extending anti-ISIS airstrikes into Syria. She was deeply unhappy that the proposed intervention offered no relief to civilians. She refused to cast her vote either for isolationism or for a narrow counterterrorist policy that failed to deal with the ultimate cause of Syria’s horror, the Assad regime’s campaign of mass murder.

Britain’s failure to act in 2013 came in part because politicians allowed the massacres in Syria to become the subject of UK party politics. In all of her work on Syria, Labour MP Jo Cox reached out across party lines, working with Conservatives on the need to stop the bombing, and with Liberal Democrats on the need for action to break the sieges. In the last fortnight of her life she had the satisfaction of seeing MPs from across the House of Commons stand to speak in favour of humanitarian air drops.

Failure to act to protect civilians inside Syria has now become failure to protect civilians fleeing Syria. Victims of the murderous dictatorship are now used as a propaganda tool by the UK’s own inhumane far right. We have tolerated organised thuggery in Syria; now the thuggishness has entered our own politics.

Humanitarianism is caring for others, and through that we nurture our own humanity. British politics sacrificed its own humanity in its response to the Syria crisis. Jo Cox did her best to redeem it.

We will miss her deeply.

Batool Abdulkareem, Heba Ajami, Mark Boothroyd, Clara Connolly, Amr Salahi, Kellie Strom, Syria Solidarity UK

Yasmine Nahlawi, Rethink Rebuild Society

Dr Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal, Syrian Association of Yorkshire

Dr Mohammad Tammo, Kurds House

Reem Assil, Syrian Platform for Peace

Rouba Mhaissen, SAWA for development and aid

Mazen Ejbaei, Help 4 Syria UK

Dr Amer Masri, Scotland4Syria

Dr Mohammad Alhadj Ali, Syrian Welsh Society

Dr Abdullah Hanoun, Syrian Community of the South West

Dr Fadel Moghrabi, Peace and Justice for Syria

Talal Al-Mayhani, Centre for Thought and Public Affairs

Amjad Selo, Syrian Society in Nottinghamshire

Jonathan Brown, Saleyha Ahsan, Ben Midgley, Liberal Democrats for Syrian Freedom, Peace & Reconstruction

Yara Bader, Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression

Mazen Darwish, Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression

Yara Tlass, Watanili

Rafif Jouejati, FREE-Syria

Moataz Aljbawi, Union of Syria Civil Society Organizations

Bassam al-Kuwlati, RMTeam

Violations Documentation Centre

Assaad al Achi, Baytna

Aref Alkrez

Alaa Basatneh

Majd Chourbaji, Basamat for Development

Salim Salamah, Palestinian League for Human Rights

Syria Civil Defence, ‘The White Helmets’

Emissa for Development

Majd Chourbaji, Basamat for development

Fadel Abdul Ghany, Syrian Network for Human Rights

Hozan Ibrahim, Citizens for Syria

Thursday 16 June 2016

Jo Cox

We are deeply shocked at the news of the death of Jo Cox.

Here is our earlier statement:

All of our thoughts and prayers are with Jo Cox and her family and friends today.

As a newly elected MP, Jo Cox has been making a remarkable and unique contribution to changing the understanding of Syria in British politics.

By reaching out to MPs and peers across parties, she has helped shift the issue of Syria away from partisan stalemate. Her strong advocacy of clear policy options focused on civilian protection has provided a humane and intelligent alternative to both the isolationist and the narrow counterterrorist tendencies in the UK’s policy debates on Syria.

The work is not yet finished. We know there is much more Jo wants to see done. We very much hope that we will continue to have her with us in the struggle for a free and peaceful Syria.

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Volunteering with SAMS in Greece: Last days

Mark Boothroyd recently spent time volunteering with the Syrian American Medical Society team in Greece. You can read the start of his diary entries here, and the second part here.

28 May: Day five with SAMS Global Response

We headed back to Hara today. There was a struggle setting up the clinic. The usual spot was ruled out because people cooked there with fires made using plastic and other rubbish and the smoke was a health hazard, as well as the risk of burning down tents. We tried to park on the edge of the gas station next to the hotel, but the owner came out and told us to get off his property.

We found a spot further up the road and managed to get our tarp up to provide some shade for the patients.

The first couple of hours were extremely busy, with a host of minor injuries. Many people have been trying to cross the border and have sustained cuts and sprains due to the terrain, or at the hands of the FYROM police.

