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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

What aid should the UK provide to Syrians?

December 8, 2015
Vice-President of the Goldsmiths Debating Society Adam Thornton looks at the reasons behind the current Refugee Crisis in Syria, in relation to the society’s Public Debate on the issue later this week. Britain is divided in opinion. Should we bomb ISIS extremists? Should we remain in the EU? Is One Direction better without Zayn?! And…

Vice-President of the Goldsmiths Debating Society Adam Thornton looks at the reasons behind the current Refugee Crisis in Syria, in relation to the society’s Public Debate on the issue later this week.

Britain is divided in opinion. Should we bomb ISIS extremists? Should we remain in the EU? Is One Direction better without Zayn?!

And this Wednesday at Goldsmiths, we at the Debating Society will go head to head in a public debate of our own – over the UK’s role in Syria.

The motion is “this house believes that the UK’s unrivalled financial and military aid in Syria is as valuable as providing homes for refugees on British soil”. Our debate aims to raise awareness about the ongoing refugee crisis (Goldsmiths UNICEF Society will also be fundraising on the night for Balkans Relief).

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So to give everyone a bit of context, I will focus on what has happened in Syria.

Where did it all begin? To address today’s situation we ought to look at the French and British Imperial rule and all the various military coups, but we haven’t got time for that. So let’s start in March 2011. Syrians peacefully protested on the streets of Deraa at the height of the Arab Spring, demanding the release of political prisoners under dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad. Photo: The Telegraph

The government responded violently. Tensions grew and Assad’s troops started shooting citizens. Although Assad initially released prisoners and dismissed his government, by this point that wasn’t enough. The people wanted him gone. Over the next few months, unrest against the regime spread across Syria and by the end of 2011, opposition had grown into full-scale Civil War – gripping the country ever since.

By 2013, Syrians had another threat to contend with Islamic State. The militants quickly gained control of parts of the country, persecuting any religious group in their way. To make matters more confusing, the world’s superpowers currently back different groups in their air strikes and everyone seems to oppose one another. Assad’s government; various rebel groups; Kurdish fighters; ISIS; Russia; the US and now the UK. 

Amid all this chaos, ordinary Syrian families have been in constant danger. Over 250,000 people have died. Syrians have been attacked by their government, exploited in the squalid conditions of refugee camps and scapegoated by Western media as illegal migrants. Eight million Syriansover half of which were children in 2012 – have been uprooted from their homes.

Four million of those have fled across the border into Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. But the poor conditions and worsening winter weather are making people desperate. This year alone, Syrians make up 40% of the record-breaking 500,000 refugees who have crossed into Europe.

Since Macedonia lifted measures preventing refugees from entering the country, a route into Europe through the Balkans has opened up. For those stuck in the refugee camps, this tempting opportunity might well be the only one available – and is less risky than previous routes as the sea voyage is shorter. No wonder this has been the biggest migration into Europe since WWII. But until recently, most governments had turned a blind eye to Syria’s suffering refugees.

The harrowing image of three-year-old Syrian refugee boy Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach in September. Photo: CNN

What is Britain doing to help? David Cameron pledged to resettle up to 20,000 refugees from the camps by 2020, but this is disproportionate to other nations who are taking in more refugees now. We’ve currently accepted nearly 8,000 refugees; Germany’s figures are over 150,000. And in terms of asylum applications, we rejected over 60% of them in 2014.

However, Britain has provided over £1 billion in aid to Syria and pledged a further £100 million in September. In a speech at the BDI last month (which served as the inspiration for our debate’s motion), chancellor George Osborne claimed that Britain’s greater provision of financial aid than other European nations would give refugees less reason to attempt fleeing into Europe in the first place. And of course the UK has now started its controversial air strikes in Syria.

What’s more important? Providing sanctuary for refugees in Britain? Providing aid? Discouraging the hazardous trip to Europe? Or fighting those who persecute the refugees? There is no easy answer. But hopefully our debate on Wednesday will at least get you thinking and considering all the different arguments.

Goldsmiths Debating Society’s Public Debate starts at 5:30PM on Wednesday 9th December in the Ian Gullard Lecture Theatre. To find out more check out the Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/589293021128721/