Making a Difference: Global Syria Solidarity Day 2013 in Leeds

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On Friday 31st May, Leeds Friends of Syria (LFS) were delighted to work alongside the Humanitarian Group for Syria (HG4S) and the Help for Syria campaign in organizing events for Global Syria Solidarity Day 2013. The day was a culmination of months of planning, including a very enjoyable and creative banner making workshop. With about ten dedicated and passionate volunteers, during the day we were able to raise over £900 for the charity Hand in Hand for Syria.

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Through the day, LFS were able to sell all of the extremely delicious home-made cakes that our volunteers had prepared, as well as doughnuts, wristbands, and keyrings, at several stalls set up across the Leeds University campus. We were pleased to collaborate with the Leeds University Islamic Society, who allowed several of our volunteers to sell items at their cultural centre, and who also donated money they collected after Jummah prayers. As everyone had finished exams there was a very lively and relaxed atmosphere on what was luckily a very sunny day, and we are extremely grateful to everyone for giving their time and energy to the Syrian cause.

We would like to express our thanks to HG4S for supporting our activities. Following our fundraising activities, we were very happy to hold a joint event with them which included a short film showing and a Q&A session. We at LFS firmly believe that collaboration between groups is absolute essential to maximise success, and in Leeds have worked alongside a wide range of student groups to ensure the greatest amount of participation and teamwork. We believe this is essential if we are to be successful in raising large amounts of charitable funds in a university setting, and to promote greater awareness of the situation within Syria.

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Working with other university groups, in cities such as Bradford, Manchester, and London, is also very central to our activities. By working together, we can both reduce total organizational costs and increase the impact of what we do by sharing resources and ideas. We are very impressed with how HG4S is building stronger links between various national and local groups, and in particular though the Help for Syria campaign, and we wish them continued success in the future.

After a year of exciting and successful activities, Global Syria Solidarity Day marks the end of our activities during this academic year in Leeds. Our activities have included taking part in Human Rights Week and organizing two panel discussions (one with LUU Amnesty International, the other with various political student groups such as Leeds Labour Students), the Salsa for Justice event (organized with Engage Leeds Speakers Forum and Leeds Palestine Solidarity Group), a film showing in Leeds Picture House of The Battle of Aleppo and a director’s talk with Pierre Piccinin da Prata, who has unfortunately has been missing in Syria since April. Other events have included discussion events with various speakers, barbecues, flashmobs, protests, knitting classes and Arabic lessons for charity.

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With a sponsored run upcoming in July, and activities such as a sponsored skydive planned for the summer to raise money for charity, as well as a range of events planned for Fresher’s Week in September, LFS look forward to continuing our work for Syria. We hope to collaborate further with groups such as HG4S to try and make sure that we can raise as much money for charity and spread as much awareness as possible going forward into the future.

Support Syrian students studying in UK universities

Please sign this petition calling on UK universities to offer more support to Syrian students studying here who are struggling to get by due to funding from the Syrian government being cut.

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“We call on Universities UK to issue guidance to ensure that all UK universities waive or defer fees for Syrian students without exception and provide all Syrian students who require them with access to hardship funds. Furthermore, UUK should ensure that any UK university which has expelled Syrian students unable to pay their tuition fees should allow them to return to complete their studies.”

Why is this important?

Hundreds of Syrian students in the UK are struggling to cope with reduced or even vanished funding amid the chaos in their home country. Following our petition to stop UK universities from expelling Syrian students, the government has urged UK universities to do all they can to assist Syrian students, but some are still ignoring this call. Let’s get them to take action!

Most universities have now waived or deferred fees for Syrian students to enable them to complete their studies, according to a recent survey by Universities UK. However, a few recalcitrant universities have not yet taken concrete measures to support Syrian students, threatening to expel or suspend those who cannot pay their fees on time or refusing them access to desperately needed hardship funds.

Our campaign to stop UK universities from expelling Syrian students got the ball rolling and all eyes are now on the universities reluctant to assist them! Let’s raise our voice to make sure that all Syrian students get the funding and support they need by getting Universities UK to issue guidelines on best practice for all universities to follow, and to put pressure on universities failing to take concrete measures. Please sign the petition on the right and share it widely via email, Facebook and Twitter!

http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/UK_Universities_assist_Syrian_students_now/?pv=21

 

Syria and the West

Syria. 70,000+ dead. 60,000+ missing. 200,000 Detained. 740,000+ Refugees. In less than 2 years, the World has stood by and watched as Syria descends into war and chaos, with each passing day a further stain upon humanity. Desensitised citizens watch on the news and gawp at the occasional media reports, whilst world leaders sporadically discuss potential plans to make a plan to discuss a plan to stop the crisis. Be it the Russians and the Chinese, or US and the West, the World is failing Syria, just as the world failed Rwanda, just as the world failed Bosnia, and just as the world failed the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