There were a few sick kids with fevers, and adults with headaches and sore throats. Sprained ankles and sore knees from long treks, and a fair few blisters.

One young man had his wrist broken by the FYROM police when they beat him and his friends for crossing the border. Everyone had stories of police brutality as they were violently attacked for attempting to cross. I had to remove the stitches from the scalp of guy who had his head split open by the police the last time he tried to cross. The attacks were so vicious that some people were praising the Greek police for being nice in comparison.

We met some lovely people as usual; a young Iranian guy hung around all day translating for Farsi speakers, an Afghan who had spent time in Pakistan helped out Urdu speaking refugees, while an Arab Syrian from Northern Syria translated into Kurdish for Iraqi and Syrian Kurds.

The best bit of the day was when a young girl made a thank you card for our translator Leena, and gave her some flowers. That our work inspired this effort in the midst of the harsh reality of the camp showed why it was so important. Among the total lack of care and support shown for the refugees by the EU and the Greek government, we were a sign that someone out there still cared for them, and wanted to do something to help. Without that, their whole experience would be of antagonism and fear and opposition. If we can bring a little human care and kindness into that situation, and help challenge that reality, it makes it all worth it.

29 May: Day six with SAMS Global Response

Today I was made Team Leader of the Hara clinic, a somewhat rapid promotion which I wasn't expecting.

After reorganising the clinic van and a trip to pharmacy we drove out to Hara and set up where we had yesterday.

Before we had even set up a volunteer came to us saying a pregnant woman was dizzy and needed to be seen. MSF also passed on a message that there had been fighting the night before and several stabbing so we should be prepared to receive lots of wounds.

We were inundated when we set up and ended up seeing 60 patients in the first two hours. There was only one stab victim though, and his wound had been inflicted several days before. The pregnant women was just a little dehydrated and suffering from morning sickness, so was given rehydration salts and encouraged to drink.

A young guy from Damascus who had helped translate for his friend came and sat with us during a quiet period. He had been in Turkey for three years before deciding to come to Europe. He explained he had lost all his family early in the revolt, so he had absolutely no one left.

He kept asking why the EU didn't let in refugees. "Do they think we're terrorists?!" he said repeatedly in English and Arabic. His anger and frustration were palpable.

The guy had no sympathy for radical nihilistic groups, but how long would that last if he was kept in this situation for another two or three years? Another patient explained that Daesh had taken over his village in Syria, so if he went back he would either have to join them or be killed. If the EU wouldn't let him in, his only choice to have any sort of life would be to return to Syria and join Daesh in some way.

The situation of the refugees; oppressed, denied their rights and forced to live in inhumane conditions, is a fertile ground for alienation and radicalisation. A translator reported that a group of refugees were joking that they wished they were animals because maybe the Europeans would treat them better then.

Despite this depressing reality, there some who maintained their spirit. A woman who had damaged her feet walking for five days over the border, still laughed and joked at how fast her smuggler had run and the comical manner in which he was shouting at them to go faster.

A real issue for us was a lack of Farsi translators. The population of Hara is mixed with lots of Afghans, Iranians, Kurds and Arabs from Iraq and Syria, some Pakistanis and Congolese. SAMS has plenty of Arabic speakers, but few Farsi speakers. We were lucky enough to have two Urdu speakers on our team, but that was pure coincidence. We did our best with help from refugees who spoke a bit of English helping to translate, but it was a struggle in more complex cases.

If any Farsi or Urdu speakers want to come out to volunteer with SAMS, please get in touch via their website.

From SAMS Global Response in Greece to Idlib National Hospital in Syria.
#MedicsUnderFire #NotATarget

Thursday 9 June 2016

Volunteering with SAMS in Greece: Inside a government camp

Mark Boothroyd recently spent time volunteering with the Syrian American Medical Society team in Greece. You can read the start of his diary entries here.

26 May: Day three with SAMS Global Response.

We headed out to camp Hara again, set up the clinic and began seeing patients. There was more of a challenge today as we didn't have a Farsi translator today and about a third of the patients only spoke Farsi. We tried as best we could, with those refugees who knew a little English translating for those who knew none.

There was a two year old with a second degree burn on her forearm, a 60 year old needing BP medication for his cardiac condition, lots of blisters and cut feet from walking miles and attempting to cross the border. Lots of sore throats and children with colds and coughs. We saw 64 patients today.

