Syrian refugees: From protesting on the streets to living on them

The UK’s return of Syrians to destitution and homelessness in Italy tells us something about how we now treat those in need of protection, writes DDVG’s caseworker, Fraser.

Now that Syria is destroying its chemical weapons, news outlets have moved onto other things and the Syrian civil war is drifting out of the UK public’s perception, despite civilian deaths continuing in a war that shows little sign of ending.

However, despite the flow of refugees and compassionate talk, the UK is sending Syrian refugees to face mistreatment, hunger, and a life on the streets in Italy. Read the account of a Syrian detainee we interviewed.

http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7040/6930622637_21ab55d836_o.jpg © FreedomHouse and made available through Creative Commons
© FreedomHouse and made available through Creative Commons

Compassionate words from the Prime Minister

In September David Cameron asked the G20 countries to send a ‘strong message about our commitment to the Syrian people’, pledged £52m in aid and said,

This is a moral imperative. This is the big refugee crisis of our time… A Syrian becomes a refugee every 15 seconds while we sit here at this conference.

Sharing the burden

Most of the refugees are in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon where Syrians now make up a quarter of the population and Jordan, the 4th largest city of which is a refugee camp for Syrians.

Such a flow of people overwhelms the infrastructure of these countries and the Refugee Council, Refugee Action, the Scottish Refugee Council and the Welsh Refugee Council have all been campaigning for the UK to take a share of this burden by working with other countries to resettle these refugees elsewhere.

Mistreatment in Italy

Not only does the UK not help resettle a share of these refugees, DDVG has seen Syrian refugees sent from the UK to Italy despite evidence that the reception conditions are nowhere near adequate. As one Syrian detainee at Dover Immigration Removal Centre (who suffered a boat journey similar to that which killed over 300 migrants near Lampedusa in October) said:

They hit us. They left us on the street. They wanted us to hate Italy so we’d go to Germany and not come back. We left from the war and we found something similar.

The Supreme Court is due to decide whether it is legal to send refugees to Italy, but DDVG has seen Syrians sent back to Italy as recently as late September. Regardless of whether this case find conditions are bad enough to prevent return to Italy, we should think carefully how we are treating those most vulnerable in our society.

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