Hundreds of people descended onto the streets of London on Saturday 14th March, in solidarity with the people of Syria; the millions who have fled, and the millions who remain in Syria, displaced and under constant attack from the Assad regime and ISIS. Crowds of people, many of whom had Syrian flags tied around their shoulders and painted on their faces, mobilised at Marble Arch. When I arrived I was greeted by one of the very busy organisers, Abdelaziz, a key organiser in the Syria Solidarity Movement, who gave me a brief synopsis of the event, the numbers and the people who were travelling in by bus from across the country.
The mood of the protesters was what was to be expected from people demanding justice and international solidarity with the people of Syria, which it is grossly lacking. People were angry and passionate, demanding the overthrow of the Assad regime and international support and recognition of the atrocities carried out by the regime on the people of Syria. The chants on the march were ‘free free Syria, down down Assad’ and ‘Assad, terrorist, Assad, terrorist’. Tens of millions of Syrian people have been internally displaced, while hundreds of thousands live in refugee camps in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, totalling over 3.5 million people in 4 years.
The protest was well organised, taking us through the busy shopping parts of London, such as the bustling Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon and the stewards did a brilliant job of keeping us all together, while ensuring traffic could pass safely. People in cars passing by beeped their horns in solidarity with the protesters and it was great to hear. There were lots of women out on the day and families and children made up a large part of the protest.
At the end of the protest, which felt like about an hour’s walk (although I didn’t keep track of the time because I was busy chatting away with other protesters, joining in with the chants and taking photos), we had a rally outside Downing Street. The speakers included Fatima Khan (above), the mother of the doctor Abbas Khan who was tortured in Fara Philistine prison in Syria for months and then transferred to Addra prison where he was killed by the regime. Khan said Assad killed her son and called for Damascus to wake up. The next speaker was Paul Conway (below), the photographer who escaped from Homs with his life in February 2012. Conway (who was in Syria with Marie Colvin who was killed) said history will judge those with blood on their hands, while 200 thousand people were slaughtered and expressed sadness that 3 years after escaping Syria, he is still speaking at protests calling for an end to the regime.
Zrinka Bralo, the Citizens UK Chair, campaigning for migrant rights was up next. Bralo talked about the initiative to get local authorities to pledge to house 50 Syrian refugees each, especially vulnerable refugees, by petitioning them to sign up. There are already 4 local authorities on board, but they are hoping to get many more signed up so at least 2500 refugees can be settled across the UK. Next up was an 8 year old Syrian girl reciting a poem about a strong little girl, which was in Arabic, and then she shouted ‘free free Syria, free free Syria’ in English. Then 3 little boys sang in Arabic. This was very moving and brought the reality to bear; that very young children have been killed, injured and displaced.
Anas Altikriti, the founder of Cordoba, a lobby group for the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain, started by saying that had the world responded to the revolution, we would not be standing here today. That the people of Syria rose up 4 years ago to reclaim their humanity; to fight a tyrant and a henchman, like his father before him. He spoke of the escalating refugee crisis, and the need to stand up and support the people of Syria fighting a noble fight against the regime and ISIS.
Clara Connolly (above), a human rights lawyer and activist in the Syria Solidarity Movement, talked about the protest being a time of mourning and sadness, as well as happiness and reunion, which is why the protesters carried flowers. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have died in Syria. ISIS and Assad’s military avoid each other, whilst they destroy what’s left of the revolution. Connolly spoke of petitioning local authorities across the country to pledge 50 places each for refuges, and the importance of doing so, because the government has offered little in the way of sanctuary for Syrian refugees. Connolly petitioned her own council in Islington to pledge 50 homes, however, the authority refused on the grounds of there being a housing crisis in the area. Germany has resettled 30 thousand Syrian refugees through the UNHCR resettlement programme, yet the UK has not signed up to this scheme, opting to resettle only the most vulnerable; but to date the UK has only taken in 143 Syrian refugees through this route.
Bushra Akram, a Turkish human rights activist said it was an honour to host 2 million Syrian refugees in her country, however, the Syrian people want to be in Syria. The final speaker, Dr Fadel Moughrabi spoke of 4 years of torture, killing, detention, 250 thousand Syrian people dead, 1 million people injured, 10 million internally displaced, 1 million internally displaced children, who are unable to attend school. Justice will be done by getting rid of Assad and the regime in Syria. Russia and Iran support the regime, but they are 2 nations, with 140 supporting the freedom of the Syrian people, yet there is still no solution. The barrel bombs have to stop, the killing has to stop and the criminals have to go on trial. 600 doctors have been killed in Syria and there is no one who can treat hepatitis, measles and other illnesses so they are going untreated.
by Kat Burdon-Manley
Photos courtesy of Anniversaries of the Syrian Revolution