The International Community continues to watch the ancient land of Syria descend into an orgy of violence and bloodshed. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 39,000 Syrians have been killed in violent clashes during the last year alone. The remainder live in the shadow of violence and intimidation, caught up in the crossfire of a conflict that they cannot escape.
Ordinary Syrians feel trapped. With violence spreading to civilian areas in all parts of the country, many Syrians just want to escape the madness. But where to? To the east of them lies the war ravaged and unstable country of Iraq while to the west are Lebanon and Israel – Israel in particular has little attraction for these Arab refugees whereas Lebanon is already overflowing with Palestinian refugees fleeing persecution in Israel. To the north, Turkey is already involved in an armed conflict with Syria and certainly cannot be deemed as a safe haven. So where can these individuals go?
Many Syrians have fled to Europe and in particular to the U.K. Why specifically have so many Syrian nationals sought entry into the U.K. itself? I believe that they have chosen the UK to claim asylum and rebuild their shattered lives as it has a reputation for being a country that provides a safe and hospitable environment for individuals looking to escape war-torn homelands.
The U.K. government monitors dangerous and potentially violent situations in many war torn or unstable countries and enacts policies in accordance with the specific situation in each country.
Most recently the U.K. government has issued a ‘concession’ for Syrian nationals in the UK who are unable to return to Syria as a result of what is going on over there. But despite this concession, a row is brewing with the U.K government being accused of ‘double standards’:
Asylum Claims are governed by the 1951 UN Convention relating to the status of Refugees and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The UK has obligations under these conventions not to return someone to a country where he/she will face torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Therefore the U.K has stated that it will allow Syrian nationals currently in the U.K. to remain here until the situation in Syria improves.
Normally, anybody seeking entry to the U.K. as a visitor or tourist cannot extend their stay (under a visitor visa) from inside of the country unless there are compassionate grounds for them to do so. Furthermore, there are restrictions on people switching their visa status from one category to another.
However, as a result of the instability in Syria, the UK has issued a temporary concession on 17 October 2012.
This concession allows Syrian nationals who are residing in the UK on a temporary basis to extend their stay in the UK until the situation in Syria improves. The concession also allows Syrian nationals to switch their visa status to another category without leaving the country. The concession is only valid until March 2013.
So if you are a Syrian national living in the UK and scared to return to your homeland, then you must move quickly to take advantage of the concession as time is of the essence! At present, I am dealing with a number of clients who are seeking entry into the U.K as a result of the current situation in Syria or looking to extend their stay in the U.K as a result.
This concession is a humanitarian gesture and a most welcome one but does it go far enough? It is all well and good allowing individuals to continue living in a safe environment in the U.K. without fear of being deported, but what about the Syrian nationals who are facing inhuman and degrading treatment in Syria itself? Should we, as a modern inclusive and liberal democracy just ignore those Syrians dying on the borders of Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey? Is this not a case of double standards?
For those living outside the UK, it has never been more difficult to make an application to gain entry into the UK. In relation to Syria itself, more and more visitor visa applications are being refused with the UKBA seemingly reacting to a fear that many Syrians applying to visit the UK have no intention of ever returning to Syria.
Gaining entry to the U.K. – Ali asks a question
I recall speaking to an individual called “Ali” from Syria. He said that he had applied for a visa to enter the UK. His application was refused because the Entry Clearance Officer was not satisfied that Ali would return to Syria at the end of his visa. Ali had studied in the UK a few years ago and returned at the end of his studies to Syria to run his own business. He now wanted to come to the UK to get away from all the violence he had witnessed for the past year. He told me that his fellow Syrians were dying through no fault of their own. He had lost members of his family and some childhood friends to the indiscriminate violence. Whilst we were discussing his application, he candidly asked me if the decision to refuse his application meant that the U.K. government did not care if he lived or if he died.
It was a genuinely heartfelt question and one to which I did not have an answer. It was impossible for me to justify the current policy of making concessions to Syrians living in the U.K. while ignoring the plight of those Syrians trapped in their own country with nowhere to go.
Syrian nationals are unable to claim asylum from outside the UK. Most cannot afford to displace their whole families with the possibility of being turned back at the border and ending up in a form of limbo. Therefore, they are being forced to stay in Syria where the situation is deteriorating by the minute. Obtaining entry to the UK as a visitor has proven to be extremely difficult if not impossible for them. The main justification for their applications failing is the requirement that the applicant have a genuine intention to return to Syria at the end of his/her visit to the U.K.
Although I understand that our government cannot grant entry into the U.K. to every Syrian national who claims asylum, our current two pronged policy seems slightly hypocritical in light of our well established values of welcoming all those in need of protection.
The contradiction in the way the UK is dealing with Syrian nationals cannot be ignored and I hope that the Home Office will look seriously at this point. It is inconsistent for us to provide support for Syrian nationals currently in the UK while leaving those in immediate danger in Syria with no help or support.
The U.K. has always prided itself in granting asylum to those fleeing persecution in their own country by allowing them entry into the U.K. I for one am proud of our long established record of helping anyone who genuinely needs sanctuary here. It is our commitment to these endangered peoples that has enhanced our reputation as a leading light in the world of humanitarian protection in the 21st Century.
I just hope that the double standards currently being applied to Syrian nationals do not harm this hard earned reputation that we have earned for ourselves within the International community.