A Syrian refugee speaks


This video says about itself:

20 December 2016

Ahmad Al-Rashid brings us a first-hand account of the plight of refugees. With ISIS knocking at the door, Ahmad fled his home, made a dangerous (and illegal) journey from Aleppo in Syria, and eventually found himself in Surrey, in England. He filmed his journey, which was recently shown on BBC2 as part of a documentary called Exodus. Since his arrival in the UK, Ahmad has been working with various groups and organisations advocating for refugee rights. He has spoken in the UK Parliament on several occasions and appeared on the BBC, ITV, and Sky, and his articles have also appeared in The Guardian and The Independent; He regularly participates in panels, events and public debates to raise awareness about the plight of Syrian refugees. Currently he is a postgraduate student at SOAS, University of London studying violence, conflict and development.

In 2015, twenty-five-year old Ahmad al-Rashid, who was born in Aleppo, Syria, joined thousands of others who made the extremely difficult decision to embark on a dangerous journey, first by sea, then by treacherous border crossings often on foot, to flee war-torn Syria. Al-Rashid has recalled that he is amongst the lucky ones who survived and reached safer ground, but thousands of others did not: ‘Al-Rashid arrived in the UK after a 55-day-long journey in very difficult circumstances, which included hiding in the back of a lorry after spending nearly two weeks in Calais. Whilst he was relieved to finally reach Britain, he admits that ‘it wasn’t an easy start…imagine yourself arriving in a new country and everything you have is only the clothes you are putting on.’

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.

By Ahmad Al-Rashid in Britain:

‘Bringing my family out of death is the greatest thing I will ever achieve’

Friday 23rd June 2017

Refugee activist AHMAD AL-RASHID, who ‘starred’ in BBC Exodus documentary, tells the story of his traumatic journey to Britain from Syria and his reunion with his wife and children

WHEN I started filming my journey, it was just for me, for my family to be able to see what I’d been through, to know how hard I tried for them.

Filming in secret was hard. The traffickers always make you remove the battery or destroy the Sim because to them, a camera phone is deadly like a Kalashnikov.

But I managed it, and when I came across the BBC filming in Greece, one guy approached me about the Exodus documentary and asked if I’d be willing to share my material.

I’d seen people beaten by authorities and traffickers for filming, but I said yes. I knew it was a risk but it was a risk I thought worth taking, to document these moments of horror that we refugees go through so people understand the human consequences of Europe’s policies.

You see reports but they never show the reality or the humanity of it. They talk about a million people crossing to Europe — well that’s a million stories. I wanted to share just one, in its completeness. For them.

When we realised we had to get out, my family and I were already separated. They were still in Aleppo and I was in north-east Syria. In between is Raqqa, the Isis capital. I would have been beheaded, for sure. When I spoke to my wife on the phone, we kept remembering a friend from my home town who left in 2014 with his wife and children on a visa to Libya.

From there, they took a dinghy to Italy and it went down. He had seen his pregnant wife and four children drowning in the sea in front of his eyes, nothing he could do. They all died, every single one. My wife and I were talking like we were dead already.

It made it easier somehow to make plans, to feel less afraid, if we pretended we were already dead and just needed to choose how to die. That’s how we thought about it. I knew if I was killed in an air strike, it would be quick and that drowning would be very frightening. But on the other hand, that road might lead my family to safety. I had to gamble. I chose to make the journey to give them a chance, however small, to make it out alive.

They stayed in Aleppo and I took the route from Turkey to the Greek island of Kos, then a ferry to Athens.

In Athens I met another smuggler who gave me a fake Bulgarian passport to buy so from there I could fly to Marseilles, destroying the passport en route in case I was caught by the police and sent back to Greece. Game over.

Those two weeks in France were very difficult times. I was eating and sleeping in the streets, trying to jump onto refrigerated lorries. It’s so dangerous, doing that.

My last night in Calais an Egyptian smuggler put me with seven other people in a tanker of bread and flour. Two hours, they said, and you’ll be in Britain.

And then we were locked in total darkness and he walked away.

I turned my phone on but I had no signal. We couldn’t contact anyone and there was no air. For five hours the tanker didn’t move.

After seven hours we started to panic, certain that we would suffocate. We screamed and cried and hit the walls. A small child passed out in the floor.

Eventually the driver stopped and let us out. It was the French-Italian border. Wrong car, wrong driver.

We got out of the tanker, covered in flour and headed back to Calais. This time, from Calais I went back to Germany and met my little brother for the first time in five years. Seeing him gave me what I needed to keep going.

