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On April 17, The Telegraph published a terrible piece on Syria in its News section. I immediately wrote the following letter to the editor; he refused it because it attacked the writer and was too long. The Telegraph published a shorter version today (photo) but here is my full original text.
That Peter Oborne has been a fan of Syria’s genocidal dictator for some time is clear; that he presents distortions and fables as facts in a quality publication like The Telegraph, however, goes beyond his right to have an opinion, as morally objectionable as that opinion may be.
Oborne suspects that some of the accounts of the government’s dreadful atrocities “have been exaggerated”; would that include the evidence of the Assad regime’s systematic mass torture and starvation until death of over 11,000 Syrian men, women and children, presented to the Security Council on Tuesday? Would that include the Secretary General’s report on UNSCR 2139, blaming the Assad regime for flouting the legal obligation to lift its numerous sieges on desperate civilian populations? Would that include the irrefutable proofs, documented by international and British media and NGOs, of the Assad regime’s barbaric missile and barrel bomb campaign in every corner of Syria? Would that include the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ plea to bring the regime to the International Criminal Court and hold it accountable for massive crimes against humanity, now that at least 150,000 Syrians have been killed (including hundreds who were gassed to death in a chemical weapons attack) and nearly 10 million have become refugees, fleeing Assad’s bombs?
The Assad regime’s atrocities are far from exaggerated; on the contrary, we are merely skimming the surface of what the Syrian people have been subjected to for not only three years of uprising, but for over 40 years of brutal dictatorship by the same clan.
It is outright dishonest of Oborne to claim that “jihadist groups make up the opposition” when the Free Syrian Army, formed initially by brave defecting soldiers who refused to carry out Assad’s orders to kill their compatriots, is the only force actually fighting the very jihadists of ISIS who the Assad regime never attacks. When barrel bombs and missiles continue to rain on schools, breadlines, hospitals and homes, the headquarters of these Al Qaeda terrorists have remained miraculously untouched by Assad’s bombs, which he reserves for civilians and the moderate nationalists of the Free Syrian Army.
It behooves honest journalists to give facts, and The Telegraph’s readers should have been told there is no such thing as an independent MP in Assad’s Syria, nor can there be a “free and fair election” when over two thirds of the population have been turned into refugees, are starving, maimed, ill and in no condition to vote – even if they had wanted to take position on this farce which Mr Oborne seems to be the only journalist to describe as “election.”
It is a pity that Mr Oborne fears leaving the comfort of his central Damascene surroundings under the supervision of the Assad regime; we would be happy to put him in touch via phone or Skype with hundreds of Syrians all over the country, or to take him on an actual fact-finding mission to the camps housing millions of Syrian refugees in the region, so that they can tell him, and readers of The Telegraph, why they had to flee the hell which Assad has unleashed on them.
National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces
“If I knew that today would be the last time I’d see you, I would hug you tight and pray the Lord be the keeper of your soul. If I knew that this would be the last time you pass through this door, I’d embrace you, kiss you, and call you back for one more. If I knew that this would be the last time I would hear your voice, I’d take hold of each word to be able to hear it over and over again. If I knew this is the last time I see you, I’d tell you I love you, and would not just assume foolishly you know it already.”
― Gabriel García Márquez
“Tell him yes. Even if you are dying of fear, even if you are sorry later, because whatever you do, you will be sorry all the rest of your life if you say no.”
― Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
|New report highlights plight of domestic helpers in the United Kingdom, with critics comparing it to kefala system.Simon Hooper Last updated: 14 Apr 2014 13:06|
|London, United Kingdom – British politicians have backed calls for the government to reverse controversial changes to visa rules for thousands of migrant workers, which anti-slavery campaigners say have made the UK a “significant facilitator of forced labour”.In a report published earlier this month, members of a parliamentary committee examining government proposals to tackle what it has called “the scourge of modern slavery” warned that changes to the visa regime had “strengthened the hand of the slave master” and said: “The moral case for revisiting this issue is urgent and overwhelming.”Frank Field, the opposition Labour MP who chaired the committee, said that the government’s modern slavery bill needed to be redrafted to provide better protection for victims of trafficking and slavery.
“For parts of this bill, amendments will not be sufficient to make good, workable, effective legislation. Some parts need a rewrite,” he said. “This is ground-breaking legislation that will influence law and the fight against modern slavery around the globe. The world is watching: We have to get this right.”
The plight of domestic workers in the UK was highlighted earlier this month in a report by Human Rights Watch which included testimonies from dozens of women who said they were mistreated while working as servants in wealthy households.
About 15,000 domestic workers travel to the UK with their employers each year, with many accompanying Gulf Arab families. Some complained of having had their passports confiscated, of working long hours without breaks or days off for little or no pay, of being locked up and subjected to physical abuse and verbal threats.
