Peace & Justice Calls on UK Not to Bomb Syria

The Peace & Justice Centre has written to the Prime Minister calling on her not to join the US in bombing Syria in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons. While we share grave concerns and condemn the Assad regime, and their ally Russia, for the use of chemical weapons, we believe bombing is not the answer. The UK has already been involved in US led bombing in Iraq and Syria which has killed an estimated 6,000 civilians. We urge the government to  and to end all further bombing and to support a political solution. Here’s the letter we sent.

Dear Prime Minister MP,

I am writing on behalf of the Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre to urge you to oppose any calls to support bombing or any further military intervention in Syria. Bombing is not the answer. It is highly likely to lead to more civilian casualties not less, and it risks a potentially catastrophic confrontation with Russian forces, one that could lead to a wider conflict or a direct conflict between the US and its allies with Russia and its allies, and ultimately, the use of nuclear weapons.

Instead of bombing we urge you to support a ceasefire on all sides and do everything possible to promote a political solution. Let us not be drawn into the politics of Donald Trump, whose threats by twitter to bomb Syria and earlier, North Korea, only serve to make already tenuous international situations more unstable.

We are opposed to all outside military intervention including that of Russia and Iran as wewll as that of the UK and the US and their allies.  More bombing or other action can only prolong the cycle of violence and therefore increase the suffering of the Syrian people.

We would urge you also to withdraw from the ongoing US led campaign of bombing in Syria and Iraq. According to Airwars this campaign has caused the deaths of at least 5,950 civilians, while the New York Times study recently concluded that there have been 31 times the number of civilian casualties than is estimated by the US. Civilian casualties from US led bombing include 150 children in a school in March last year.

It makes no sense to take such a retaliatory action. After the US bombed Syrian airfields last year in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack those airfields were back in operation within a week. This escalation of war is fraught with danger. The only solution in Syria must be a political solution.

Yours sincerely,

Brian Larkin

Coordinator Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre

pp: Arthur Chapman, Chair

Hilary Patrick, Co-Chair

Judy Russel, Secretary

 

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US Military Retaliation for Chemical Attack Not the Answer

We join the many voices condemning the Assad regime for what is almost certainly use of chemical weapons against civilian targets resulting in the death of at least 85 civilians and serious injury to more than 500 people. Our thoughts are with the people of Syria. But more bombing is not the answer.

Photo: The Independent

Those responsible for this horrific act, in violation of international law must be brought to justice. For this to happen however, it would require the support of Russia, who, in their role on the UN Security Council would have to agree for the case to be referred to the International Criminal Court. That seems unlikely given its ongoing support for the Assad regime.

President Trump’s tweet that the Assad regime will have a “BIG PRICE” to pay would seem to suggest impending retaliation along the lines of last year’s Cruise missile attack on the airfield from which Assad launched a previous chemical attack on civilians. Such an attack would serve no purpose.

Given its support for the Assad regime Russia is unlikely to agree to the authorization of such a response by the Security Council. And a unilateral US attack would be an unlawful attack on a sovereign state, an act of war against Syria, and might lead to a direct conflict with Russia.

The Guardian reported that the American-led coalition has said at least 800 civilians have been killed in airstrikes in Iraq and Syria since its campaign began in 2014. (30 Nov, 2017). But Airwars says at least 5,961 civilians have been killed by US coalition attacks over that time period. The New York Times (16 Nov 2017)  recently conducted an investigation into civilian casualties resulting from US led airstrikes. The report concluded that one out of every five US led airstrikes have resulted in civilian deaths. That’s 31 times as high as the rate the US acknowledges, meaning civilian deaths would be in the tens of thousands.