I found another smuggler who put me in a lorry for three days with two other people. But this time, at least, when I was let out my feet landed on British soil. That was June 2015.

I had chosen to come all this way to Britain because I speak the language — which I knew would save me three or four years of stolen time and enough had already been stolen from us.

I’d also heard Britain’s family reunification system was faster than Germany’s. I had one friend whose family had been trapped in Syria for three years while he tried to get them safe passage. Back home it’s constant shelling, constant bombing, and when you can lose everyone in a minute, waiting three years just isn’t an option you want to consider. After I arrived, I was detained by police for a time and then dispersed by the Home Office. After three months of uncertainty and waiting, I got my refugee status.

That very day, I already had my family reunion forms ready to go. We had been apart for one year and I couldn’t wait a moment longer.

Even then, there were new obstacles. After you get refugee status, with no national insurance number or anything, you have 28 days to find new accommodation or you’re out on the street. Imagine that, your first steps in this country are into homelessness — what a horrible idea.

Then I came across Refugees At Home and this husband and wife — descendants of refugees who fled the nazis in Austria — invited me into their home until I got settled, so I’d have a roof for my wife and children.

People like that, they’re what “shared future” means to me. Refugees At Home has sheltered a refugee over 20,000 times now to prevent them from sleeping on the street.

That kind of mutual aid shows the best of what it means to be human, whatever your skin colour, wherever you’re from. To have suffered, truly suffered and find people stepping towards you in solidarity with open arms — it’s an amazing thing, and it makes a difference that lasts generations. It builds our shared future.

Twenty-nine days after I got my status my wife and two baby daughters were on a plane to Heathrow. Meeting them at the airport was the happiest moment of my life.

I knew when I left them I had little chance of ever seeing them again. But here they were, back from the dead. I didn’t believe it until I had my arms around them.

I took them home to our flat and while everyone was sleeping I spent the whole night sitting up, watching my daughters’ faces. I couldn’t stop, thinking about all the families and children that lived around us in Aleppo who were separated or gone.

Looking at their peaceful, sleeping faces, I couldn’t believe we had made it. Sometimes I still can’t. Bringing my family out of death is the greatest thing I will ever achieve in life.

The time I spent hosted by Refugees At Home changed everything. They developed my confidence and English skills and encouraged me to apply for a refugee scholarship at the the School of Oriental & African Studies.

Now I’m studying for a master’s degree in violence, conflict and development and it’s been one of the most exciting experiences of my life.

Life at Soas is very interesting, the way it brings together people from all over the world, with so many experiences and perspectives. Every day there are debates, marches, talks. And there are so many different societies — including a Syrian and Kurdish society.

To me, this is something unbelievable. All my life in Syria we were never even free to speak Kurdish, to show our flag, share our identity — and here, everyone expresses it freely. It’s beautiful.

It’s not all rosy, though. Being someone who’s been living in a conflict zone in the last five years, I still can’t quite get used to sitting in lecture theatres and discussing the theory of why it all happens.

It’s really changed my perspective because even though I had lived experience of war, I didn’t know enough to analyse its causes. But that’s also been traumatic, that learning process.

I’ve been so shocked to find out how the system really works, how the UN actually operates, how international aid really works — or doesn’t work. It’s very shocking, but so important.

All my people back home have no idea about all of this, they’re building their hopes and dreams on nothing. They talk about how in Syria one day everything will be all right and we can go home. But social cohesion has been destroyed. The economics of that country have been destroyed. And international powers are playing a very dark role; they’re not going to let Syria out of their control.

To see the truth, it makes me very depressed. It will be a very long process for Syria to get back on its feet, it will cost many more lives and take many more years. That’s the truth.

But what I’m interested in is learning how to understand and contribute to that process and preserve peace in other parts of the world. I’m also involved in the exiled Syrian community, helping to try to extend scholarships to more refugees, and giving talks on my asylum experience.

I talk about my story as a story of hope and I really think we need more of those, especially in dark times.

Stories of hope are what bring people together and coming together is a win-win situation. I am so proud of being Syrian.

After six years of bloodshed the Syrian people remain so determined to stay standing, to rebuild their lives and contribute to something better, tomorrow.

The world has a great opportunity to embrace my people, who will be a credit to their new communities.

As for us, my family and I know we are among the very lucky few. Every night when the four of us go to sleep we are so happy. I put my head on the pillow to sleep and I can feel confident that when I wake up my wife and daughters will be safe.

I had forgotten what that [was] like after six years living in constant fear. Truly, it’s like heaven. And watching my little girl grow up, learning English at nursery, laughing and playing … it’s a wonderful thing.

