Monday, 25 May 2015

Video: Peter Tatchell on Syria

Peter Tatchell on why the international community needs to act on Syria.

More from Peter Tatchell at

Via Syria Solidarity UK.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Why we support a No-Fly Zone

Cross-posted from Syria Solidarity UK.

Read more: A manifesto for Syria

Join us in London on the 26th of April to answer the call from Syria.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

In this UK election, let’s talk about emergency services.

Cross-posted from Syria Solidarity UK.

Rescued in in the Aegean Sea, September 6, 2014. Photo: Coast Guard Aegean Sea Region Command.

With a death toll close to that of the Titanic sinking, a week of disasters in the Mediterranean has forced UK and EU leaders to pay attention to the failure of their brutal policy of withdrawing rescue services.
The UK Government can and should also act immediately to fund initiatives such as the joint MSF/MOAS rescue mission.

These disasters have made clear what is necessary. Still there are attempts by UK and EU leaders to displace responsibility, to distract from the primary causes and thus avoid effective action.

This exodus is not caused by “human traffickers”, it’s caused primarily by war. The term “human traffickers” is misleading, conflating people-smuggling with enslavement. Those fleeing across the Mediterranean, while they may be exploited by boat owners, are not enslaved by them. They have not been kidnapped and sold into bondage, but have for the most part made a rational choice between trying to survive war, and trying to survive the sea.

Attacking smugglers is no more a good answer than withdrawing rescue services was.

It’s not that long ago that some Europeans were charging other Europeans who were fleeing genocide enormous sums of money to make an escape by sea. For example Denmark proudly remembers 1943, when almost all of Denmark’s Jews escaped the Holocaust with the help of their fellow citizens. Less emphasis is placed on the fact that many were charged amounts equivalent of up to £5,500 for places on boats making the relatively short crossing to safety in Sweden.

Where there is desperation there will be exploitation, so tackle the reasons for the desperation to stop the exploitation.

Another diversion in some responses to the Mediterranean crisis has been to blame the deaths on NATO’s intervention in Libya.

But note that Libyans themselves are barely represented amongst those fleeing. Syrians make up over a third of those entering the EU irregularly according to figures from Frontex, the EU’s border agency. The next largest national group are people from Eritrea. 67,000 Syrians sought asylum in Europe last year, most arriving by sea.

In contrast UNHCR figures show the current total of Libyan refugees and asylum seekers at under 6,000 worldwide—though the number seeking refuge abroad may yet rise significantly as UNHCR believe up to 400,000 Libyans are internally displaced.

The true role of Libya in the Mediterranean crisis is as a place of transit, though it is far from being the only one. Sailing from Libya has become easier since the fall of the Gaddafi dictatorship. Previously a deal between Italy and Libya resulted in the regime acting as Europe’s outsourced border guards, locking up people trying to flee on boats. Here’s a description from a 2010 report by PRI’s The World, describing the experiences of Daoud from Somalia:
Daoud tried to make the trip north aboard a smuggling vessel, but he was arrested as he tried to board, and sent to a prison in Tripoli, where he became seriously ill.

“I believe it used to be a chemical plant because all of us had skin rashes and the Libyan prison guards used to beat us at least twice a day,” Daoud said. “And that’s what created and forced us to break out of jail. My intention was just to get out of Libya and head to the seas and to see where my luck takes me.”

Daoud alleges that his dark skin color had a lot to do with how he was treated in Libya: “They directly called me a slave. So, it was horrible. They will tell you in your face.”

Jean-Philippe Chauzy is director of communications for the International Organization for Migration in Geneva. He’s traveled frequently to Libya, and said Daoud’s story is shared by many migrants there.
Daoud’s experience shows why this policy was morally unsustainable. The collapse of Gaddafi’s regime showed it was also practically unsustainable. Had NATO not intervened to protect civilians there, the likely result would not have been a more stable Libya, but a longer and more bloody revolution as we’ve seen in Syria, with many more desperate people fleeing to Europe’s shores.


The 900 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean were killed by British government policy, by Dan Hodges, The Telegraph, 20 April 2015.

Mediterranean migrant deaths: where British parties stand, Channel 4 News, 15 April 2015.

UK Election Notes: Foreign Policy Opportunities – Resettling Syrian Refugees, by Dr Neil Quilliam, Chatham House, 10 April 2015.

Restart the Rescue: Help stop children drowning in the Mediterranean, campaign by Save the Children.

Read more: A manifesto for Syria

Join us in London on the 26th of April to answer the call from Syria.

In this UK election, let’s talk about education.

Cross-posted from Syria Solidarity UK.

Above: From a Syria Civil Defence video of a bombed elementary school in Aleppo city, 12 April 2015. At least 10 people were killed and 30 wounded. Via EA WorldView.

Schools in opposition-held territory in Aleppo shut for at least a week following the deaths of at least five children in the April 12 air attack pictured above. See Syria Deeply and EA WorldView for more.

An overview of the war’s impact on education within Syria:
Education is in a state of collapse with half (50.8 per cent) of all school-age children no longer attending school during 2014- 2015, with almost half of all children already losing three years of schooling. There is a wide disparity in school attendance rates across the country as the conflict is creating inequality in educational opportunities. The conflict has generated increasing inequality between the different regions, while the quality of education also deteriorated. The loss of schooling by the end of 2014 represents a human capital debit of 7.4 million lost years of schooling, which represents a deficit of USD 5.1 billion in human capital investment in the education of school children.
From a UN-published report, Syria: Alienation and Violence, Impact of the Syria Crisis (PDF), March 2015.