A U.N. war crimes investigation concluded in March that air strikes by Russia and the U.S.-led coalition killed civilians in Syria on a large scale in 2017. “Russian fixed-wing aircraft” using unguided weapons last November hit a market killing at least 84 people and injuring 150 in Atareb, west of Aleppo and three U.S.-led coalition strikes on a school near Raqqa in March 2017 killed 150 residents . U.N. investigators found no evidence that Islamic State fighters were at the school and said the U.S.-led coalition had violated international law by failing in its duty to protect displaced civilians known to be sheltered there since 2012. (Reuters, 6 March 2018)

No state or group of states acting independently have the authority to enforce international law through military action. If they did, then it would be right for say Russia or some other state to take similar action against the US and its allies (or vice versa) for causing extensive civilian casualties throughout its bombing campaign to destroy ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Trump’s tweet and talk of US retaliation is reckless, a disturbing development in US foreign policy at a time of great uncertainty following the recent resignation of Secretary of State Tillerson and the appointment of the notoriously hawkish John Bolton as National Security Adviser.

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P&J Centre Message to UK & France: Protect Unaccompanied Children

Photo: Lauren Rooney

Photo: Lauren Rooney

On Tuesday 18 October we held a vigil calling for the UK to fulfil its pledge to welcome thousands of unaccompanied refugee children to the UK, especially from Calais and for France to insure protection of the children in the Calais camp. We collected about 80 signatures on letters to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd and to the French Minister of the Interior and and delivered these to the Scotland Office and the French Consul the following day.

We welcome the subsequent arrival of the first Calais children including those who are entitled to asylum here who have family in the UK and those vulnerable children without family here admitted in keeping with the Dubs amendment.

But we continue to call on the UK to honour its pledge to take in thousands of such children from across Europe and on France not to proceed with demolition of the Calais camp until all the children there have been provided with safe decent shelter.

Photo: Lauren Rooney

Photo: Lauren Rooney

After welcoming the fact that a few of these children have at last been brought to the UK the letter to Amber Rudd went on: “We are keenly aware that hundreds of others are being left behind.  These children have already undergone unimaginable hardships in fleeing mostly from war as well as natural disasters, and extreme poverty.”

Aware that 129 children went missing from Calais when the French government demolished sections of the camp earlier this month, that at least three children have died attempting to enter the UK and that the children are caught in a struggle between France and the UK over responsibility for this crisis we urged the Home Secretary to press Interior Minister Cazeneuve to delay demolition until all of the more than 1,100 unaccompanied refugee children in Calais have been appropriately accommodated.

savecalaischildren5-1

Photo: Lauren Rooney

In writing to the Interior Minister of France we urged him to insure that all children remaining in the camp are provided with appropriate shelter and that appropriate accommodation is found for all the refugees and migrants currently living there before action is taken to demolish the camp.

We stressed that we were “particularly concerned that these children who are among the most vulnerable in the camp not be further traumatised by the imminent demolition.”

Finally we appealed to the Ministers’ “sense of humanity” saying “Please open your heart to these most vulnerable people who only seek shelter and a place to live in peace and dignity.”

save-calais-children-and-tableThe full text off the letter to Amber Rudd can be found here and to Bernard Cazeneuve can be found here.

Our banner will be hung on the railings of St Johns Church on Princes St – where it will be highly visible – for the next couple of weeks as a reminder to Edinburgh of the ongoing crisis of these refugee children.

 

Our vigil for Calais unaccompanied refugee children was reported in Common Space this week.

delivering-letter-to-home-secretaryThe vigil follows a meeting we organised as part of the Edinburgh World Justice Festival with 6 speakers including refugees and activists from local organisations doing refugee support. A full report on that meeting can be found here.

The Peace and Justice Centre’s briefing on “Towards Adressing the Needs of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children” was sent to Theresa May as Home Secretary and relevant MPs, MSPs, civil servants and civil society actors and is available here.

Readers can write to Home Secretary Amber Rudd MP and French Interior Minister Bernad Cazeneuve using  the model letters and contact details here.

