If Cameron really cares about Syria, he must not turn his back on her refugees.
Like the other revolutions that came to comprise the Arab Spring, Syria’s Revolution began when aggrieved citizens took to the streets to protest decades of barefaced dictatorship.
The Revolution grew from a spontaneous movement of small, disparate anti-government demonstrations across Syria into a cohesive, nationwide revolution against the country’s Ba’athist government.
However, as the government’s response to protests grew more brutal, opponents of the regime took to arms to oust Assad. Shortly thereafter, the Syrian Revolution metamorphosed into the Syrian civil war and thus began “the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of the Cold War”.
In August and early September, after the horrifying chemical attack in Ghouta, the Obama administration finally admitted that the Assad regime had crossed Obama’s infamous ‘red line’: talks of military intervention commenced in Washington and weeks of debate followed.
‘Anti-war’ activists took to the streets, brandishing signs reading ‘Hands Off Syria’, Vladimir Putin wrote an op-ed for The New York Times warning against intervention in Syria (the tragic irony) and David Cameron – after recalling Parliament to debate and vote on intervention – became the first British Prime Minister in over 200 years to lose a vote on military intervention.
A deal reached in September whereby Assad would surrender his arsenal of chemical weapons finally extinguished the embers of foreign intervention. Anti-interventionists and ‘anti-war’ activists celebrated their endeavours as a victory, boasting that they had ‘Stopped the War!’ (Unaware, apparently, that the war rages on regardless, with Aleppo seeing one of its bloodiest weeks over Christmas.)
The Syrian Civil War, with or without western intervention, will ultimately be determined by foreign hands: not, as the non-interventionists insist, by the Syrians themselves. It’s common knowledge among even the most tepid followers of the Syrian civil war that Islamic extremist groups – fuelled by Saudi money and jihad-hungry foreigners from around the world, including Britain – have gained serious authority in Syria.
They now command the lion’s share of the opposition to Bashar al-Assad in Syria and in September formed a new alliance after declaring their independence from the Syrian Opposition Coalition. (The Islamic Coalition did eventually fall apart, but a new coalition, the Islamic Front, was formed in November.)
Bashar al-Assad has recruited extremists of his own, in the form of Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, to aid him in his fight to retain control of Syria (ironically, at the cost of Syria itself), negating any Assadist claims that the regime fights only for ‘secularism’ against the forces of ‘extremism’.
To use a cliché, there are no good guys left in Syria, and there hasn’t been for quite some time.
Writing this as somebody who supported the government’s calls for humanitarian intervention in August and September, I feel embarrassment and shame to have to rebuke the UK for its ongoing refusal to accept Syrian refugees.
As with most wars of the past century, civilians are the principal victims and all too often targets of the fighting in Syria. Millions have fled their homes since the start of the conflict in 2011. The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which has steadily grown to become the country’s fourth largest ‘city’, provides a home to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees and costs an estimated $500,000 a day to run. Turkey and Jordan have taken in more than 500,000 refugees each, Lebanon up to one million.
The UK has played, in comparison to many other countries (including Russia and China, the Assad regime’s chief benefactors), a great role in providing aid to Syria. However, the UK’s refusal to resettle Syrians who have lost everything but their lives is indefensible.
Labour is pushing for the UK to allow between 400 and 500 Syrian refugees into the country, but this is still a meagre figure when one considers that the war has produced, at the very least, 3.2 million registered refugees. A number of other countries, including the US, Germany and France have pledged to allow more 10,000 refugees into their countries in the near future.
In August the options for ending the war in Syria were few and precarious. Today they are only fewer and more precarious. Peace talks next month in Geneva are unlikely to elicit any lasting peace (or maybe I’m just a pessimist) and the refugee crisis will continue to worsen.
Nigel Farage, whose opposition to migrants has been making headlines all year, said on Sunday that “there is a responsibility on all of us in the free West to try and help some of those people in Syria fleeing literally in fear of their lives” (he shifted his position on Monday during an interview on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show, saying that the UK should offer shelter to fleeing Christians only).
Three years of civil war in Syria has engendered a refugee crisis unparalleled in recent history. If Cameron doesn’t want to discredit his calls for humanitarian intervention, if Cameron really cares about Syria, he must not turn his back on her refugees.
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