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.

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

  1. F. Lopez

    Humanitarian intervention, and the so-called “right to protect” have unintended consequences.

    Bosnia, and especially Srebrenica, are frequently cited as examples of the consequence of Western inaction.

    However, I think the possibility of “humanitarian intervention” made the war in Bosnia worse. It didn’t deter the Serbs. NATO had already carried out limited air strikes against the Bosnian-Serbs before Srebrenica happened.

    What the possibility of “humanitarian intervention” did do was cause the Bosnian-Muslims to engage in behavior that placed their own civilian population at greater risk in order to provoke Western retaliation against the Serbs.

    Bosnian-Muslims soldiers in Sarajevo fired at the Serbs from civilian facilities inside the city. One notorious example of this was when UN Military Observers witnessed them opening fire at the Serbs from the grounds of the Kosevo Hospital, which is the largest civilian medical facility in all of Bosnia. The purpose of shooting at the Serbs from the hospital was to draw retaliatory fire against the hospital so that the World can see the Serbs shooting at a hospital.

    The Bosnian Government had the ability to prevent Srebrenica too. The Drina Corps of the Bosnian-Serb Army was stretched very thin. If the 2nd Corps of the Bosnian Army had carried out a diversionary attack on the Drina Corp’s line, then it would have taken a lot of the pressure off of the men escaping from Srebrenica because the Bosnian-Serbs wouldn’t have had the manpower to capture the prisoners in the first place because they would have been busy fending off the 2nd Corps.

    Not only did the Bosnian Government not help, when it had the manpower and material to do so, but it also blocked humanitarian aid from reaching the refugees who had been expelled from Srebrenica. The Bosnian Government was actively trying to make the situation worse in order to focus international attention on the suffering of the refugees and thereby pressure the West into going to war against the Bosnian-Serbs on their behalf.

    The unintended consequence of humanitarian intervention is that it incentivises the belligerents to sacrifice and jeopardize the safety of their civilians, so that they can receive the military benefits of humanitarian intervention against the opposing side.

    If you draw “red lines” and tell the Assad Regime that we’ll bomb you if you do this, then you give the rebels incentive to try and provoke him into crossing those “red lines” and doing what he was told not to do.

  2. Chris

    “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.”

    You can’t re-write history in real-time! This explicitly is NOT on the table and never was. There is no intervention planned to push the conflict, just a signal, limited, small. A shot across the bows and then safely back to base, free to napalm, rape and kill, torture and maim tomorrow. If anything from what we heard before the vote, it was an inflammation.

    And it is naive to repeat to the Tory narrative that Miliband is politicking. You are doing Lynton Crosby’s job for him. Might as well say “weak, weak weak”.

  3. toneekay

    James it might be better for you to retire from commentary on geo-politics. The ‘it’s about the children’ guff is fair enough – if Stacey Solomon’s being grilled by Alan Carr. I notice that LFF lacks a horoscope writer. Capricorn.

  4. Sparky

    Because invading Iraq has been such a positive thing for the world, hasn’t it?

  5. ThisIsTheEnd

    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
    Yeah and Vietnam started with the small deployment of military advisors…

Comments are closed.