Syrian campaigners surprised at UK vote
Thursday 5th September 2013 @ 13:59 by Max Wieland
Community
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A dedicated Syrian campaigner from Tameside raising funds for refugees in the war torn nation spoke of her surprise this week as MPs voted against military intervention.
Parliament decided on Friday not to become militarily involved in a shock defeat for the Government and Prime Minister David Cameron, who believed action needed to be taken following the use of chemical weapons in the Middle Eastern state.
Sufia Begum has been campaigning and raising funds for Syrian refugees for the past two years and said she had certainly expected a different decision. She told us: “I didn’t think the MP’s would vote ‘no’ but then again I am not sure whether intervention would have worked. “I had half-heartedly supported the notion of UK involvement but as history has proven before, intervention does not always work.”

Following lengthy debates over the past week in regards to whether or not Britain should take action over the use of chemical weapons in Syria, a local activist has spoken of her surprise at the MP’s who voted against taking decisive action.

Sufia Begum has been campaigning and raising funds for Syrian refugees for the past two years and has explained to the Reporter and Chronicle that she had expected a different response at last week’s parliamentary decision.

She told us: “I didn’t think the MP’s would vote ‘no’ but then again I am not sure whether intervention would have worked anyway.

“I had half-heartedly supported the notion of UK involvement but as history has proven before, intervention does not always work.”

After two years of raising funds for Syrian refugees at Manchester Metropolitan University, Sufia and her sister Shahima decided to raise awareness about the Syrian crisis in their home town of Hyde.

“We dedicated the entire month of Ramadan – a time of the year where Muslims worldwide fast and give extra charity – to the cause,” said the 21-year-old.

“With the help of a few dedicated volunteers and our family we started the month with our very own street collections across Hyde.

“Our main objective was to raise awareness about the crisis, and the response from our community was absolutely incredible, more than half of the people that approached us were unaware of the atrocities and were willing to listen.”

Following the street collections, the pair also hosted a fundraising dinner last month at Hyde Town Hall, billed by Sufia as “the first of its kind in Tameside.”

“After discovering people who were so passionate about helping Syria  when I first joined University I was determined to bring a bit of that passion back to Tameside and do as much as I could,” said the third year University student.

“To think that such atrocities happen in the 21st century is so disturbing; it devastates and saddens me so much.

“I’m not an expert on what is happening in Syria but I know that I am an individual who is praying for peace.”

The fundraising dinner aimed to raise vital funds for medical aid, hospital treatment, food parcels, blankets and hygiene kits for the charity Islamic Relief, who are distributing medicine and food inside Syria as well as helping thousands of refugees who have fled to the neighbouring countries of Lebanon and Jordan.

The fundraising night also included an eye witness account as well as performances from local talents, auctions and tips on how the community can make a difference.

Amazingly, after seeing their local community pull together, a phenomenal £20,300 was raised.

“The future of Syria is so bleak and unclear at the moment,” said Sufia.

“Sometimes it feels like our contribution has no effect, however we still do what we can because if everyone did what they could then change will ultimately happen. However, it has to begin from individuals and grass root levels.

“Whether you are students like me and my sister or pensioners we encourage everyone in Tameside to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Syrian people, and acknowledge their pain and suffering.”

Since March 2011 more than 100,000 people are estimated to have died and at least 1.7 million refugees displaced since civil conflict erupted in Syria.

The violence originally began when Syrian security forces clamped down on anti-government protests.

Parliarment was recalled last week to vote on whether to support military action in principle against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government following the use of chemical weapons believed to have killed more than 1,000 people.

But the Governments motion was defeated by 13 votes, with Labour and Tory backbenchers voting against the idea.

Labour MP for Denton and Audenshaw Andrew Gwynne said he thought the government’s approach to the conflict was frantic.

He told us: “I voted for the Labour Party’s sensible amendment, which would have allowed time for the UN weapons inspectors to have completed their task, to report to the UN and for the Security Council to have taken a view, before a second vote to the House of Commons could have determined whether or not the UK should become involved militarily in this conflict.

“Sadly that was defeated.  Given the Government had implied support for their motion would have been considered as an ‘in principle’ agreement for UK involvement, I could not give my support for what was appearing to be a head-long rush into the conflict.”

In response to Boris Johnson who argued on Monday that there was “no reason” not to vote again, he said: “We always said let the evidence be seen first. I personally am opposed to military action in Syria, especially as the Government didn’t set out any real aims, objectives or end game.

“Without a clear strategy I still fear we’d merely make things worse in Syria, in the wider Middle East region and possibly at home too.”

MP for Hyde and Stalybridge Jonathan Reynolds told the Reporter: “I voted against the Government motion last week because I simply did not feel the Prime Minister sufficiently justified the use of military force or clearly spelled out what the objectives and strategy of any action would be.

“What we need now from the Prime Minister is calm and measured leadership on this very difficult issue.

“The international community needs to work towards a diplomatic solution that can end the violence in Syria and bring much needed humanitarian assistance to the people who are suffering there.”