London Calling: Syrians make it to London

ADRIAN HAWKES | Director | Founder | RI

By Adrian Hawkes

Special to ASSIST News Service LONDON, UK (ANS)

Like so many, I have watched in horror, the terrible violence that has overtaken Syria in its bloody ongoing armed conflict between forces loyal to the Syrian Ba’ath Party government and those seeking to oust it.

The conflict began on March 15, 2011, with popular demonstrations that grew nationwide by April 2011. These demonstrations were part of the wider Middle Eastern protest movement known as the Arab Spring.

The Syrian protesters demanded the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has held the presidency in Syria since 1971, as well as the end of Ba’ath Party rule but Assad has shown no signs of going quietly, and the killings on both sides, shows no sign of slowing down, with the mainly Islamist rebels, and the Syrian Army, both committing all kinds of shocking atrocities.

One group, The Human Rights Data Analysis Group, says that there were 92,901 documented deaths between March 2011 and April 2013, a figure which includes documented deaths only – deaths that come with a full name, a date, and a location. The actual death toll is likely to be significantly higher, and Syrian watchers believe this figure is only the minimum number of people who have died.

President Bashar al-Assad Most of the Syrians who have fled the fighting have gone to refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and one has to be sympathetic to the countries who now are trying to take care of the huge number of people in those camps. This must be putting great strain onto all of those countries.

Just recently, I was privileged to meet two new arrivals to London in the form of Syrian refugees, both very young lads. Neither of them could be over the age of 16, and the local authority in the part of London where I am based, asked our care company to find foster parents for them, which we did.

It has been hard to talk to them, as neither has any knowledge of English. However, we have managed to find friends, who can understand their language, and it seems they do not speak Arabic, but are actually Kurdish speakers. One friend, also a Kurdish speaker who comes from Iraq, tells me that it is quite hard to follow the accent of a Kurdish speaker from Syria, although he said he did manage to understand most of what they said.

I learned that Kurdish Syrians are yet another marginalized group, often to the point whereby they unable to get access education or other state resources. Even jobs seem to have been, in the past, forbidden to this group of people and so all work would have been “illegal” as they have tried to survive.

The couple of lads I met seemed to have had no education, and could not read and write in their own language, so they were delighted when we arranged an education for them. As I have spent time with them, I have realized that they have been through harrowing experiences, as they look particularly traumatized.

Their journey would have also added to the ordeal, as what usually happens in these cases is that someone will pay some kind of agent who will then smuggle the youngsters onto a lorry [truck], and often no one really knows where the vehicle is going. The journey will be frightening experience, and I have met young people in London who actually lost around 21 lbs. in weight during such a journey.

Dover border Drivers of these lorry’s often are not aware that they have illegal passengers in the back of their vehicle and, on arrival in the UK — if that is the destination of the load — a truck will be often checked at a place like Dover, one of the UK’s main ports, and drivers could get into serious trouble if passengers are found, even though they may not know they are there.

Often what happens is that drivers, often coming from France, will discover passengers either at a delivery point or at some point when they check the load. What often happens is that the runaway will be ejected often onto a motorway, the driver will just leave them there and eventually the police will find a person wandering along the side of a highway (where it is actually illegal to walk) and the youngster will be picked up and taken to a detention centre or to social service office in the UK depending on predicted age.

Then companies like ours will be called on to help accommodate and care. I don’t quite know all the details of our first Syrians, but I do know how their stories work from many other experiences.

What a world we live in, but at least, our group in London can reach out with the love to refugees like these two boys.