SACD in 2022
SACD in 2022: The Timeline
- January 2022
At the end of 2021, the Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity published its “Weaponization of Aid” report, which examined the mechanics of the methods the Syrian regime uses to control and direct the work of humanitarian aid agencies in Syria, including some UN agencies and international aid organizations, as well as myriad Syrian organisations that are often directly established by the regime’s institutions or proxies. The report was based on interviews with 45 Syrians and several internationals, who work in international aid organisations, UN agencies, and Syrian humanitarian and civil society organisations (CSOs). Different percentages of them confirmed that the regime was determining who benefits from these organisations (and who does not), appointing directors and managers, and hiring employees, and directing help and benefits to military and security agencies and personnel. Most local organisations are founded by individuals close to the regime as a means of obtaining funds, in addition to the fact that Relatives of regime-linked figures and those associated with the regime are appointed to most aid organisations to monitor and report to the regime and the parties that secured their employment about the activities of the organisations and their workers.
The Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity (SACD) issued a statement to strongly condemn the amnesty decree No. (24) of 2022 issued by the Syrian regime, to pardon “military defectors,” as a dangerous attempt to entice displaced Syrians, especially young men, back to an unsafe Syria where they face forced disappearance, arbitrary arrest, torture and death. We believe that the regime which continues to imprison tens of thousands of detainees without a valid reason, which has relentlessly killed, tortured, imprisoned, starved and displaced its people has no legitimacy to issue amnesties and that it is the members of the regime who should be the ones seeking pardon.
Shortly after the 2020 conference on refugee return organized by Russia in Damascus, the Syrian regime began to pressure the displaced to return to their areas, through confiscating their property and assets claiming they were “ownerless”. SACD illustrated how the Assad regime is actively engaged in forced displacement and demographic change all over Syria.
Expropriation of land and displacement have been employed as tools of collective punishment. Its victims see no way to get any sort of justice; many are simply struggling to survive. And while the people of Hama have been targeted by the Assad regime for decades, the Assad regime continues its oppressive practices against them by using demolition of informal housing as a method of forced and planned displacement.
SACD has always been keen on engaging with communities of Syrian refugees to properly understand their circumstances and convey their difficulties and suffering. In a candid interview, Tarek Saadeldine, who has been living in Denmark with his family for nearly seven years, explains how erroneous and inaccurate the assessment that Damascus is safe for returns. “We fled not because Damascus is safe or not safe, but for fear of arrest, pursuit and oppression,” says Tarik whose nephew has been spotted in the Caesar images among those tortured to death.
Despite that many people think that it will be safe in Syria when the war ends , and based on that refugees need to return to their home country, SACD interviewed IDPs in Damascus to show that there are so many security, economic, and social threats that would make people feel unsafe in Syria.
In another interview, A.M. a master’s student at Damascus University explains “What worries us most is compulsory military service. This is a terrifying issue for me & any young man. When we see a regime checkpoint asking us for IDs, we get a great feeling of fear.”
- February 2022
The Syrian Association for the Citizens’ Dignity, in cooperation with the Turkish organization SOLARIS held a major international symposium in the capital of Turkey, Ankara, on February 10-11, 2022, with the participation of dozens of Turkish academics, representatives of civil society organizations, Syrian and Turkish political, and media figures. The symposium was an essential starting point for a serious and open discussion aimed at building a common understanding of the situation experienced by Syrian refugees today in Turkey and everywhere.
A two-day conference held in Ankara, titled “Safe environment and dignified return for Syrians” marked a significant starting point of a serious and open discussion which aims to build a common understanding of the situation in which displaced Syrians find themselves today in Turkey and everywhere. The closing statement summed up the main message of the conference: It’s not safe for Syrians to return. The silent and not so silent attempts to normalize the regime only make return more impossible, as Syrian regime, as main cause of displacement, practices repression and terrorism upon Syrian people.
SACD Programs Director, Rudaina Alkhazam delivered the opening speech by talking about the situation of refugees, especially in Turkey. After which Dr. Mazen Kseibi, member of SACD Board of Trustees, spoke about the absence of a safe environment in Syria and the continuation of displacement. On the second day of the conference, Dr. Mohannad AlHosini, member of SACD diplomatic team, elaborated on the definition of a safe environment according to the displaced Syrians themselves. And finally, the closing statement asserted that Syrian refugees and displaced persons cannot return without a safe environment.
The Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity organized a press conference in the Danish capital Copenhagen, in collaboration with Refugees Welcome, and with the participation of Human Rights Watch, Refugee Protection Watch and Amnesty Denmark. The press conference discussed the recent reports documenting the harsh reality in Syria to which refugees are supposed to return, the condemnations of the Danish Immigration Service’s report by experts who provided information for it and the implications of the policy for other countries hosting Syrian refugees, such as Lebanon, and the possible long-term consequences of premature return, including further displacement of even larger numbers of Syrians.