 

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Welcoming Refugees and Children P&J Centre Event Packed Out

 

 

kids-cafe-calaisThe Peace and Justice Centre’ panel discussion on Welcoming Refugees held at University of Edinburgh on 8 October had to be moved at the last moment to a larger lecture theater to accomodate the audience of two hundred, an indication of concern for this issue in Scotland.  The talk, which was part of the Edinburgh World Justice Festival, gathered voices from different civil society organisations, refugees and campaigners, who spoke about the needs and experiences of Syrian and other refugees in Scotland, Calais and Thesalonikka in Greece. Speakers included Syrian refugee Amer Scott Masri, Amadu Khan from the Welcoming Association, Gary Christie from Scottish Refugee Council, Janet Barnes from East Lothian Aid to Refugees, Matthew Naumann co-author of the EP&JC briefing on the needs of Unaccompanied Refugee children, Julia Albert – Recht who headed the British Red Cross response to the Syrian refugee crisis and Sabine Gundel from Citizens UK.   

Brian Larkin, chair of the event and coordinator of the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre, opened the talk presenting the speakers, their role and the activity of the centre in promoting non-violence and human rights. He also described the dramatic condition of Syrian refugee children and the need to cease hostility and prioritise the humanitarian needs of the people of Syria.

panelThe first speaker was Amer Scott Masri. Amer is a Syrian refugee himself, he has now made Scotland his forever home, although he campaigns to raise awareness on the situation in his home country. Amer was abducted when he returned from Scotland to Syria, guilt, according to the Assad regime, of having experienced democracy and liberal rights. He was then imprisoned and suffered torture and violence for two months. Amer talked harshly about the situation in his country, defining it as a “genocide against Syrian people”, he also illustrated the merciless conduct of the Assad regime, which, while claiming of defending itself from imaginary enemies, uses violence against its own people. Amer also remarked that the war in Syria, especially the actions of the Assad regime, is the root cause of two phenomena so widely treated by media all over the world: radicalisation and the refugee crisis. Syrian people have never been extremist; however, radicalisation is the result of desperation and anger for the inaction of the international community. In addition, he warned against the bias of the media, which is scaremongering the public opinion, connecting extremism and terrorism with the refugee crisis. All this going on with the inaction of “men in suits” (international leaders), who are bringing neither peace nor justice to the Syrian people.


Amer concluded his speech showing its gratitude for the kindness of Scottish people, who welcomed him and his family and are still doing much for many other refugees.dsc_0952

The second speaker was Janet Barnes, chair of East Lothian Aid for Refugees (ELAR). Through her work, she visited many refugee camps in Europe, where she could assess the dramatic living condition. With the aid of heartbreaking photos, she showed the life in the camps in Calais, Dunkirk, Idomeni and Thessalonikka

In particular, she talked about the camp in Calais, labelled “The Jungle” by refugees. Life in the camps goes on between police brutality, poor living conditions in shacks exposed to bad weather and a sort of normality recreated by refugees themselves with schools, restaurants, churches and theatres. The French government decided to demolish “The Jungle” in February 2016; however, this process resulted in burning of people’s belongings, disappearing of many refugees and the confinement of the rest in a very restricted area. Both UK and French government have implemented strict securitisation policies in the camps, through the construction of walls and fences (£200 million spent by the UK government in 2015).

Janet also talked about the work of ELAR in the camps. Along with the sending of packages and distribution of useful items, such as winter waterproof clothes and first necessity items, they supported refugees by providing 30 camping stoves in the camps, giving refugees the possibility to experience a moment of normality and familiarity, cooking around a stove that respect safety standards. Janet called for help and donation, for more information on how to help ELAR, visit the website or ELAR Facebook page.

The third speaker was Sabine Gundel, from Citizens UK. She talked about the importance of advocacy and about what ordinary people could do to pressure their politicians towards effective solutions. Refugees do not represent a problem, the problem, instead, is represented by politicians, who with strict law and regulations enhance the crisis. Advocating to change these laws is really important.

