Syrian Conflict – We Must Act

The civil war in Syria has now been ongoing for five years, half the population have fled their homes and, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 360,000 people have lost their lives.

Following the escalation of the attacks on eastern Aleppo the UN and Red Cross have appealed for civilians to be protected, as fighting in Syria’s Aleppo nears its end. The International Committee of the Red Cross said people had “literally nowhere safe to run”. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon voiced alarm “over reports of atrocities against a large number of civilians”. Thousands of people are trapped in just a handful of rebel-held districts, which are facing intense bombardment as government troops advance.

It is hard to know exactly how many people are trapped in the besieged areas, although one US official with knowledge of efforts to secure safe passage for people in the city told the BBC that there were around 50,000 people. Some residents have sent out messages saying they are crowded into abandoned apartments and rainy streets, unable to take shelter from the bombing, the New York Times reports.

Many are said to be fearful about what will happen to them after the city falls, particularly after allegations by opposition activists that Syrian government forces have been carrying summary killings of rebels in neighbourhoods that were captured on Monday.

These claims appear to be backed up by the UN’s humanitarian adviser on Syria, Jan Egeland, who said they had received “detailed reports of massacres of unarmed civilians, of young men, of women, children, health workers”.

According to the AFP news agency, the rebels have control of just a handful of neighbourhoods, including Sukkari and Mashhad. The Syrian army’s Lt Gen Zaid al-Saleh said on Monday that the battle “should end quickly”, telling the rebels they “either have to surrender or die”. The British-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, has also said the battle for Aleppo “had reached its end”, with “just a matter of a small period of time” before “it’s a total collapse”.

People are still going hungry, still going without medicine, and coming under sustained attack in Syria. I have been working alongside my fellow Labour MEPs, MPs and Labour’s Shadow Frontbench to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid, particularly following commitments made by the International Syria Support Group.

I believe that we should use airdrops to reach civilians. It is of crucial importance that we do all we can to help innocent people caught in the middle of this conflict. As a key player on the world stage it is right that the UK does all it can to help those in dire need across the world. I believe humanitarian airdrops should begin immediately.

It is clear that the people of Syria need more than our military assistance. They need proper hospitals with trained doctors, proper schools with brilliant teachers and proper courts with impartial judges. We must not turn our backs on the people of Syria. Rather we should offer them refuge now, and our backing tomorrow.

I don’t believe that humanitarian airdrops are the only action we should be taking. As Adam Smith, Barack Obama’s former sanctions adviser, says “there is a lot of headroom” to apply more restrictions — on Russian banks, oil companies and individuals. Additionally, the importance of ensuring accountability for the crimes committed in Syria should remain high on our agenda. We must urgently look at how we can better support NGOs documenting human rights violations in Syria – and then explore the creation of a Syrian War Crimes Tribunal.

I will work to support my colleagues in the UK Parliament to urge the UK government to do all they can to help the people of Aleppo from starvation by deploying aid drops – and to use every diplomatic tool available to stop the horror that’s occurring in Syria. I will support any similar action in the European Parliament.

Right now, Prime Minister Theresa May has a unique opportunity to forge a new role for Britain on the international stage. Indeed, the world is crying out for leadership that isn’t based on brinkmanship. Let’s get humanitarian aid to the people of Aleppo immediately, and let’s use this moment to recast Britain as a positive force for good.