LONDON: Britain and other European countries have been accused of employing “double standards” over their treatment of Ukrainian and Syrian refugees.
Raed Al-Saleh, chief of the search and rescue White Helmets charity in Syria, said that all refugees should be “treated equally” and not receive “preferential treatment.”
In an exclusive interview, he told Times Radio: “The preferential treatment of the Ukrainian refugees is there — we can see it. It is double standards. Refugees should be treated equally regardless of their race, ethnicity, or religion, because they have equal rights.”
The White Helmets group has supported civilians in Syria targeted by Russian-backed airstrikes and attacks ordered by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. It claims to have saved the lives of up to 125,000 people.
Britain has granted 22,000 visas to Ukrainian refugees under a family visa scheme launched on March 4. A further 2,000 are expected to be supported in an additional program.
But Britain resettled just 20,000 Syrians fleeing the conflict over a six-year period, with a further 666 arriving in the country via a separate scheme.
Al-Saleh told the Times that the work of his White Helmets team possibly reduced the flow of refugees to Europe.
“The White Helmets are still providing an array of services including ambulance services, urban search and rescue, fire extinguishing services, healthcare, utility maintenance — whether it is electricity, power, or water networks — and they are providing maintenance and repair wherever it’s needed, so that they support the steadfastness of civilians so that they remain in their home areas.
“This led to the mitigation of the refugee crisis because without the White Helmets, the refugee crisis would have been worse and would have been bigger and would have continued for more years,” he added.
Al-Saleh was visiting London this week to meet politicians but has not secured a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
He told the Times that he would issue a plea to Johnson to secure an end to the bombardment of the Syrian people and hold to account “those who perpetrated those violations against them, especially the use of chemical weapons.”
He said that Western powers must provide “support for a peace process and for a political solution that will guarantee the rights of the people and that would provide the people with a better life so that it helps them return back to their own homelands.”