Lord Greaves Debates Syrian Refugee Crisis in House of Lords
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Liberal Lord Tony Greaves discusses the reasons why refugees are leaving Syria and why they will continue to do so, speaking in a debate on the Syria Conflict in the House of Lords on Wednesday 16th September.
I want to talk a little about Syria. The Prime Minister, in one of his statements on refugees from Syria—which have swung from one extreme to another but have included some remarkably silly comments—said about a week ago that our job was to provide jobs and security for people so that they did not need to leave. I think that he has now been to a refugee camp in Jordan and perhaps now understands why people are leaving. It is not about jobs, it is about security.
When Parliament debated whether this country should take part in bombing operations in Syria and the House of Commons voted against it, the suggestion was that we should take military action against the Syrian Government—Assad’s people. Now it seems that the people we are most against in Syria—for very good reason—are those who belong to ISIL, or Daesh, and the debate is whether we want to take part with the Americans in attacking them. The fact is that Syria is being wrecked. When the Prime Minister says that the displaced people he spoke to in the refugee camp in Jordan wanted to go back to Syria, I am sure that that is the case. The question is not whether people want to go back to Syria, it is whether it is possible for them to do so.
No such thing as goodies and baddies in Syrian conflict
The world is no longer a simple one of goodies and baddies; it is much more complicated than that. I have to say that there are more than two groups in the country, and that is complicating the situation. It used to be said that my enemy’s enemy is my friend, but it is more complex than that in Syria since some of the groups seem to be on the same side as more than one other group and then turn against them. We are not quite sure what is going on.
Syria Conflict explained – who is fighting in Syria?
The Syrian Government have their army based heavily on the Alawite sect, which is Assad’s group. It is said that of the 250,000 men of fighting age in Syria on that side, one-third have already been killed. I do not know if that statistic is true, but that is what is being said. It is certainly true that an increasing number of Alawite people on the coast and in Damascus are leaving Syria, partly because the young men do not want to be called up and partly because they are frightened of the future. The main opponent used to be the Free Syrian Army, which still controls a lot of territory in the north-east and south-east of the country. It was the original opposition and it includes defectors from the Syrian armed forces, but in some areas it is now working with ISIL/Daesh, paving the way for an ISIL takeover. But whatever happens, people are leaving because of the fighting that is going on.
Armed groups in Syria
ISIL/Daesh itself is comprised as we know of hard-line fundamentalists, which now controls about half the area of Syria. It started off by working with the al-Nusra Front, which is an affiliate of al-Qaeda, but now they are fighting each other. So not only are they fighting the Syrian Government, they are fighting each other and probably anyone else who comes along. ISIL is now the strongest opposition group, with its headquarters based in the city of Raqqa in the north. The dilemma the Americans must face, as would we if we were to take part in military combat there, is that if we attack ISIL/Daesh, we help Assad. If we attack Assad’s troops, we help ISIL/Daesh. There appears to be no way through that. The al-Nusra Front, otherwise known as Jabhat al-Nusra, is still active in the same region as the Free Syrian Army. Its troops are fighting each other, ISIL, Hezbollah and others up there. Hezbollah is active in the north-west and controls territory on behalf of Assad, but it has its own agenda, and as we know it will turn on anyone if circumstances change. But whatever happens, Hezbollah is also driving refugees into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, first, because people do not like the regime and, secondly, because of the violence.
Other countries’ involvement in Syrian conflict
I turn to the Peshmerga Kurds. Two parties have been successfully attacking ISIL in parts of the north. The Turkish Government, who were being urged to join in the military attacks on ISIL, had been conducting bombing raids in Syria, but it seems that for the most part they have actually been bombing the Kurds because that is part of their own domestic dispute. The whole thing is unbelievably complicated. Iran has put troops in on behalf of Assad, allegedly including 15,000 special forces personnel. Russia has an unknown number of people in the country, while Qatar and Saudi Arabia are supporting the rebels.
How can we end the war in Syria?
The country is a shambles, so if people want to know why the problems in Europe are not going to go away and why the refugee camps are going to grow and grow, and why the situation is not going to be solved easily, they have to look at Syria. Somehow all the regional parties, including ourselves, must get together to try and stop the war in Syria. I do not think that anyone has the slightest idea of how to do it, so we had better get used to the fact that the stream of refugees coming across Europe will continue. I do not know how many there are at the moment; no one seems to know and there might be half a million on the move in different places. Moreover, as the winter comes, the stream is going to increase.
Contact Lord Greaves
If you have any information that you feel would help in trying to resolve the Syria conflict and resulting refugee crisis, then please visit my contact page and get in touch as soon as possible. Liberal Lord wants to hear your views and experiences. We will be very grateful for any details you can provide.