Sabine illustrated the context: according to Amnesty International’s new report, 10 countries alone, which account for less than 2.5% of world GDP, host half of the world’s refugees, while in Europe Germany took around 1 million Syrian refugees, the UK took only 20.000. Whilst governments build up walls and shut down camps, civil society is willing to help, organising in groups and associations to promote effective solutions to the crisis. Especially in regards to unaccompanied minors, the British society demands clear answers and actions. The situation of unaccompanied children refugees is dreadful: they disappear in the slowness of the process of recognition of their status and the indifference of the authority. Many unaccompanied children are 17-18 years old male, and depicted as difficult elements, they struggle to find foster homes and accommodations. However, civil organisations and ordinary people are mobilising to solve this issue: communities can organise themselves, creating foster homes, getting trained to deal with children’s needs, “pestering” local authorities and MPs with letters and mails to trigger action at local level. Sabine concluded her speech reminding that it is our duty to help refugees, it is not possible to close our eye and pretend we do not see. For further information on how to get involved with Citizens UK, visit the website.

The fourth speaker was Gary Christie, from the Scottish Refugee Council. Gary talked about the legal situation of refugees in the UK and in Scotland.From a legal perspective, the situation of Syrian refugees is delicate: they are not considered refugees under international law. The necessity to overcome this legislative hole is somehow as important as providing safety and accommodation. Gary made a comparison between what is being done by the Scottish and the UK government. At the moment, the UK government is developing policies that make a difference between “good” Syrian refugees (those who are resettled from the camps, monitored and identified) and “bad” Syrian refugees (those who reach the UK spontaneously); in addition, the new government is aiming to stratify refugee’s rights, reducing the remain leave from 5 to 3 years. The Scottish government, on the other hand, increased the refugee status and gives greater protection compared to other parts of the UK. However, it is vital, said Gary, for authorities at any level to assure rights for refugees once they get in the UK and especially grant legal representation for unaccompanied minors.

The Scottish government should keep on pressuring the UK government, and at the same time focus on integration in communities and develop national standards. As Sabine before him, Gary underlined the importance of advocacy and lobbying MPs and SPs.

For more information on the Scottish Refugee Council, visit the website.

savecalaischildren3The fifth speaker was Julia Albert-Brecht, who talked about her experience with International Medical Corps and British Red Cross in visiting refugee camps. As Sabine Gundel before her, she set the context of the refugee crisis: 13.5 million people are in need to humanitarian assistance within Syria, 4.8 refugees have been taken by neighbouring countries, such as Turkey and Lebanon. Through the visual help of photos, she illustrated the situation of refugee camps in the Middle East, highlighting the contrast between the comfort and the “normality” lived in the camp in Jordan, preferred by refugees for the possibility to move in and out of the camp, and the desolation and discomfort of the UNHCR camp, made really unpopular by its isolated position. Julia then talked about the Vulnerable Syrian Resettlement Programme, enacted by David Cameron in 2015.

The Programme aimed to take 20,000 refugees in the UK, target already achieved. Nevertheless, the Programme raised several issue about its implementation. In fact, the Programme produced isolation among refugees, allocated in different local authorities; there has been a lack of clarity on funding for support and housing and a lack of focus on community integration and involvement. In addition, in spite of some good practice shown in the UK and in Europe, councils still struggle to learn from experience and that resulted in a lack of coordinated approach. On the other hand, although refugees state a positive experience overall, a lack of clarity about their rights to travel and reach relatives is still to be addressed. Lastly, Julia talked about the Community Sponsorship Programme, an initiative for communities who wants to organise themselves in giving aid to refugees. The Programme, however, is not financed by the government, but it should be self-funded by communities themselves, it also involves a limited number of refugees.

dsc_0948The sixth speaker was Matthew Newman, researcher of the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre, who illustrated the findings of its report on Meeting the Needs of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children, which is available on the Centre’s website here. 

