The UK may soon participate in UNHCR’s global resettlement program and provide homes for thousands of Syrian refugees. David Cameron announced during the Davos forum that he is “open minded” about the prospects to accept a quota of Syrian refugees as many European countries have already done after the UN’s appeal.
This announcement made by the Prime Minister is especially precious as it became possible due to the significant efforts put by UK’s civil society. The Prime Minister’s initial reluctance to implement this UN initiative resonated strongly among the society. A group of 25 aid agencies and charities appealed to Cameron in a public letter pointing out Britain’s “shared responsibility” for Syria’s refugees. They also mentioned the moral duty to help by action instead of witnessing the humanitarian situation that now characterizes Syrian refugee camps.
Meanwhile, the first Syrian talks have recently started in the UN headquarters in Geneva. For the first time, representatives of Syrian government and opposition are meeting face-to-face in order to try to find the political solution to key points. However, instead of direct communications, the parties are still negotiating through the mediator – UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.
Though the key political questions are still ahead, the first signs of the Geneva II progress came with the government and opposition sides reaching the mutual agreement on one of the most important humanitarian issues of Syria – Homs. It has been already 18 months that the civilians and rebels are living in a sieged Homs, one of the key cities in Syrian war. The governmental and opposition agreed on the deal that will allow women and children to leave the city’s besieged center, a move that has already been termed by media as a “Homs breakthrough.”
The Homs breakthrough shows that predictions that Geneva II would be over after several days were far from accurate. Despite the number of core points that still have to be negotiated, the fact that two sides came to a consensus on one of the main battlegrounds of the war is a great achievement of the mediators, Syrian government and opposition representatives. Apart from that, the Homs deal tells us that so far mediators succeed in the peace plan they have established for Syrian case, building confidence. The Homs deal is definitely one of these steps that can reinforce the trust between the parties.
Both Cameron’s change in attitude towards the UN refugee initiative and the Homs deal show that even amongst political differences, similar people and their needs can come to the front stage of political agenda. For the involved actors, in both of these cases, to follow what would be the right thing in moral terms would mean to undermine their purely political position. However, in both these cases, the political agenda turned to be secondary, giving the primary importance to the needs of people.
These cases challenge the popular opinion that politics is all about elites’ interests and demonstrate how these interests can make way for the simple desire to help and support people in need. There are hopes that this recently emerged attitude towards the key challenges related the Syrian case may eventually become a pattern for addressing the Syrian peace settlement itself. In this case, the humanitarian situation, overweighting political variances, may become a trigger for the peaceful resolution of the protracted situations.
Would you support Cameron’s decision to provide homes for Syrian refugees in the UK as response to the UN appeal?