Young Syrian refugee gets special violin


Aboud Kaplo plays violin in Lebanon, photo by Amr Kokash

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Oxford lends historic violin to Syrian musician

Tuesday 20th June 2017

OXFORD University has sent a 19th-century violin to a young Syrian refugee living in Lebanon.

The German-made violin was part of a collection of historic instruments held by the university which has lent it to 14-year-old Aboud Kaplo.

Mr Kaplo and his family were forced to flee their home city of Aleppo amid the Syrian civil war.

Film-maker Susie Attwood noticed Mr Kaplo’s passion for music while she was making a film about Syrian Christians in Lebanon.

However she noticed that the talented teen did not have an instrument.

Bate Collection of Musical Instruments curator Andy Lamb said that “the moment I read about this lad’s situation I thought the collection could make some kind of positive contribution.”

See also here. And here.

Trump deports refugees to Iraq war


Iraqi woman denounces immigration raids in the USA

By Eric London and Niles Niemuth in the USA:

Immigration raids strike Detroit: Dozens rounded up for deportation to Iraq war zone

13 June 2017

In a series of raids Sunday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested as many as 100 Iraqi immigrants in the Detroit metro area, including Muslims and many Chaldean Catholics, some of whom were reportedly captured while leaving church services.

Family members of the arrestees told the World Socialist Web Site that the detainees were sent to a for-profit prison four hours away near Youngstown, Ohio, from where they face immediate risk of deportation to Iraq.

Protesters held a demonstration at the Mother of God Catholic Church in Southfield yesterday, where friends and family of the arrestees wept and screamed denunciations of Trump and immigration officials.

Relatives say that deportation will be a “death sentence” due to the ongoing war and sectarian strife that has enveloped Iraq since the US invasion of 2003. While ICE claims they are only deporting dangerous criminals, relatives say some of the arrestees were convicted for crimes as minor as marijuana possession and that many of the convictions are decades old.

The decision by the Trump administration to deport refugees to Iraq explodes the claims that the US wars in Iraq and Syria are “humanitarian” interventions aimed at protecting the population. In violation of international law, the US government is sending the arrestees into an active warzone in a region that it continues to bomb. Iraq has been laid to waste by 25 years of permanent US-led war. The death toll is in the millions.

As the ICE raids were taking place Sunday, the Department of Defense issued a press release announcing that the US military launched seven air strikes in Iraq, hitting Bayji, Kisik, Mosul, and Tal Afar in recent days.

Family members were informed that their relatives could be sent to the Iraqi city of Erbil, located less than two hours by car from Mosul, a city under active siege where the US has killed thousands of civilians and where the US-backed invasion force has been accused of using the chemical white phosphorous against the population.

Mosul, which has been largely demolished by the US siege, is the seat of a leading Chaldean Catholic Church diocese and the home of ethnic Chaldeans, an Assyrian population whose roots in Iraq date back over 5,500 years.

Although the Chaldean minority in Iraq was not targeted by the secular regime of Saddam Hussein, persecution grew after the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91 as the US stoked sectarian conflict in the country’s northern Kurdish region in an effort to destabilize the Ba’athist government.

A portion of the protest at Mother of God church in Southfield, Michigan

Conditions drastically worsened after the US invasion, which fueled sectarian warfare as the US military mobilized Shi’ite forces against insurgents in the majority Sunni areas, and both Islamic factions persecuted religious minorities like Yazidis and Chaldeans. Over 80 Chaldean churches have been bombed since the US occupation began.

Since the 2003 US invasion, Iraq’s total Christian population has fallen from 1.5 million to 400,000 due to death and emigration. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians fled to Syria after the US invasion, only to now find themselves trapped in the conflict raging there.

In order to stoke civil war and force the ouster of Bashar al-Assad in neighboring Syria, the US has backed an opposition dominated by Syria’s Al Qaeda affiliate, the Al Nusra Front, which has also carried out atrocities against Chaldeans in both Syria and Iraq. Al Qaeda is believed to be responsible for the 2008 assassination of Mosul’s Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahno.

In the last three years, ISIS has routinely destroyed Chaldean churches, killed religious officials, and desecrated ancient ruins. The Islamist group developed in Iraq and emerged in Syria under conditions where the US’s deliberate policy was to fuel violent religious conflict. In Iraq, the purpose is to keep the population divided and more easily dominated by Washington. In Syria, the aim is to bring down Assad.