One woman from the Philippines said: “I had a room with a bed. But at 5am I woke up and made tea for my madam. She told me not to go to my room again until midnight… I sat with them in restaurants, looking at them eating.”
Campaigners told Al Jazeera that tougher visa rules introduced in 2012 had left domestic workers with no escape route and tied the hands of those trying to help them.
‘Massive backward step’
Izza Leghtas, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the new “tied visa” rules, which prevent domestic workers from leaving their employer while in the UK, meant they remained trapped by the kefala sponsorship system common in the Gulf, which has been widely condemned as exploitative byhuman rights groups and labour organisations.
“This sends a message to employers who are used to the kefala system, that it is acceptable to treat their workers in the same way,” Leghtas told Al Jazeera. “I have spoken to many domestic workers who worked in the Gulf who would come to the UK with their employers and they would continue to treat them in the same way – and sometimes even worse.”
The UK’s right-wing government justified changes to the domestic worker visa system in 2012 as a means of curbing the number of unskilled migrants entering the country. But it is now steering legislation through parliament to impose tougher sentences on traffickers and create the post of an anti-slavery commissioner.
Kate Roberts, community advocate for Kalayaan, a charity campaigning on behalf of migrant domestic workers, said the revised visa system represented a “massive backward step” for those attempting to reach abused employees.
Under the old system, Kalayaan had been approached by about 300 people a year. But she said just 120 people who had entered the country under the tied visa scheme had come forward to report abuse in the past two years.
They had typically described worse working conditions than those employed under the previous visa scheme, with most saying they were paid less than £50 ($83) a week and were not allowed out unsupervised.
‘Hands are tied’
Roberts said the numbers reflect concerns that those who come forward, severing ties with their employer, would be treated as undocumented migrants and face deportation.
“It affects the support we can give them because we have to inform them that they’ve breached immigration laws,” Roberts told Al Jazeera. “Usually they have paid quite a lot of money to an agent or indebted themselves to get the first job and they can’t go home.
“They are not going to come to us to be referred as victims of trafficking and left in legal limbo for years. They will just disappear, presumably to be abused further. They have pulled everything out from under the feet of domestic workers, and in terms of supporting them our hands are tied now.”
Some campaigners are concerned that the government may not accept the committee’s recommendations, because of continuing fears about immigration.
“I’m hopeful that the government will take some recommendations on board, but I think that the recommendation on the domestic worker visa is unlikely to get government support in the current climate,” Claire Falconer, legal director of the campaign group Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), told Al Jazeera. “The government is protecting the lifestyles of people who want to have domestic workers in their home and not protecting the workers themselves. It says it is trying to eradicate modern slavery but at the same time they are creating conditions that create vulnerability to slavery.”
Falconer said necessary steps include reversing changes to the visa system, implementing a monitoring system and ensuring employment rights are respected regardless of immigration status.
“Immigration law currently trumps employment law and human rights law. It is extremely difficult for workers to enforce their rights even if they are a victim of trafficking or forced labour because employers know workers will just be deported if they complain.”
‘Same side as Sudan’
Aidan McQuade, director of the charity Anti-Slavery International, urged government to focus on the welfare of victims. “We have always argued that a comprehensive victim protection system needs to be at the heart of the bill if it is to be effective in tackling slavery,” he said.
McQuade also called on the UK to address the issue of forced labour at a global level by adopting development policies in countries where poverty and a lack of opportunities force people abroad in search of work.
He pointed out that remittances sent home significantly outweigh the economic contribution of Western aid programmes.
“There is a disjoint between broad development and anti-poverty policy and safe migration and anti-slavery policy,” McQuade told Al Jazeera. “Those elements need to be harmonised in a way that increases the capacity of poor vulnerable workers to access safe decent work and contribute back to their home countries.”
The Home Office, the UK’s interior ministry, told Al Jazeera a range of options are available to domestic workers in need of protection after arriving in the UK. It said rules requiring applicants to have been employed for 12 months prior to being issued a visa and to have appropriate employment contracts act as further safeguards.
“Abuse of overseas domestic workers is unacceptable and we believe the best way to prevent it is by testing the validity of the working relationship before a visa is issued,” a spokesperson said anonymously, as is government policy in the UK.
But McQuade said the UK’s refusal – along with eight other countries including Sudan – to support an International Labour Organisationconvention pressing for better rights for domestic workers in 2011 had undermined its credibility in the fight against slavery, and thrown into question its commitment to tackling forced labour within its own borders.
“Whenever you are on the same side as Sudan on a human rights issue, you are probably on the wrong side,” said McQuade. “They have been deaf to this and I would be interested to see whether now, seeing the suffering of human beings being reported in the media, they will be deaf to that as well, and try and ignore the troubling fact that a significant facilitator of forced labour within the UK is British government policy.”
Follow Simon Hooper on Twitter: @simonbhooper