Save The Children report that:
  • Basic education enrolment in Syria has fallen from close to 100% to an average of 50%.
  • In areas like Aleppo which has seen active conflict for a prolonged period, that is closer to 6%.
  • At least a quarter of schools have been damaged or destroyed.
  • Almost three million Syrian children are out of school.
  • In 2014, half of refugee children were not receiving any form of education.
  • Education programmes are underfunded by almost 50%.
From The Cost of War: Calculating the impact of the collapse of Syria’s education system on Syria’s future (PDF), March 2015.

There is also an education crisis for children who have escaped Syria’s dangers. According to UNICEF, there are an estimated 400,000 out-of-school Syrian children in Lebanon. For The Guardian, Maggie Tookey describes the difficulty of supporting education for refugee children in Arsal, on Lebanon’s border with Syria. And at Syria Deeply, Lamia Nahhas talks of the difficulties in establishing and sustaining schools for refugees in Al-Rihaniyeh, Turkey, and for internally displaced children in the Atmeh camp on the Syrian side of the border.

Lastly, have a look at these descriptions by Robin Yassin-Kassab and blogger Maysaloon of working on Zeitouna education projects for Syrian refugee children.

Read more: A manifesto for Syria

Join us in London on the 26th of April to answer the call from Syria.

Friday, 17 April 2015

In this UK election, let’s talk about healthcare.

Cross-posted from Syria Solidarity UK.

Aftermath of regime attack on the Hilal Hospital belonging to the Syrian Red Crescent in the city of Idlib,  March 29, 2015. Photo by Firas Taki/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

In Syria, healthcare personnel, medical facilities, and ambulances are deliberately and routinely targeted as part of the military strategy of the Syrian government, according to a recent report by the Syrian American Medical Society.

At least 610 medical personnel have been killed, and there have been 233 deliberate or indiscriminate attacks on 183 medical facilities. The Syrian government is responsible for 88 percent of hospital attacks recorded by Physicians for Human Rights, and 97 percent of medical personnel killings, with 139 deaths directly attributed to torture or execution.

For people in Syria, life expectancy at birth has plunged from 75.9 years in 2010 to an estimated 55.7 years at the end of 2014, reducing longevity and life expectancy by 27 per cent, according to a March 2015 UN report.

Restoring healthcare in Syria depends on ending the worst of the violence. Dr Samer Attar wrote recently recently in the Wall Street Journal of his experiences as a volunteer surgeon in Aleppo, saying “no amount of humanitarian aid will offset the systematic and sustained slaughter of civilians.”
Ask any doctor in Aleppo how to help them save lives and their first response is not more aid. They all say the same thing: “Stop the barrel bombs.” A year ago, I asked a doctor there what he would need if the bombings didn’t stop. “More body bags,” he said.


Syria: From bad to worse, by Aitor Zabalgogeazkoa, Head of Mission of the MSF team in Aleppo in 2014, MSF—Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders 7 January 2015.

Syrian Medical Voices from the Ground: The Ordeal of Syria’s Healthcare Professionals, February 2015 report(PDF) by the Syrian American Medical Society.

‘If the medics leave, the civilians will die’ – a UK doctor’s story from Syria, by Aisha Gani, The Guardian, 12 March 2015.

Syria: In a besieged hospital, sleeping and resting were an impossible luxury, by Dr. S, a young surgeon in a makeshift hospital east of Damascus, MSF—Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, 13 March 2015.

Syria field post: ‘I had to do procedures I’d never seen. YouTube helped a lot’, by Lubna Takruri, The Guardian 16 March 2015.

Doctors in the Crosshairs: Four Years of Attacks on Health Care in Syria, Physicians for Human Rights report, March 2015.

Syria: Alienation and Violence, Impact of the Syria Crisis (PDF) by the Syrian Centre for Policy Research (SCPR), UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), UN Development Programme (UNDP), March 2015.

Aleppo Diary: The Carnage From Syrian Barrel Bombs, by Samer Attar, Wall Street Journal, 12 April 2015.

Read more: A manifesto for Syria

Join us in London on the 26th of April to answer the call from Syria.

In this UK election, let’s talk about housing.

Cross-posted from Syria Solidarity UK.

Damaged buildings in Jouret al-Shayah, Homs, Syria, on February 2, 2013. Photo by Yazen Homsy/Reuters.

The city of Homs, pictured above, has seen some of the worst physical destruction of the past four years, but it is not alone. A March 2015 UN report used satellite imagery to record tens of thousands of homes damaged or destroyed across Syria. Some were hit by shelling or air attacks, others were levelled when the Assad regime demolished entire neighbourhoods considered sympathetic to the opposition. As thousands of families were driven from their homes, satellite photos also recorded the growth of refugee camps in surrounding countries. Mass graves of many of those who didn’t escape were also recorded in satellite images.

Full report: Four Years of Human Suffering: The Syria conflict as observed through satellite imagery (PDF) By UNITAR/UNOSAT, March 2015.

Report excerpts: A bird’s-eye view of war-torn Syria, Washington Post, 20 March 2015.

Over half of Syria’s population have been displaced. Over 4 million refugees have fled the country, over 3.9 million of them to neighbouring countries. In the space of a year, Zaatari camp in Jordan became the world’s second largest refugee camp and Jordan’s fourth largest city. The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is equal to at least a quarter of Lebanon’s population prior to the crisis.

António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, says one-tenth of Syrian refugees require resettlement, but for now UNHCR have called on governments to provide places for 130,000 of the most vulnerable people. To date less than 85,000 resettlement places have been confirmed. Norway has pledged to resettle 2,500, Sweden 2,700, and Germany has pledged places for 30,000.

The UK resettled just 143 people up to February of this year.

Read more: A manifesto for Syria

Join us in London on the 26th of April to answer the call from Syria.