Sunday’s round-up is the product of a deal made in March by the Trump administration with the Iraqi government that removed the country from the administration’s revised executive order barring travel from seven predominantly-Muslim nations. Under the terms of the deal, Iraq agreed to take deportees from the US, something the country has not done for years.

Many Chaldeans at Monday’s demonstration told the WSWS they voted for Trump because he claimed he would protect Christians in Iraq and Syria. An older Chaldean man whose brother was arrested said, “I voted for Trump, it’s not fair. This is our home, where are we to go in Iraq? We have no country, that’s why we came to America!”

Steve said, 'If they took your brother, father, sister, or mother, how would you feel? What would you do?'

Steve, another Chaldean protester whose brother was arrested, said, “Trump lied, he said he would go after people without legal papers, but everyone they arrested had papers. My brother went in for a regular check-up with immigration authorities, and he got picked up at home one week later. If they took your brother, father, sister, or mother, how would you feel? What would you do?”

Scenes like the one that played out in a church parking lot in Michigan on Monday afternoon are becoming increasingly common in the US. In the first three months following his inauguration, Trump’s administration arrested over 40,000 immigrants, an escalation from the already high numbers deported under Barack Obama.

Across the country, parents of all backgrounds are being torn from their children and from one another. Many, including those from the Middle East, Central America and Southeast Asia, will be sent back to impoverished disaster zones suffering from the impact of US imperialist intervention.

The number of lives shattered by these policies is in the tens of millions, and yet there is near total silence from the Democratic Party on Trump’s mass deportation program.

Instead, the Democratic Party is throwing its entire political energy behind advancing unsubstantiated neo-McCarthyite claims that Trump is an agent of Russia, amplified by highly publicized Senate hearings.

But the Democrats’ attempt to whip up public hysteria over “foreign meddling” may exacerbate xenophobic confusion, further poisoning the political climate and creating conditions in which “foreigners” and immigrants may find themselves the victims of physical attacks. The Democrats’ anti-Russian campaign is providing right-wing paramilitary groups and the Bannon-Miller faction of the Trump White House with a springboard to direct social anger against immigrants.

If public hearings were held on Trump’s deportation program, facts would emerge that would shock tens of millions and educate them on the horrific conditions immigrants face.

For example, the government is setting up a network of camps to house hundreds of thousands of immigrants, including those who have committed no crimes. The government has considered mobilizing 100,000 National Guard troops across 11 western and southwestern states to incarcerate millions of immigrants. ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are filled with thousands of fascistic officers who describe beating and arresting immigrants as “fun”. Violations of immigrants’ due process rights are so routine they are treated as par for the course by immigration attorneys and judges.

The Democrats have not and will not demand hearings to investigate these widespread violations of democratic rights … The task of bringing the Trump administration to justice for the attacks on immigrants therefore falls to the working class.

US-backed Iraqi forces began their siege of Mosul eight months ago. Since then, thousands of Iraqi civilians have died under US bombs, rockets and shells: here.

Not one Democratic senator sought to question Sessions about the actual policies of the Trump administration toward immigrants or victims of police violence: here.

Dutch government returning gay refugee to his death in Iraq


This video says about itself:

9 October 2016

Sarjon, a gay Syrian refugee, reacts to commentary by Donald Trump and Fox News.

From Dutch regional broadcaster NH Nieuws:

Homosexual asylum seeker from Alkmaar must return to Iraq: “I will definitely be killed”

Thursday, May 18, 2017 | 07:19

ALKMAAR: Sahir, a homosexual asylum seeker from Iraq living in Alkmaar, will be returned to his country of origin. At the end of 2015, he fled to the Netherlands with his boyfriend. That boyfriend may still remain, but Sahir supposedly is ‘not gay enough’.

At the end of 2015 Sahir and his partner Mushtak fled Iraq, because Mushtak’s brother had violently attacked him after discovering the relationship between Sahir and Mustak. …

The Dutch refugee housing organisation COA sent them together with a number of other homosexual refugees to a joint apartment in the refugee center in the Picassolaan in Alkmaar. There the men felt safe in anticipation of their asylum application.

Bad news

But then Sahir got bad news. After waiting for eighteen months he must return to Iraq. …

Sahir now fears the worst: “I will definitely be killed in Iraq”. …

“The decision was that I’m not a homosexual and that I can live in Iraq,” says Sahir. He suspects that the IND does not believe him because of his appearance. “If men do not wear makeup or nail polish, they are [supposedly] not gay”.

LGBT Asylum Support has launched a petition to request attention for homosexual asylum seekers whom the government threatens to return. Also during the boat parade of Alkmaar Pride on 27 May attention will be paid to this refugee group.

