Syria Is Bleeding

Posted by in February's Magazine

People are walking out of Syria, their homeland in dust and ashes behind them, their remaining possessions carried in their hands. They walk away from the horror that their country has become, from a warzone that now gets pounded by bombs from Russia, the US and the UK while Iran and Saudi Arabia still fund fighters inside its borders. They walk out of that hell to find Turkey closing its borders and sending them back (against the “non-refoulement” principle of international humanitarian law). They take the alternative route and they get into boats you wouldn’t trust on a pond in a calm day. Many drown in the Mediterranean Sea. Some make it to shore. Others are plucked from the water by rescuers.

They reach Europe to find borders are closing, to find that the wealthiest continent in the world is building fences to keep them out. The EU, the organisation that promises to ensure prosperity for its Member States, that claims to provide protection for its citizens and that acts in our name on the world stage turns its back and denies compassion to these refugees.



It does worse, too. At the end of January the European Commission admonished Greece for what it called ‘serious deficiencies’ in border controls, referring to a failure to fingerprint every arrival and check their travel documents. People fleeing war, poverty and famine before being hauled out of the sea should be asked to show their passports, according to the Commission, and have their fingerprints taken.

The Commission threatened Greece with exclusion from the Schengen zone. The day it chose to issue this warning was Holocaust Memorial Day, which asks the world to make sure we ‘don’t stand by’ while others face discrimination, intolerance and hatred. When we should be taking an active role we’re ignoring the plight of our fellow human beings.

We have a human responsibility to respond when others need help. As individuals and as communities we only maintain our humanity by being humane. We must remember the lessons of the past if we are to build a safer world. We cannot stand by as people suffer. I’m appalled by the attitude of Europe’s leaders; epitomised by the language of Prime Minster David Cameron who described people living in terrible conditions at Calais as “a bunch of migrants” – also on Holocaust Memorial Day.

We are all diminished by these attitudes and those words; they shame us and it would be to our credit if we disclaim them and work towards a better future. The EU and European countries have a responsibility to help people arriving on Greek shores – and to help Greece to cope – and we should be doing that rather than bullying, threatening, and further punishing Greece.

We should do more – we should open our communities to welcome refugees and we should provide them with shelter and sustenance. We should be providing refugee children with education and young refugees with a chance to prepare for restarting their lives. We should go further too, we should reach out to try to improve the situation on the other side of the Med.

The tiny efforts of the UK Government in helping refugees, including the grudging acceptance of far too few of them on our shores, mirrors its cold and unfeeling treatment of disadvantaged people here. There is no moral leadership from Mr Cameron and his Government but that doesn’t need to stop us. We can and will demand more from them. I’ll use my privileged position as an MP to keep challenging them, too – but there are other opportunities for us to act directly if we can.

Edinburgh Direct Aid, for example, is a charity based out at West Harbour Road doing what it can; it delivers clothing, toiletries, food and hope to refugees in Europe and it’s entirely run by volunteers – the only staff it employs are some local staff in the areas where it operates. They also work with Edinburgh Cares – another charity that is entirely voluntary, so every pound is used for aid work; no salaries are paid out. There’s Re-Act (Refugee Action Scotland), again a wholly voluntary charity that has been delivering incubators and rebreathers to refugee camps so that new-born babies have a shot at living.

These charities need volunteers and they need donations: they need the cash to keep their operations running; they need people to collect, pack and dispatch donations; they need people to physically take the stuff to the people who need it; they need you and me to help them so they can help others. A few pounds, a few hours, a bit of help, whatever we can spare.

In the meantime we can keep fighting the political fight, we can keep pressing the UK Government to change its behaviour. I’d like to be happy with what is being done in my name rather than ashamed. Syria is bleeding, it’s a nation on its knees and suffering but we can all do a little to help. When those refugees are walking I don’t want to tell them to walk on by, I want to reach out and help them.

Deidre Brock is SNP MP for Edinburgh North & Leith


Illustration by Muzzamil, age 5, from Syria

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