Syria: If Britain is unwilling to help the rebels, it should open its doors to Syrian refugees

Welcoming Syrian refugees to Britain would go some way to dissipating the idea that yesterday was all about politicking, rather than the lives of innocent people in a warzone.

While politicians were splitting hairs over UN weapons inspections last night, a Syrian government fighter plane was preparing to dump its lethal payload on a Damascus primary school.

A video of the incident emerged as if to coincide with the parliamentary vote not to punish the use of chemical weapons by the Assad government, with camera footage emerging showing children fleeing the scene of the outrage with napalm-like burns on their bodies.

If anything, this highlights the perversity of relying only on the proported use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime as justification for military action. Conventional bombs are equally lethal, as was spelt out acerbically by Dominic Tierney, political science professor of Swarthmore College in the US:

“Blowing your people up with high explosives is allowable, as is shooting them, or torturing them,” he said. “But woe betide the Syrian regime if it even thinks about using chemical weapons!”

It is not the case, as some seem to enjoy implying, that now the British Parliament has spoken there will be no war – people are still dying in Syria and will continue to die until the day Bashar al Assad no longer remains in power. Yes, in a war. And besides, Socialist French President Francois Hollande and Democrat US President Barack Obama look set to take action anyway, ensuring the UK has done little more than send a message saying it prefers the status quo in Syria to militarily trying to push the conflict towards a more amenable conclusion.

For those of us who did support limited military action, it is hard to see how intervention could have made things any worse than they are already. As we have seen before in Rwanda, Srebrenica and now Syria, inaction can have more deleterious consequences than action, the only difference seemingly that politicians who advocate doing nothing get off scot free when civilians die in a way that the proponents of intervention never do – undoutedly a part of its political appeal.

To date two million people have now fled Syria as a consequence of the country’s civil war, half of them children. The UN expects that by the end of 2013 there will be 3.5 million Syrian refugees. Even getting out of Syria is by no means an end to the hardship. As Saman Majed has written in the Independent:

“It is a miserable situation. One of the main challenges in delivering aid is that they are so widely disbursed. Local army units are helping out by providing meals, and there is a big campaign amongst the host communities to donate clothes. But few agencies are working with the arrivals who are not in camps.”

Most refugees have ended up in Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Some have made their way to Britain, but for obvious reasons not as many as have ended up in neighbouring countries.

However now that Britain will not be intervening militarily in Syria, what is to stop the UK using the money which would have been spent on taking the country to war on bringing Syrian refugees here and helping them to settle in the UK?

David Cameron recently announced at the G8 that the UK would more than double its response to the Syria crisis with £175 million in new funding. Yet the money that would have been spent on action in Syria must vastly outweighs this relatively paltry sum.

If Cameron is serious about intervening on a humanitarian basis on Syria, why not “intervene” in the sense of inviting those refugees fleeing Syria to come and settle here in the UK? Britain could easily absord, say, a million Syrians – many of whom are young people – and provide them with the means to settle and create a feasible life (something it does not look like they are going to get in Syria) in Britain.

While I hold very little hope that this policy would be adopted by a Tory-led government, Ed Miliband could go some way to dispelling the myth that non intervention in Syria is based on the strength of isolationist, Little Englanderism by making the case for solidarity with the Syrian refugees. This would also help to dissipate the idea that yesterday was about politicking, rather than about the lives of innocent people in a warzone.

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16 Responses to “Syria: If Britain is unwilling to help the rebels, it should open its doors to Syrian refugees”

  1. bensix

    It is not the case, as some seem to enjoy implying, that now the British Parliament has spoken there will be no war – people are still dying in Syria and will continue to die until the day Bashar al Assad no longer remains in power.

    Are you suggesting that on the day Assad falls, all of the ex-army rebels, Salafists, Allawites and so on will suddenly stop killing each other? I think this dramatically obscures the nature of a civil war.

    Britain could easily absord, say, a million Syrians – many of whom are
    young people – and provide them with the means to settle and create a
    feasible life (something it does not look like they are going to get in
    Syria) in Britain.

    I think you underestimate the complexities of finding new jobs, homes and school places. Given the difficulties of finding them for people already inside Britain, suddenly absorbing a million people would be as difficult as it would unpopular.

  2. Chrisso

    This is the latest daft article to be posted on this site, which I formerly supported! It’s time for such writers that want us to go off to militarily meddle in civil war in countries that do not border us or threaten us, to deal with the Commons vote and move on. Exactly what is so ‘left foot forward’ about indulging in such foreign adventures? So suggesting that Britain take on an additional one million people is plainly silly.

  3. hawkerhurricane

    I’ve got an almost equally good idea. All those beating the drums for bombing ‘the bad guy’, put on their shoes, get out of their arm chair and get military training, and go and fight against Assad. There are plenty of Islamist international brigades backed with Saudi petrochemical dollars that they could join.

  4. NT86

    The same rebels belonging to Al Qaeda and various other Saudi/Qatari backed groups?

  5. JR

    I took issue with your full blooded support for military intervention yesterday, but would not wish to rule out any intervention at any stage. I find it intriguing that the PMs failure to prepare and control his backbench has translated into no action at all, his conviction seems to have faltered at the first hurdle.

    Having gotten over excited and tripped over himself, Cameron now seems to be trying to lead from the floor by trumpeting about the will of the people, and winging about Iraq, whcih the Tories supported anyway.

    I would hope that this is not the start of a petulant excuse to call further deaths the fault of Labour. In this breath, one must also blame the UK public who are not in favour, or indeed, John Redwood, who abstained.

    That said, your humanitarian point about refugees is interesting. I’m not sure how such a policy could ever be implemented, but it would be a stronger show of support in many ways than a cruise missile would ever be.

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