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Western bombs and civil war lie behind Syria refugee crisis

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Dave Sewell looks at how Western imperialism and the crushing of the Syrian revolution are now forcing thousands to flee—and what the real alternative is
Issue 2470
The Lebanese town of Arsal welcomes Syrian refugees fleeing the war
The Lebanese town of Arsal welcomes Syrian refugees fleeing the war (Pic: UNCHR / Flickr)

Syria’s bloody civil war is fuelling the worst refugee crisis this century—and Western bombing is only adding to the carnage.

More than half of all Syrians are now refugees. Out of a population of 23 million before the war, more than four million fled to neighbouring countries by July of this year, and almost eight million had been displaced within Syria.

Only around 200,000 were believed to have reached Europe. That’s a sixth of the amount in Lebanon alone. 

The number accepted by Britain would fit on one carriage of a train.

The atrocities committed by the sectarian Isis militias have forced many to flee. And it suits Tory politicians to blame Isis for migrant deaths. But it’s only part of the problem. 

Isis’s influence grew in the chaos and desperation after dictator Bashar al-Assad crushed the Syrian revolution. At one point the West wanted to bomb Assad. Now it sees him as a lesser evil. But Assad’s violence against ordinary Syrians continues.

Regime fighter jets carried out one of their deadliest airstrikes yet on Sunday 16 August, killing over 100 people at a market in a Damascus suburb. They have previously targeted bread queues and hospitals.

Both Isis and Assad are using banned cluster bombs, according to a new report issued last week. 


These scatter unexploded devices over a wide area where they can kill long after their initial use. Children make up to 92 percent of recorded deaths by cluster bombs since 2010.

In response to the refugee crisis, some politicians argue Britain should join the US-led military intervention in Syria.

But the US and its allies have already spent a year dropping thousands of bombs on Syria and Iraq—bombs that don’t distinguish between Isis fighters and their victims.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has counted 225 civilians killed by coalition airstrikes. They included 65 children, some already refugees of Assad or Isis.

Presented with this report, the US has acknowledged only two of the deaths.

Research project AirWar has compiled media and military reports to get a count of between 518 and 1,353 civilians reported killed by the intervention in Syria and Iraq.

Given the difficulty of accurate reporting inside Syria, these are likely to be underestimates, 

It was the West’s devastating war on Iraq that created Isis. After the invasion of 2003, occupying forces gutted Iraqi society—then backed sectarian militias and corrupt politicians to undermine a united resistance.

US bombs and atrocities against Sunni Muslim Arabs by some of its Shia and Kurdish allies helped Isis recruit. At the same time they kill more people who’ve already lived through four years of horror.

The memory of the movement against the Iraq war pushed MPs to vote against joining the assault on Syria in 2003. 

To support the Syrian people we have to open the borders to refugees—and make sure David Cameron doesn’t add to the slaughter they are fleeing.

Water crisis risks epidemics

Epidemics could devastate Syria’s two biggest cities Aleppo and Damascus as the civil war disrupts water supplies. 

Patrick Hamilton from the Red Cross warned that “there is the risk” that the water network could “fail on a permanent basis, on an irreparable basis”.

This creates a risk of “huge epidemics” of typhoid or cholera that could “end up wiping out large segments of population”.

US pushes for ground troops

US secretary of state John Kerry said last week he expects to see a ground invasion of Syria.

The US is hesitant about putting boots on the ground after its defeat in Iraq. But its regional allies could invade. “There will need to be people on the ground,” Kerry said. “There will be an appropriate moment.”

US ally Saudi Arabia’s invasion of Yemen has already killed more than 2,000 people.

CIA’s secret hit sqaud drones 

 The CIA is running its own secret drone programme in Syria. 

The drones help special forces track down and assassinate “high value targets” such as Junaid Hussain, an Isis hacker from Britain. They’re armed and sometimes carry out airstrikes themselves.

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