SACD continued to draw attention to the suffering of Syrians trapped in Rukban. Located in a deserted area between Syria and Jordan, the Rukban camp has been suffering from a severe shortage in aid due to Russia’s attempt to block the delivery of much needed supplies and food. Children have been dying from inadequate medical care and shortage of food, let alone being deprived of education and registration. Some families were forced to leave the camp, but only to face the brutality of the Syrian regime forces awaiting them.
Emad, from the town of Qarayteen in Homs northern suburbs, explains his displacement story, how he ended up in Rukban camp, the difficulties they face and his message to the international community.
The Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity has been adamantly working to shed light on what the Syrians face in the various refugee hosting countries. The Association conducted an interview with A. K., who is originally from Daraa and was born and lived in Damascus in 1975. She is currently married and lives with her husband and family in Lebanon.
“Despite the suffering we are experiencing in Lebanon and the high cost of living, I would rather stay than go back to Assad’s hell and his unjust regime,” says a Syrian refugee living in Beirut.
- March 2022
On the anniversary of the start of the peaceful demonstrations and civil struggle in Syria, the displaced Syrians demanded the international community to give them what they have given the Ukrainian people: support and humane treatment.
After more than a decade of peaceful demonstrations in Syria calling for freedom and dignity and eventually demands to overthrow the regime, the struggle of the Syrians continues despite being subjected to repression, killing, torture, and war crimes that have killed at least half a million Syrians and have displaced more than half of the Syrian people.
As the world obsessively looked on in horror while the largest conflict on European soil since World War II unfolded, Syrians mostly felt tired. Many wonder what it would have taken to get the same attention for the killings and human rights abuses that served as a training ground for the aggressors and trial runs for their weapons.
If Russia‘s aggression is to be addressed successfully in Ukraine, it also has to be addressed where it began – in Syria. Without this, it is just a matter of time and place when and where it will spread, SACD warned in March.
- April 2022
In April, the Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity (SACD) highlighted Putin’s criminality in Ukraine, which mirrored Russia’s crimes in Syria since the beginning of the conflict. SACD warned that if Russia is not held accountable for its crimes in Syria and Ukraine, it will not stop, and the scenario of Syria and Ukraine will be repeated elsewhere.
It’s not hard to see the same perpetrator and different response in Rukban in Syria and Mariupol in Ukraine. At a time when aid was flowing swiftly to support Ukrainians forcibly displaced by Russia, the very same perpetrator supporting the Syrian regime and denying aid delivery to Rukban camp, people in Rukban camp were left to choose between starving to death and dying for lack of medical care or surrendering themselves to the Syrian regime, without any security guarantees, risking being arbitrarily detained, tortured to death and forcibly disappeared.
In this context, SACD released a statement strongly condemning the latest reports of displaced Syrians in the besieged Rukban camp being forced to make the bitter choice of returning to Assad-held areas due to harsh living conditions in the camp as a result of deprivation from humanitarian assistance.
SACD called on the UN and the Syrian Red Crescent to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Rukban, to monitor and report on the fate of those forced to return to the hands of the Syrian regime and Russia and to respect people’s right to a voluntary, safe and dignified return instead of facilitating forced return into uncertain fate.
Moreover, SACD spoke to A.H., a former member of the Civil Negotiations Committee in Duma, who accurately described Russia’s role in the bombing and besieging of the city, killing and forcibly displacing thousands, and that the Russian regime used the same war tactics in Mariupol.
He said: “Despite the regime’s propaganda that ‘war’ is over, it is tough to make ends meet in areas under Assad’s control. We hope that justice will prevail in Syria, that rights will return to their owners, and we return to our homes and live a dignified life.”
The month of April witnessed several waves of forced displacement of Syrians as part of the plan of the Assad regime, Iran, and Russia to serve their policy of demographic change in Syria, and the most prominent examples of this were the displacement of Zabadani and Madaya, under what was called the “Four Cities Agreement.”
This displacement was not the only product of this political agreement, but also the siege and starvation policies pursued by Hezbollah at the border, in addition to the indiscriminate bombing of civilians, which played a significant role in forcing the people and the factions in those areas to leave their towns and cities. This siege and bombardment resulted in the death of more than 300 civilians, 84 of whom died of starvation.
- May 2022
As the “Brussels VI Conference on Supporting the future of Syria and the region“ convened, more than 13 million displaced Syrians faced increasingly dire prospects with growing unilateral calls from some hosting countries for the return of Syrian refugees to an unsafe Syria, without any guarantees or the minimum conditions for a safe, voluntary and dignified return.
The Syrian Association for citizens Dignity clearly communicated that the political process must be reformed to elevate the safe environment to the top of the political agenda. The special Envoy’s office must focus on securing the rights and minimum conditions for return expressed by refugees and IDPs as a fundamental part of any political solution and its elements, such as the new and credible constitution or elections. Adventurism and dubious “pilot projects” on the return must be rejected and abandoned.
Mr. Wasim Alhaj, member of SACD, participated in the session “Giving Space for Syr