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Thursday 25 November 2021

Channel deaths: We need safe routes now

Six ways to create safe routes and save lives
We want to express our deep sorrow at the recent deaths of those trying to cross the Channel to claim asylum in the UK. From our solidarity work with Syrians we well understand what catastrophes they were fleeing from, and the additional anxiety and horror to their families of this new catastrophe.

We are sickened by official responses: the expressions of shock, as if this tragedy were not an inevitable consequence of government policies; the British and French blaming each other; both Government and Opposition blaming the smugglers who only exist because of the absence of safe routes to asylum.

We are sickened especially by Priti Patel’s lies about people crossing the Channel, describing them as ‘economic migrants,’ saying they are ‘elbowing out the women and children,’ even though the Refugee Council has shown from Home Office figures that 91% of channel crossers since January 2020 have been from ten nationalities with a strong likelihood of being granted asylum.

Most are fleeing from authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and Africa, tolerated if not supported by Western governments. The proposed solution of another Immigration and Nationality bill, which threatens to undermine the right to asylum and breach international law, will be ineffectual against such ‘push factors’ and will serve only to promote a climate of hysteria and populist authoritarianism in our own countries.

What we ask for instead is an acceptance of current realities and the creation of safe routes to claim asylum in Europe and in the UK, such as:
  • The establishment of a UK consulate in northern France to accept and process asylum claims, with particular categories (those with family or other connections with the UK) given priority;
  • The resumption of resettlement schemes from countries neighbouring the zones of conflict, under the auspices of the UN;
  • A workable policy of refugee family reunion;
  • Restoration of the ‘Dubs’ scheme to accept our share of unaccompanied minors in Europe;
  • A process for urgently processing claims from persons at particular risk, such as military or interpreters who have worked for British occupation forces abroad, or NGOs funded by us;
  • The allocation of sufficient resources for a humane and speedy asylum process.
It’s the least we can do.

Syria Solidarity UK

Friday 25 June 2021

Amnesty vigil at Danish Embassy calls for continued protection of Syrian refugees

On World Refugee Day, 20 June, Amnesty held a vigil at the Danish Embassy in London calling for continued protection of Syrian refugees.

Between 2020 and 1 April 2021, Denmark has revoked or not renewed the residence permits of 380 Syrians, claiming that certain parts of Syria (Damascus and the Rif region) are “safe”. While many of them are waiting for their cases to be finally decided in appeal, 39 Syrians have already been put in a “return position”, meaning that they are at risk of being returned to Syria. Amnesty International believes that any return to Syria would be a violation of the international obligation of non-refoulement, which prohibits states from transferring people to a place where they would be at real risk of serious human rights violations. Read more from Amnesty.

The vigil was physically attacked by a lone counter-demonstrator, presumed to be from the Far Right. After he had broken a banner pole, he was restrained an removed, and the vigil continued with speeches.

Our words to the vigil:

“Greetings and solidarity from Syria Solidarity UK. Three of us spoke to the Danish ambassador here on seventh May when we presented a letter of protest from eight UK Syrian organisations.

“He said: ‘We had a moment of difficulty in 2015 when many asylum seekers came.’

“We said that was a moment of grace for Europe, when Europe opened its borders to Syrians, and it’s a shame that European leaders could not live up to it. Since then, there’s been a race to the bottom on asylum across Europe, and Denmark is in the lead. We are very afraid that other other countries will follow that bad example.

“We are not proud of what’s happening already in the UK, with Priti Patel leading an assault to asylum rights, including the use of old army barracks as refugee camps.

“But the good news is that—just as Syrians walked bravely through Europe’s borders in 2015—they are now organising and leading a fight back from the camps, with the help of dedicated NGOs like Care4Calais and others. Pennally is closed and we’ll see what happens in Napier after the great high court victory in June.

“And they’re leading the protests in Denmark too.

“Wherever there are Syrians there’s a fight back. The revolution still lives in Idlib but also in Copenhagen and in London!”

Friday 7 May 2021

Protest at Danish government’s withdrawal of residence permits from Syrian refugees

Representatives of eight UK Syrian organisations presented a letter this morning to the Danish Ambassador, to protest at Danish Government actions in withdrawing the residence permits of Syrian refugees.

Danish authorities have withdrawn or not extended the residence permits of more than 250 Syrian refugees, justifying their actions with a report claiming that conditions are now safe in Damascus. Experts cited in the Danish report have rejected its conclusions, and say their views have been misrepresented.

Read the letter in full (PDF)

Add your voice: Tell them Syria is not safe

The letter stated:
This action by Denmark is based on a false assessment of the situation in Syria, and is in breach of international law and the principle of non-refoulement, which guarantees that no one should be returned to a country where they would face torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and other irreparable harm.

It is in conflict with the stated policy of the European Union as laid out by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs in November 2020:

Conditions inside Syria at present do not lend themselves to the promotion of large-scale voluntary return, in conditions of safety and dignity in line with international law. The limited returns that have taken place illustrate the many obstacles and threats still faced by returning internally displaced persons and refugees, in particular forced conscription, indiscriminate detention, forced disappearances, torture, physical and sexual violence, discrimination in access to housing, land and property as well as poor or inexistent basic services.

The situation in Syria has not improved in the months since that judgement was made.

On receiving the letter, Ambassador Lars Thuesen said, “We are not forcing people to go back to Syria at this point.”

“But you are putting people in legal limbo,” replied Clara Connolly of Syria Solidarity UK.

Douna Haj Ahmed of the Syrian British Council said:
“Bombing and hostilities are not the only reasons that forced Syrians to flee their homes. Thousands of Syrians died under torture in the Assad regime’s prisons. Every refugee who is returned to Syria is under the threat of arbitrary arrest and death under torture, or of forced recruitment.

“Will the Danish government bear responsibility for the disappearance of any Syrian refugee deported to Syria, after entering the Syrian territories? Returning refugees is a crime against humanity and will remain linked historically to the decision of the Danish government.”

Afraa Hashem of Action for Sama said:
“Syria is not safe as long as the Assad regime is in it, and it is responsible for the crimes that occur in Syria. As a refugee like the Syrian refugees in Denmark, I need legal stability so that I can continue my life by studying and working, but I will not reach this stability if I feel that my residence is threatened by non-renewal.”

Photographs by Steve Eason