The last speaker was Amadu Khan, from the Welcoming Association. Amadu is a refugee from Sierra Leone and he spoke about the Syrian Resettlement Programme, about its activities and goals and about what it still needs to be done for refugees. The Programme is a partnership between the Edinburgh Council, Saheliya and the Welcoming Association. The key features of the Programme are the integration and the support of refugees through the development of different activities, from English lessons and cultural integration to workshops on sustainability, volunteering and employability advice. Though the great work realised, Amadu highlighted some of the needs of the Programme: from financial resources to ESOL material and from a greater social interaction to possibility of employability for refugees. Amadu also called people to help by volunteering, advocating and lobbying, researching and donating.

For more information on the Welcoming Association and the Resettlement Programme, visit the association’s website.

 

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Policy paper Addresssing the Needs of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children in Scotland

This briefing paper arises out the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre’s concern for the consequences of conflicts around the world, notably in Syria, which have led to large outflows of refugees, and the situation that the refugees, including children, find themselves in. It looks specifically at what can be done in Scotland to better support unaccompanied children who arrive in Scotland as asylum seekers or refugees. Read the full pdf here

In the near future, the UK Government Home Office is likely to make decisions on (1) children at risk from the Middle East and North Africa region; (2) the admission of unaccompanied child refugees from Syria and elsewhere currently within the European Union; and also (3) the dispersal within the United Kingdom of unaccompanied asylum seeking children currently living in Kent and Hillingdon (which have both seen spikes in applications in recent months). This paper sets out the context of the current refugee crisis, particularly as it relates to unaccompanied minors, and looks at the structures in place in Scotland to provide support to unaccompanied asylum seeking children. It draws two primary conclusions:

  1. The Scottish Government should be empowered, in consultation with the Home Office, to take a lead role in overseeing the resettlement of child refugees and unaccompanied asylum seeking children in Scotland as it has the capacity to understand the broad range of needs of these vulnerable children and provide for these needs more efficiently than local authorities could acting individually.

 

  1. The Scottish Guardianship Service (SGS), which currently supports children before their asylum claims have been processed, should be empowered by secondary legislation to also support the integration of children who arrive in Scotland with refugee status already in place, and should be provided with the financial and human resources capacity to do so.

The report includes background information about the refugee crisis, the Scottish Guardianship Service and the categories of vulnerable children who may be relocated to Scotland in the near future. It also includes recommendations to the UK Government, the Scottish Government, Scottish local authorities and civil society organisations.

The paper was compiled by Peace and Justice Centre volunteers and draws on secondary research and interviews with stakeholders and key informants from entities including the Scottish Government, the Scottish Refugee Council, the University of Bedfordshire and Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees

featured photo credit: Joe Piette CC BY-NC 2.0

Read the full pdf here : http://peaceandjustice.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/UASC-and-child-refugees-in-scotland-may-2016-final.pdf

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Take Action: Tell the Government: Don’t bomb Syria.

commondreams.org

commondreams.org

The government is pushing for another vote on military escalation in Syria.  But Stepping up intervention will only increase the violence, chaos and suffering there and lead to an increase in the number of people fleeing the already war-torn country.  Click here to tell

your MP to stand against military escalation in Syria.

 

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P&J Exhibition of Syrian Childrens Art Moves to Glasgow

DSC_0609Light Against Darkness: An Exhibition Syrian Refugee Childrens Art was organised by the Peace and Justice Centre with the Childrens War Museum and ran from 21 October to 12 November at City of Edinburgh Methodist Church, University of Edinburgh Chaplaincy and St John’s Church. It was launched at City Methodist with a reception attended by about fifty people which featured Syrian Classical guitarist Ayman Jarjour and an S1 class visited the exhibition.

The exhibition runs at St Marys Cathedral in Glasgow, 300 Great WEstern Rd. G4 9JB from 21 to 30 November. Mon – Friday 10am -12:30pm, Sat 10am – 12:30pm & Sunday 12:30 – 5:00pm.