Zaher Sahloul, President of SAMS came down to observe the clinic and thank us for our work. He has been visiting the Global Response team for the past week to participate and check on its work.
A few of us who work in the NHS agreed to create networks for SAMS in each profession, in order to draw more healthcare workers into its work.

27 May: Day four with SAMS Global Response.

Today I was assigned to the team covering one of the government camps that have been set up to take refugees from Idomeni. These camps are being set up and run by the Greek military, and are scattered around Thessaloniki.

SAMS currently covers just this one camp, but is looking to cover more as they are set up.
After restocking at the pharmacy we headed down to Sindos. The camp doesn’t have an official name yet, so everyone calls it Sindos after the nearby town, and because this translates as heaven. Some dark humour has to be allowed in this situation.

The camp is on a big industrial site, an old tannery. Refugees have tents inside the big industrial hanger, and there are portaloos and running water and meals served by the Greek military. It’s still an appalling state to keep human beings in, but a minor improvement on conditions at Idomeni.

There is lots of room for improvement though and the hope is the refugees can self-organise and take over much of the running of the camp, for the duration of their stay. Whether the Greek authorities will be amenable to that is another matter.

SAMS has a permanent building on site which the clinic runs out of. It runs for 6 hours a day, every day and is slowly starting to be integrated into the local health system. Hospitals accept referrals from the clinicians for serious cases, and ambulances are beginning to transport patients to Thessaloniki for regular dialysis.

Clinic was slow at first, but towards the end we were almost overwhelmed by a stream of complex cases. A child with suspected measles had to be sent to hospitals for tests and to isolate him from the unvaccinated children in the camp. Thousands of Syrian kids have missed out on vaccinations, so the threat of contagious disease in the camp environment is very real.

Another child had a heart murmur which needed to be checked out, and one of our translators accompanied her and her mother to the hospital, a trip which took the entire afternoon and evening. A young man had a suspected eye infection that wasn’t responding to antibiotics so needed to see an ophthalmologist and was sent there as well.

There were a lot of sick children with fevers, coughs and colds, which their parents were pretty stressed about, but which weren’t life threatening. The fact the clinic operates daily means following up patients is relatively simple, so prescribing lots of fluid, children’s paracetamol and cough syrup for symptoms was a valid treatment given the team could check on them the next day. The doctors drew on their own experience as parents to make some amazing diagnoses, and it was a pleasure and a relief when something that the parents thought very serious, was easily treatable.

We had a gynaecologist with us with an ultrasound, and a few pregnant women came by to have a check up and listen to their baby’s heartbeat for the first time. Seeing the happy and relieved patients was a special element to the day.

Sadly some of the team left today, their efforts will be sorely missed. More volunteers will arrive over the weekend so there are fresh teams to handle next weeks clinics.

Wednesday 8 June 2016

UK Policy on Syria and Syrians: House of Lords 14th June

UK Policy on Syria and Syrians: An Expert Briefing

6-7pm on Tuesday 14th June, House of Lords Committee Room 3A

Organised by Liberal Democrats for Syrian Freedom, Peace and Reconstruction.

With speakers from Rethink Rebuild Society and Syria Solidarity UK, on practical steps for improving the lives of Syrian refugees, protecting civilians inside Syria bringing closer an end to the war.

At the party’s Spring Conference in York, the Liberal Democrats passed a positive and wide-ranging policy motion addressing the main issues facing Syria and Syrians and the UK and Europe’s response to the crisis. The Liberal Democrats for Syrian Freedom, Peace and Reconstruction are pleased to host an expert panel briefing and discussion on events in Syrian since Russian and UK military intervention:

 • What is the state of the civilian opposition to Assad, ISIS/Daesh and other extremist groups?

 • What factors are causing the breakdown of the Cessation of Hostilities?

 • What role can and should Syrian civil society organisations play in reconstruction efforts?

 • Why are extremist groups inside Syria so resilient?

 • What factors are shaping the movement and actions of refugees?

 • What simple things can the UK do to ease the plight of refugees in our country?

Hosted by Baroness Sally Hamwee, chaired by Jonathan Brown.

For further information and to confirm your place please RSVP to LD4FreeSyria@gmail.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/events/266965553654422/

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Volunteering with SAMS Global Response in Greece

Mark Boothroyd recently spent time volunteering with the Syrian American Medical Society team in Greece. This is the first in a series of diary entries.