If Sahir, returned forcibly, will not be killed by Iraqi homophobia (which increased disastrously after George W Bush 2003 ‘humanitarian’ regime change invasion of Iraq); then he may well be killed by ISIS (a result of Bush’s invasion), or by Donald Trump‘s, or the Turkish government‘s, or the Dutch government‘s, or other NATO governments’ bombs on Iraq; all of them killing civilians whatever their sexual orientation.

Anti-Libyan refugee plan stopped Dutch government coalition formation?


This video says about itself:

24 January 2017

Shocking torture of Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants in Libyan prison.

Dutch NOS TV reports today about talks about forming a new coalition government.

To form a government with a majority in parliament, because of recent general election results in the Netherlands there needs to be a coalition of at least four political parties.

Two months ago, four parties started negotiating about forming such a coalition government: the VVD (pro-Big Business); CDA (Christian conservatives); D66 (centrist) and GroenLinks (GL; Green Left).

This week, these negotiations failed. The parties involved were secretive why. They only said there was disagreement about immigration. VVD and CDA wanted to make immigration policies harsher; D66 and GroenLinks not.

What exactly in immigration policy led to the break up of the negotiations? NOS TV today claims it was about a possible European Union deal with Libya (and other dictatorially ruled African countries) to send refugees back. See also here.

The model for such an agreement would be the dodgy anti-refugee deal between the European Union and the Erdogan regime in Turkey. After the European Union sends refugees back to Turkey, the Turkish government sends refugees, forced back by the European Union, further to the wars in Syria, Afghanistan, wherever the refugees fled from.

European Union boss Juncker wants such an anti-refugee deal with Libya. In the coalition negotiations, according to the NOS, VVD and CDA said that the new Dutch government should agree with that. GroenLinks and D66 thought that might conflict with international treaties, signed by the Netherlands, about refugees’ rights.

The deal with Turkey is still just acceptable under international law, according to GroenLinks,

Really, GroenLinks? Jurists deny that.

because Turkey can be regarded as a safe country

Really, GroenLinks? Courts of justice, and the Obama administration in the USA deny that.

But that is not the case for Libya and other North African countries.

Indeed, GroenLinks. There are at least three governments in Libya, killing each other’s fighters and many civilians. With whom in Libya would an anti-refugee deal be?

D66 is said to have agreed with GL on this point, but they did not want it to cause a break [with CDA and VVD].

So, probably, there will now be more negotiations, between VVD, CDA, D66 and another fourth party.

Some sources of the NOS news item say the Libya deal was not the only issue between the four negotiating parties. There were also other points, on immigration and on other issues.

GL had electoral reasons not to give in to the hard-line anti-refugee policies of VVD and CDA. A few years ago, when they were an opposition party, they helped the then VVD-CDA minority coalition government to a parliamentary majority to send Dutch soldiers to the Afghan war. Many GroenLinks voters did not like that militarism. GroenLinks lost many votes and MPs at the next election.

Later, the social democrat PvdA party became the junior partner in a coalition government with the VVD (which at the moment is still the post-election caretaker government). So many leftist voters became so sick of the PvdA ministers enabling VVD austerity and militarism policies that the recent elections were catastrophic for the PvdA: from 38 to 9 MPS.

If GroenLinks would have joined now the proposed four party coalition, agreeing with the Libyan anti-refugee deal and other right-wing policies, then the next elections would probably have been very catastrophic for GL.

Belgian textbook depicts refugees as terrorists


Belgian French language textbook about bombs

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Belgians indignant about language course: ‘Daddy throws a bomb

Today, 09:09

In Belgium there is a fuss about texts in a French textbook for immigrants. In the book, already used for three years by an institution in the Brussels municipality of Anderlecht, are sentences like “Dad throws a bomb and goes to prison” and “He shows me the bomb“.

A woman helping an Iraqi refugee to integrate discovered the sentences last week and published a page from the book online. She calls the example sentences unacceptable. “Are they aware that this is about educational material that supposedly promotes the integration of these people?”

Social media is outraged. Many Belgians are ashamed that these sentences are used to teach refugees and other immigrants French. Some people think the book is fake, but the director of the educational institution where it is used has confirmed its authenticity.

The director of the Center Erasme in Anderlecht calls the texts “wrong”. In his defense, he claims that it is impossible to check all the lesson material with their small number of teachers.

The father of any Iraqi refugee has not thrown even 1% of the bombs which the father of the sons of Donald Trump has thrown on Iraq and on other countries.