In the early days of the Syrian Revolution, the West was nowhere to be found. Given the willingness with which the West would deal with the Assad Regime (see collaboration in the War on Terror http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/02/05/extraordinary-rendition-axis-of-evil-iran-syria-cia_n_2621401.html) the West had no real problems with allowing the Assad Regime to continue ruling Syria. After all, Assad had proved to be a stable presence and a leader willing to allow Israel to continue illegally occupy the Syrian Golan Heights. In short, “better the devil you know”.

As a result, the West’s policy towards the Syrian Revolution has been mixed and ineffectual. Their desire for a stable Syria, even at the cost of having a dictator kill 70,000+, as well as the desire to stop the spread of ‘radical al qaeda linked groups’ such as Jabhat al Nusra has led to what can best be described as a policy of containment. Instead of moving to strengthen the more moderate groups in the Syrian opposition, the policy of containment has allowed the more radical groups to become the most significant fighting opposition to Assad. Groups such as Jabhat al Nusra have been praised for the way they have brought order to rebel-controlled areas (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9857846/Syria-how-jihadist-group-Jabhat-al-Nusra-is-taking-over-Syrias-revolution.html) and as such have become a far more powerful force than the West wants, as a direct failure of Western policy.

Consequently, this is only moving to strengthen the credibility of Assad. Assad and his Regime have long claimed to be fighting ‘ al qaeda terrorists, and criminal gangs’. The tactics of radical groups like Jabhat al Nusra such as suicide bombings which have targeted civilians in Damascus are a publicity boost for Assad who can quite easily spin this into being a vindication of his brutal tactics, whilst further damaging the potential of support from Western Civillians who, after years of media-induced fear of “Jihadi’s and Islamic Extremism taking over the world”, will see Assad as taking part in the fight against this.

In response to this, heavy weapons have in the past few weeks, began to reach the more moderate groups fighting Assad in the South of the country, (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/in-syria-new-influx-of-weapons-to-rebels-tilts-the-battle-against-assad/2013/02/23/a6bf2bc0-7dfb-11e2-9073-e9dda4ac6a66_story.html) but again, this policy is papering over the cracks, and is unlikely to make a lasting positive impact for the Syria people. Whilst in the short term this may help in the fight against Assad’s forces, in the long term it heightens the prospects of in-fighting between the radicals and the moderates, using foreign funded weapons, particuraly in a post-Assad power vacuum.

Instead, I’d argue that, given the substantial mistakes that the West has made in the past, and continues to make on a daily basis, the West should focus on increasing diplomatic efforts in preparation for a transition of power. This could be done by increasing the pressure on Assad’s inner circle,diplomatically, economically, and militarily in an effort the force the conflict towards an end. Whilst doing this, the West should seek to strengthen and help the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces in which ever way it needs help, so as when the time comes, and the Assad Regime falls, there is an interim structure ready to take control with a framework for elections and a brighter future for the Syria people. Without concrete steps now, Syria will descend into further anarchy and suffering without any light at the end of the tunnel, but a bloodier and bloodier Civil War, which will have a lasting and disastrous impact on Syria, the Middle East, and humanity as a whole.

Harry Shotton (Feb 24th 2013)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Leeds Friends of Syria

Vigil for Syria in Millennium Square, Leeds

On the 2nd anniversary of the Syrian Revolution, Leeds Friends of Syria organised a candle vigil at Millennium Square in Leeds City Centre to honour the victims of the conflict and to call for a stop to the violence.
Candles spelling out ‘Free Syria’ and in the shape of the Syrian flag were lit by onlookers and members of the public were encouraged to hold a candle in memory of the victims of the conflict. Alice Hale and Christine Gilmore each gave a short speech charting the conflict from March 2011 until the present in order to raise awareness amongst the public about the massacres and human rights abuses that have taken place in Syria.

Syria Vigil

Syria Vigil

This was followed by a minute’s silence to honour the estimated 70 000 people who have died since the revolution began and remember all those who have suffered due to the conflict, including those injured, missing and detained and also the refugees who have been forced to flee from their homes and are now living in often inhumane conditions in camps in neighbouring countries.


The group also participated in the movement known as the ‘White Wave for Syria’ (Vague Blanche pour la Syrie) to call on the international community to act to stop the violence by holding candles and placards reading ‘stop’ which has been made into the video that you can see below.

White Wave for Syria