24 May: Day one with SAMS Global Response in Greece. The Greek government has begun clearing Idomeni camp so no volunteers are allowed in, and only minimal staff from NGOs. All press are barred, and the few citizen journalists who remained inside were detained. As all volunteer agencies are barred, SAMS concentrated its work on the camps at Eko, Hotel Hara, and Sindos.

The day started with a briefing from SAMS coordinator about the situation, then we split into groups and planned the day’s work at our respective camps.

As the Greek government is now planning to clear most informal camps, we planned for a ‘mass casualty’ incident, in case they tried to violently clear a camp while we were there providing treatment. Thankfully this didn’t happen.

We then went to the ‘pharmacy’ to restock on supplies. The basement of the house in Polykastro is now an amazingly organised warehouse, with lighting, shelves and tons of materials organised and labelled for ease of access. The majority of the material has been donated from medical organisations and hospitals across Europe, a testament to people’s solidarity despite government indifference.

There are still two ‘rooms of shame’ (pictured) holding unsorted boxes and suitcases of medicine, which just shows the volume of material donated to help the clinics run.

We headed towards Hotel Hara, but an unfortunate collision between the clinic van and a local’s car delayed us for an hour as the police were called and insurance paperwork was sorted. We spent the time lounging in a ice cream parlour, gorging ourselves on cheap ice cream while the cops decided whether they were that bothered to arrest our driver. They removed the van’s license plates as a precaution to stop us driving away.

Eventually everything was sorted and we headed to Hara. Hotel Hara became an informal camp when Idomeni became intolerable for many, and it houses between 400-600 refugees. There is a mix of Syrians, Kurds, Iranians and a few Afghans and Iraqis.

We set up our clinic at the roadside and got to work. There were a mix of complaints: coughs and colds, blisters and sore feet from walking, skin rashes from lack of hygiene, urine and kidney infections, swollen joints, and old war wounds which were aggravated by poor living conditions.

One guy had broken his foot a week ago. Becoming frustrated with his cast, he had taken it off and walk around on it. He needed us to sort out his broken foot as a smuggler was going to take him across the border tonight, and he would have to walk for seven days. After explaining the limits of what we could do, I bandaged his foot tightly, gave him some spare bandages and extra painkillers and sent him on his way. We advised him to use a crutch as much as possible. Whether it would make a difference was unlikely.

Towards the end of the clinic clowns without borders turned up to entertain the kids. They got them laughing and clapping along to slap stick antics, and even persuaded some adults to join in.

While I was getting some materials from the clinic van a young boy of eight years old was playing around trying to see inside the van. A news helicopter flew low overhead and the boy immediately turned around and pointed his hands like a rifle at the helicopter and began making shooting noises.

Deyar, the young Kurdish guy who translated for us at Idomeni turned up, again, translating for another Kurdish man. We chatted and he explained he was being smuggled across the border that night as well. I wished him luck and that I was glad to see him again. He accepted the words kindly, but everything I could say sounded trite in my head.

We finished the clinic having seen 65 patients, and headed back to our hotel.

Friday 3 June 2016

Pro-Assad speaker re-invited to Lesvos refugee conference

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

The organisers of Crossing Borders have re-invited pro-Assad speaker Tim Anderson to their refugee conference due to take place on the island of Lesvos in July.

Anderson’s shameful record on Syria has been detailed by journalist Andrea Glioti who documented how he abused his position to act as a propagandist for the Assad regime, providing cover for Assad’s campaign of mass murder and gross violations of human rights.

When academic Maria Nikolakaki was asked by Syria Solidarity UK why Anderson had been re-invited despite his clear pro-regime stance, his links to the regime, and the opposition to his appearance from other conference speakers, her only reply was to share a petition initiated by the pro-Assad, US-based Syria Solidarity Movement protesting Anderson’s initial removal. The petition had been signed by 270 people.

The fact that Anderson has been re-invited shows clearly that some of the conference organisers have some sympathy with his views. This also helps explain the complete absence of any Syrian speakers at the conference, despite Syrians making up a majority of the refugees fleeing to Europe.

When researchers from the Berlin Social Science Center surveyed Syrian refugees in Germany in September 2015 they found the vast majority were fleeing the violence of the Assad regime. You can’t be pro refugees and at the same time defend the tyrant who causes them to flee.

Giving an Assad apologist a platform brings into doubt the aims and legitimacy of this conference. Pro-Assad speakers should not be given a platform at refugee events, and to participate in the conference while Anderson remains a speaker is to be complicit in an attempt to rehabilitate the Assad regime and its supporters.

