Just over two years ago, David Cameron lost a vote on the UK taking part in bombing raids and other military action on Syria.
The plan then was for the UK to send military help to the opponents of Assad’s government. Since then (BBC, 12th March 2015):
Capitalising on the chaos in the region, Islamic State (IS) – the extremist group that grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq – has taken control of huge swathes of territory across northern and eastern Syria, as well as neighbouring Iraq. Its many foreign fighters in Syria are now involved in a “war within a war”, battling rebels and jihadists from the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, who object to their tactics, as well as Kurdish and government forces.
In September 2014, a US-led coalition launched air strikes inside Syria in an effort to “degrade and ultimately destroy” IS, ultimately helping the Kurds repel a major assault on the northern town of Kobane.
Unnoticed in the timeline of the war, in 2012 a family fled from Damascus to survive: Abdullah, Rihan, Galip, and Aylan Shenu reached Turkey, where they were called “Kurdi” because of their ethnic background.
Only one of this family is alive today.
They fled to safety from the war, and then all but Abdullah Shenu died: Rihan, Galip, and Aylan Shenu drowned because the countries safe from the war would not let in refugees desperate to get away from it. The country that denied the Shenu family safe legal entrance was Canada – Abdullah Shenu’s sister Tima had appealed to the Canadian government to let her brother and his family in – but the same would have happened had Abdullah tried to reach the UK.
While eager to send UK military forces and supplies to the war in Syria, David Cameron has been running the party line against refugees – he’s described them as “swarming”, his government has restricted the number of asylum seekers from Syria to a few hundred, though a few thousand have reached the UK against the odds and had been able to exercise their lawful right to claim asylum once they got here. As the Refugee Council notes, “rabid intolerance – among both press and government – has a strong British pedigree.”
A picture of a dead child who drowned in part because of policies David Cameron himself instigated and promoted and still supports: an EU-wide policy against letting refugees in alive or helping them to say.
David “swarming migrants” Cameron said on Thursday 3rd September:
“Anyone who saw those pictures overnight could not help but be moved and, as a father, I felt deeply moved by the sight of that young boy on a beach in Turkey. Britain is a moral nation and we will fulfil our moral responsibilities.”
“We know there is not a simple answer to this crisis. What you need to do is first of all tackle Isis [Islamic State] and the criminal gangs who killed that boy.”
Like David Cameron, George Osborne claims the thousands who made their way to the UK through the dangerous obstacles set in their way, by the EU and by the UK itself, as if they had all been welcomed and flown here in safety:
“Of course Britain has always been a home to genuine asylum seekers and refugees. We’ve taken 5,000 people from the Syrian conflict. We will go on taking people and keeping it under review. Britain has been playing a leading role and it will continue to do so.”
The actual number that David Cameron’s government allowed in, without requiring them first to pass the survival test of passage across sea and land, is 216. And Cameron’s promise to let in thousands more is strangely woolly.
But note: David Cameron has made no specific commitment to take more refugees, and has explicitly declared against providing any help to refugees making the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea or after they reach Europe.
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavillion, suggests some ways you can help refugees.
There is a movement, CalAid, with branches in many UK cities including Edinburgh, to collect items useful for the refugees at Calais and deliver them. Bear in mind, any items donated should be clean and in good condition: it’s no use giving away anything filthy or broken. (And if you can afford to give money, that’s always far more useful than goods.)
One thing that any UK citizen can do: sign this petition.
“The things that happened to us here, in the country where we took refuge to escape war in our homeland, we want the whole world to see this,” Abdullah Shenu said.
“We want the world’s attention on us, so that they can prevent the same from happening to others. Let this be the last.”