Don’t abandon us, Syrian Kurds tell Europe

Kurdish official Aldar Khalil played a key role in establishing Syria's semi-autonomous Kurdish region in 2013. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 February 2019
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Don’t abandon us, Syrian Kurds tell Europe

  • The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been leading the fight against the Daesh group in Syria for the past four years
  • Khalil explained that the Kurds might need to seek protection from Assad unless their Western allies stepped up

PARIS: A top Kurdish official has called on Europe not to abandon Syrian Kurds once the battle against the Daesh group is over and to help set up an international force to protect them from Turkey.
European powers “have a political and moral responsibility” to the Kurds, Aldar Khalil told AFP in a interview in Paris, warning that the Kurds would seek the protection of Syrian President Bashar Assad if failed by Europe and the US.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been leading the fight against the Daesh group in Syria for the past four years, backed up by air strikes from a US-led coalition of powers.
With Daesh’s self-declared caliphate now in ruins, the Kurds fear being left at the mercy of Turkey after the US declares mission accomplished in the final battle for the militants’ last holdout.
Turkey considers the SDF to be a terror group and is threatening to invade the area under Kurdish control.
Khalil appealed to Europe for protection.
“If they (Europe) don’t meet their commitments they are effectively abandoning us,” Khalil said late on Sunday, calling on France particularly to work at the United Nations for the creation of a buffer zone along the border with Turkey.
“France can table a proposal to the Security Council on our protection, suggesting an international force between us and the Turks — of which it would be part — or to protect our airspace,” Khalil said.
The senior political representative, who played a key role in establishing Syria’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, said that it could be modelled on the UN peacekeeping force deployed along Lebanon’s border with Israel.
Khalil explained that the Kurds might need to seek protection from Assad unless their Western allies stepped up — and he spelled out the terms of a possible deal.
“We will be obliged to agree a deal with the (Syrian) regime so that it deploys its troops along the border and protects us,” Khalil explained.
He said that the Kurds would insist on maintaining autonomy and demand that the border troops be Kurdish.
“They would come under the orders of the Syrian army, but be our units,” he said.
In return, they would offer to give the government a cut of the Kurdish region’s oil revenues.
“We can also agree to raise the regime’s flag,” he added.
Eight years into the conflict that has killed more than 360,000 people, Assad controls nearly two-thirds of the country and is anxious to win back more territory.
On Sunday, he warned the Kurds that the US would not protect them against Turkey.
“No one will protect you except your state,” he said.


Mardini — refugee from Syria rising fast after fleeing war

Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, the Olypmpia swimmer, escaped conflict in her homeland. A year later she famously competed at the Rio Olympics. (Photo/UNHCR)
Updated 22 July 2019
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Mardini — refugee from Syria rising fast after fleeing war

  • The 21-year-old girl almost drowned at sea fleeing her war-torn country four years ago

GWANGJU/SOUTH KOREA: Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, who almost drowned at sea fleeing her war-torn country four years ago, heaved a deep sigh after failing to set a personal best at the world swimming championships on Sunday.

Representing FINA’s independent athletes team, the 21-year-old looked up at the giant scoreboard and winced at her time of 1 minute 8.79 seconds in the 100-meter butterfly heats in South Korea.
“I’m not very happy actually,” Mardini told AFP.
“I had some problems with my shoulder but I’m back in training. I still have the 100m freestyle and I’m looking forward to that.”
Mardini’s time was more than 12 seconds slower than that of reigning champion Sarah Sjostrom and 47th overall, but she has come a long way since risking her life crossing from Izmir in Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos in the summer of 2015.
Refugee swimmer Mardini knows what she is talking about when it comes to family separation for asylum seekers.
In 2015, she and her sister Sarah had escaped conflict in their homeland when the boat they were aboard with other refugees began sinking. They jumped out and swam part of the journey from Turkey to Greece.
They then embarked on an overland trip from Greece to Germany, evading local authorities in countries with immigration policies that barred them from legal entry. Along the way the sisters slept in train stations or wherever they could find shelter.
Mardini empathizes with families currently separated along the US southern border.
“This is the most terrible thing anyone can have — to live without a mom or to live without a family,” she said on Sunday at the world swimming championships where she’s competing as an independent athlete.
“I arrived in Greece in only jeans and a T-shirt,” said Mardini, who also swims in the 100m freestyle later this week. “Even my shoes were gone.”
“In the beginning I refused to be in a refugee team because I was afraid people would think I got the chance because of my story,” said Mardini, who now lives with her family in Berlin.
“I wanted to earn it. But then I realized I had a big opportunity to represent those people — so I took the chance and I never regretted it,” she added.
Mardini was 17 at the time. She is now a goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. She famously competed at the Rio Olympics a year later under the refugee flag.

FASTFACT

• In 2015, she and her sister had escaped conflict in their homeland when the boat they were aboard with other refugees began sinking. They jumped out and swam part of the journey from Turkey to Greece.

• Mardini was 17 at the time. She is now a goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Rio was amazing. It was really exciting to see the reaction of people to the team. Now I’m representing millions of displaced people around the world and it really makes me proud.”
It is a far cry from life back in Syria, where rocket strikes would often shake the pool she trained at in Damascus.
“There were bomb attacks sometimes that would crack the windows around the pool,” said Mardini, who has addressed the UN General Assembly and whose story is set to be told in a Hollywood movie.
“I know people who lost their moms on the way or in the water — that got drowned — and I feel this is terrible,” she said.
Mardini said that from the time she left Syria she lived without her mother for six months. Eventually, they were reunited in Germany, where they now live in Berlin. “I felt so alone,” she said. “So lonely.”
The experience has prompted her to stand up for fellow asylum seekers in similar situations.
“Someone has to do something about it,” Mardini said. “The least we can do is talk about it, not just ignore it like everything else happening in the world.”
Mardini finished 47th out of 52 swimmers in the 100-meter butterfly heats on Sunday. Her other event in Gwangju is the 100 freestyle on Thursday.
She is attempting to again qualify for the Olympics as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team.
“My goal now is just to swim a new personal best,” she said. “And my next goal will be Tokyo 2020.”
Fellow Syrian Ayman Kelzieh was also forced to flee the country before competing at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon.
Returning to Korea five years later, the 26-year-old now owns a fistful of national swim records, including the 50m, 100m and 200m butterfly.
“When the war started I had just moved to Damascus and I couldn’t get back home to Aleppo,” said Kelzieh, who now lives on the Thai island of Phuket.
“But even in Damascus bombs sometimes even went off at the swimming pool we trained at,” he added after taking a poolside selfie with his idol, South African star Chad le Clos.
“There were even attacks at the hotel I stayed in — I was lucky.”