Monday, September 07, 2015

Two weeks in September...

An emotive photo showing a child victim of Syria’s civil war was accompanied by the plangent appeal: ‘Why has the West abandoned our little children?’
This could be a front-page this September, as the world reels in horror at the death of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi - his lifeless body shown washed ashore at a Turkish tourist resort.

And yet this was Metro’s front-page two years ago this Wednesday, as refugee families fleeing terror attacks begged for British - and Western - help.

Back then, families forced from their homes and in their millions into neighbouring nations such as Lebanon and Jordan were in mortal fear of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Five-year-old Nour stared out, while father-of-six Adhma Al-Hamwi told Metro: ‘What have these children done to desrve to be abandoned like this?’
Two years on, not only does his brutal government pose an ongoing threat, but the militant forces of so-called Islamic State have emerged as even more bloodthirsty tormentors.
Save The Children - whose chief executive Justin Forsyth accompanied Metro two years ago - is now urging Britain to take in not only 10,000 Syrian refugees but 3,000 more of the many unaccompanied children being abandoned.
He told Metro: ‘The public here in Britain are ahead of the politicians.
‘The government deserve credit for what they’ve done to help refugees in the region and rescue operations in the Med.
‘But now we need to complement that and be more generous with taking our fair share of refugees - and what would also allow us to pressure the rest of the EU to provide a proper full-scale response.’
Britain is actually the second-largest unilateral donor in terms of aid efforts in Syria and its surroundings, allotting £900million since 2012.
And yet David Cameron’s government has come under mounting criticism for an apparent reluctance to offer refuge to those fleeing the conflict - and his latest promise to accommodate 20,000 comes with the caveat of covering the length of this five-year parliament.
While the help for those in refugee camps surrounding Syria is only to be praised, that need not necessarily mean, mind, turning a blind eye - as the prime minister risks doing - to those many already now Europe's problem.
Two years ago an impression from those in Lebanon was that their primary urge was about returning home. As if that were likely any time soon. Even less so now, it has become all to clear - hence the need for the West to better handle the burgeoning shift towards safer, more enticing havens.
A total 4,866 Syrians have been granted asylum in Britain since early 2011, according to the Home Office.
But the 7.030 applications to the UK during that period are in stark contrast with the 98,783 to Germany, the 64,685 to Sweden and the 49,446 to Serbia and Kosovo, UNHCR statistics show.
Two years ago families hiding in basements or sheltering under makeshift tents - sometimes advertising placards, improvised as cover - wondered whether military intervention would come to their aid.
Take these accounts from three 13-year-olds:
Majed, who saw his best friend shot down while attending a funeral for 15 victims of a massacre both had barely survived.
Mahmoud, forced to flee from Syria without both his parents following their abduction – and presumed murders – on the same stretch of road where he found a family of five’s tortured bodies.
And Ramy, whose family managed to flee as their village came under fire – only to somehow only later realise elder brother Bilal was lost along the chaotic way.
At the time US president Barack Obama and British prime minister David Cameron had mooted the idea of air attacks against Assad installations.
But both the US and the UK stepped back from such an option - having both given Assad notice to shift munitions elsewhere and given Syrian refugees hope of help only to feel disappointed.
Mr Forsyth was among those back then urging, at the very least, new sanctions including  improved access zones for humanitarian aid.
Despite many donations of both funds and supplies, many charities expressed concern that they were only permitted to provide for Assad-controlled areas - with many resources seized by the regime’s sympathisers.
He has since helped aid workers welcome arrivals off migrant boats in Sicily - many of them children, often unaccompanied - from turbulent states such as Syria and Libya.
Often these survivors tell harrowing stories of sexual abuse, slave labour and persecution ahead of enduring the hazardous Med journeys.
He said: ‘So many have been through so many unimaginable horrors before even getting on the boats.
‘Many girls have been sexually abused, boys and girls tell of being forced to work as slaves.
‘One boy said he was in a group of more than 120 who were locked up by a militia in Libya, brought out every day just to be hung upside-down and beaten.
‘If people knew more of these stories, they’d be even more generous.’
The British people have been, the British government too - albeit so far only up to a point, Lord Copper.

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