We now call on all other conference participants to withdraw from the Crossing Borders conference.


Crossing Borders conference, Lesvos, 7-10th July. Sponsored by Stop the War Coalition (UK), Peoples' Assembly Against Austerity, Real News Network, Stopimperialism.org.

To the participants and organisers of the ‘Crossing Borders’ Conference, open letter from Syrian groups in the UK and others, 22 May 2016.

Dr. Tim “Asad” Anderson: the abuse of academia to spread out propaganda, by Andrea Glioti, 23 May 2014.

Care about refugees? Listen to them: A survey of Syrian refugees in Germany, The Syria Campaign, 9 October 2015.

Thursday 2 June 2016

Welcome cross-party UK support for humanitarian air drops

The Assad regime in Syria has failed to fulfil the demand for aid access to besieged areas set out in the International Syria Support Group statement of 17 May. In that statement, the ISSG set a deadline of 1 June, and named seven besieged areas of particular concern.

Yesterday saw last minute limited deliveries of aid to just two areas out of seven highlighted by the ISSG: Moadamiya and Daraya. In the case of Daraya, the shipment did not include food aid. All seven areas highlighted by the ISSG are areas besieged by the regime: Arbin, Daraya, Douma, East Harasta, Moadamiya, Zabadin and Zamalka.

Syria Solidarity UK welcomes yesterday’s remarks by Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs Philip Hammond affirming UK commitment to seeing that humanitarian air drops are carried out, now that the Assad regime has failed to meet the deadline.

We also welcome yesterday’s remarks by Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn that the UK now has a responsibility to deliver on air drops.

We note that this is the first time in over five years that we have seen agreement between UK Government and Opposition on taking active measures to protect civilians inside Syria.

We welcome also the widespread support for humanitarian air drops from other party leaderships, and from MPs and peers across Parliament.

The ISSG 17 May statement tasked the World Food Programme with implementing humanitarian air drops or air bridge delivery to all besieged areas should the regime fail to allow road access. The WFP has already made a large number of successful air drops to regime held territory in Deir Ezzor, but none to areas besieged by the regime, even though the vast majority of sieges are inflicted by the regime.

We are dismayed that the WFP refuses to deliver aid without the permission of the Assad regime. We are dismayed that employees of the WFP and the International Committee of the Red Cross have been briefing the press in opposition to air drops, despite their successful use in regime-held Deir Ezzor.

Yesterday’s ICRC delivery of aid to Daraya was the first since the Assad regime began besieging the town in November 2012. Five half-empty trucks went to malnourished Daraya, and nine cars filled with what one activist described as ‘tourists’. No food was included other than baby formula, and only enough of that to last one day. The ICRC said they planned to deliver food on Friday, but now Jan Egeland, chair of the UN/ISSG Task Force on Humanitarian Access in Syria, says says he’s disappointed they cannot confirm that a food convoy will go in to Daraya tomorrow as planned.

The UN, the World Food Programme, and the ICRC, have allowed themselves to be used by the Assad regime throughout this crisis: a crisis overwhelmingly caused by the deliberate actions of the regime. Negotiation has become accomodation, compromise has become appeasement.

If the World Food Programme is unwilling to carry out humanitarian air drops, then the UK should call on the expertise and resources of the RAF.

Keep the promise.

Break the sieges.

Air drops now.

From the International Syria Support Group 17 May statement:
Starting June 1, if the UN is denied humanitarian access to any of the designated besieged areas, the ISSG calls on the World Food Program to immediately carry out a program for air bridges and air drops for all areas in need. The ISSG pledges to support such a program, and also calls on all parties to the cessation of hostilities to provide a secure environment for that program. Air deliveries should also continue to Dayr al-Zour. The ISSG stressed that such access, as in other areas, must be continuous for as long as humanitarian needs persist.

Full ISSG statement of 17 May 2016 here.

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Call for air drops today: Parliament Square 6pm: Downing Street 7pm-8pm

All this week we are demonstrating to call for humanitarian air drops to besieged communities in Syria.

Newspaper reports have suggested the UN is backtracking on air drops. We want the UK to step up and keep the international community’s promise.

Today, Wednesday the 1st of June, we are going to meet and demonstrate in Parliament Square, Westminster, at 6 pm.

Then we are walking to Downing Street. We are going to stand there from 7 to 8 pm.

Please join us. Meet us on the green lawn opposite Parliament.

What do you need to bring? Signs to say: