Adel Darwish reports from Westminister on British efforts to help alleviate the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of refugees still searching for a place of safety; efforts some say are woefully inadequate given the extent of the crisis.
British aid and assistance in the region is helping sustain hundreds of thousands of Syrians who would otherwise endanger their lives crossing the sea to Europe, Prime Minister David Cameron said during a recent landmark visit to refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan, pictured below.
The Prime Minister, who visited schools and centres financed by British aid, said money spent in Lebanon and Jordan to ease the life of millions of Syrians fleeing the civil war at home, helped stop hundreds of the thousands more making the dangerous sea crossing into Europe.
Adding an extra £100 million to aid Syrian refugees takes the UK’s contribution to over £1 billion ($1.5 bn), which is more than the whole of the rest of the European Union countries put together and second only to that of the United States.
Mr Cameron urged other European nations to follow Britain’s strategy in helping the refugees stay in the region by providing them with better living conditions which, he hoped, would enable them to swiftly return and rebuild Syria when the civil war is over.
The British leader came under pressure from the media and public opinion at home and abroad for resisting EU pressure to force quotas of migrants on the UK. An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 migrants have arrived in Europe, mainly to Greece, Italy and Serbia. Although the media focuses on the plight of Syrian refugees fleeing the four year civil war, accurate figures of who was a refugee and who was an economic migrant proved to be a complicated task.
Aid agencies and officials recorded over 20 different nationalities, including many from countries in sub-saharan Africa and Asia, where there is no conflict as well as numerous Bulgarians and Romanians, many of whom, it is alleged, pretended to be part of the wave of Syrian refugees to gain access to Germany.
Only days after the Germans said they would welcome refugees at the rate of up to half a million migrants annually, the pressure of tens of thousands of migrants/refugees crossing the borders daily, forced the Germans close their borders and start turning refugees back into Austria and Hungary. Germany now insists that any refugee arriving in the EU should be processed in the first country of arrival, according to the terms of the Dublin Treaty, which deals with the issue.
Mr Cameron’s believes giving signals that Europe is the Promised Land for migrants gives the wrong impression to hundreds of thousands of desperate people, who are then exploited by gangs of people traffickers, who put their lives in serious danger.
Early this week 34 mostly Syrian migrants, including 11 children and two infants, were drowned when people smugglers deliberately sunk their boat near a Greek island coast, in an attempt to force Greek coastguard patrol boats to rescue them.
Last week, the British government announced it will take 20,000 Syrian refugees from camps near Syrian borders but none from those who have already arrived in Europe. In his first commons statement after the summer recess, Prime Minister Cameron promised to give priority to orphaned children, and those in need of medical attention.
The Prime Minister (above) added that taking refugees in was a temporary measure. The problem, he added, should be addressed at source by defeating the Islamic State ( known as ISIL or DAASH in Arabic) and ending the rule of President Assad’s tyrannical regime.
In the same statement, Mr Cameron confirmed that Royal Air Force drones had targeted and assassinated two British jihadists working with ISIL terrorists inside Syria last month.
Cardiff born Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin of Aberdeen, Scotland, both identified as active fighters with ISIL, were killed after intelligence sources revealed that they were planning the murder of British citizens and high profile terror attacks on British soil.
The announcement caused a major row with MPs demanding to see the full statement of the legal advice given by the Attorney General. Left wing media led by the BBC added extra pressure asking questions not only on the legality of the action over a sovereign nation’s airspace, but on the virtue of following America’s policy of using drones to target assassinate terror suspects without trial. Until 22 August, the date of the drone attack, the RAF had distanced itself from the America’s target assassination policy.
On the same day Downing Street dampened down calls by senior Tories to set safe enclaves to protect Syrian refugees, which would have meant widening military action in the area. Mr Cameron said the drone attack was in self defence (under article 51 of International law), but he stopped short of giving a reply to demands to set safe enclaves when former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell asked for a commitment to the idea.
Mr Cameron reiterated his belief that dealing with the refugee crisis required tackling it at source, in Syria.
Last week Mitchell argued that creating safe zones would be the best way to stop the refugee crisis, currently engulfing Syria’s neighbours, spreading even further. Mitchell was echoing calls by former defence secretary Liam Fox who said the international community should “accept its moral responsibilities and create a safe zone in Syria using its military capabilities” to do so. Several calls came from other parts of the world with the French President Francois Hollande saying the French air force had already started flying reconnaissance sorties over northern Syria, with the aim of gathering intelligence on ISIL bases.
Although not a new idea, the call for safe enclaves became a British issue when the Syrian refugees crisis became entangled with the debate over the UK’s future within the EU. The status of displaced Syrians landing in Europe was unclear, with much debate centering on whether the displaced people should be classed as refugees or economic migrants.
Turkey called for creating an enclave over a year ago but was was viewed with suspicion due to its own agenda, including covert backing of Islamist extremists groups including Jabhat al-Nusrah and ISIL, a senior British intelligence official told The Middle East, adding that it was difficult to get a wider consensus in the region where Turkey is distrusted by big players, including most of the Gulf Coperation Council (GCC) states, as well as Egypt and Jordan.
A safe haven, including a No-Fly-zone (NFZ), established over Northern Iraq in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 688, in the early 1990s, enabled almost one million Kurdish refugees to return to their homes in Iraqi Kurdistan within weeks, recalled Kamran Karadaghi, former adviser to Galal Talbani, Iraq’s first democratically elected president. The NFZ, backed by the RAF and the French Air force, allowed troops on the ground kept the Iraqi army at bay, helping the Kurds to move forward to become the region’s first fully functioning self governing parliamentarian democracy, with a free press, equality for all and a functioning rule of law, almost a decade before the fall of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.
Involving the RAF in a NFZ over part of Syria would be tricky for Prime Minister Cameron, after parliament voted against intervention in Syria with the Americans last year. “We can’t just go back to the House of Commons and ask for a vote to target ISIL [Islamic State] bases in Syria, without securing the agreement of all party leaders,” Chancellor George Osborne told the BBC last week.
While establishing a safe enclave in Northern Syrian wouldn’t make much practical difference to Damascus, having already lost most of that part of the country, however, unwise public statements from Britain, the US and their Arab allies about getting rid of President Assad before any firm diplomatic solution has been reached, would not only further muddy the waters with his Iranian allies but also make it near impossible to secure a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution under chapter seven to legalise the option, according to majority of diplomats canvassed by The Middle East magazine.
“After what happened in Libya when we didn’t veto resolution 1973,” said one Russian diplomat, “we won’t be tricked again.” Which, roughly translated, we should interpret as: if you try to pass it at the UN, Russia will veto it .