 

We were welcomed by Deacon Belinda Letby and Rev Harriet Harris of the University Chaplaincy made an appeal for donations and Abdul Bostani from the Scottish Refugee Council gave a talk on Refugees. The exhibition was funded by grants from the Church of Scotland World Mission Council, Edinburgh City Centre Churches Together and an anonymous donor. On top costs we raised an additional £500 to send to Najda Now, the Charity which ran the therapeutic art workshops for the Syrian refugee children in Lebanon.

The P&JC aims to raise awareness of the impact of armed conflict on civilians and disproportionately on women and children, who are often killed, traumatized or forced to flee their homes. We believe that UK bombing in Iraq and possibly in Syria in the future will only make the situation worse.

This exhibition highlighted the great work done by the Syrian Humanitarian Relief Charity Najda Now to help children affected by the conflict recover from the trauma. In bringing this exhibition to Scotland we helped to raise awareness of the impact of the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq on civilians and on children in particular.

It was very moving to see the progression from the earliest raw, black and white drawings of the children which depict the experience of the war. Helicopter gun ships, tanks, men shooting unarmed men, apparently the father of a child, and bodies on the ground bleeding and presumably dying.  Later, the paintings take on colour and life, pictures of home, farms, animals, and childrens self portraits some a metre tall in bright acrylic colours. So the whole thing moves from the darkness and trauma of war to the light of the return to happiness and life.

St Marys Glasgow exhibition poster-001Children from St Thomas Aquins S1 RME class visited the exhibition. Pointing to a picture of a helicpoter shooting at a family one girl asked: “Did they experience that?” They wrote letters to the kids in the Najda Now programme. One boy wrote: “I can’t imagine what you have been through”. They watched a video of the Syrian kids and one boy commented that they seemed so happy. It was a tribute to the Najda Now teachers who helped these children cope with the traumatic experience they had been through.

There are millions of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and within Syria itself. More needs to be done to help all of them. Donations can still be made on the P&J website with Syrian Kids in the Refence line. Donations will help Najda Now continue this wonderful work.

The exhibition was covered by Edinburgh Evening News and STV. Following is an exerpt from the STV report. The full story is available here: http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/life-style/syrian-children-drawings-are-brought-to-edinburgh-1-3581510  

 

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Syrian Child Refugee Art Exhibition in Edinburgh 21 October – 12 November

Darkness to light 4 (1)An exhibition of 166 paintings and drawings by Syrian refugee children, organised by the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre, will take place at City of Edinburgh Methodist Church and Edinburgh University Chaplaincy from Tuesday 21 October through Wednesday 12 November with a small selection also on view at St John’s Church.

The 166 paintings and drawings were created by Syrian refugee children during a three month psychological support project run by the Syrian humanitarian relief agency Najda Now at the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon.

Lebanon-kids-paintings-650_416 The exhibition is organised by the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre with the Children’s War Museum and Najda Now. It is supported by Church of Scotland, World Mission Council, Edinburgh City Centre Churches Together, and just Festival.

Brian Larkin, Coordinator of the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre said: “Syrian children and teenagers have been forced to leave their homes, under showers of relentless bombardment; death and destruction has filled their country; raging infernos are destroying their schools and playgrounds. Violence, fear and murder have drawn these innocent souls in to darkness – the terrifying things they have seen causing deep psychological wounds.

2“Najda Now’s project, out of which come these poignant works of childrens art, aims to extend a loving hand to these children and plant the seeds of hope. Perhaps the psychological support programmes provided by the centre can help bring these children out of the darkness and in to the light; put smiles back to their sad faces, and wipe away the tears from their troubled eyes.

The exhibition will run from 21 October – 12 November at the City of Edinburgh Methodist Church, Nicolson Square and Edinburgh University Chaplaincy, 5 Bristo Square, with a small selection at St John’s Church, Princes St,, Monday – Friday, 10am – 3pm and at Edinburgh Methodist only Tuesdays 6 – 8pm & Sat 1 November 10am – 3pm.

For further information contact: Brian Larkin 07584492257

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