SHARE
COPY LINK

SYRIA

Germany will take in 50 Syrian White Helmet rescuers

Germany is one of three countries that will resettle some of the "hero" first responders threatened by Syrian regime forces.

Germany will take in 50 Syrian White Helmet rescuers
White Helmet volunteers are credited with saving more than 100,000 lives during the war in Syria, DPA reported. Photos: DPA/AP

Germany has confirmed it will resettle roughly 50 of the 800 White Helmet rescuers and their families evacuated by Israel to Jordan due to the imminent threat of advancing Syrian regime forces.

Founded in 2013, the Syria Civil Defence, or White Helmets, is a network of first responders which rescues the wounded in the aftermath of air strikes, shelling or explosions in rebel-held territory.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told Bild newspaper on Sunday that Germany would take in eight White Helmets members and their families, having already issued the residency permits.

This means that the White Helmets and their families, all Syrian, won’t have to apply for asylum after their arrival in Germany.

Clause 22 of Germany’s Residence Act allows admission from abroad “on the grounds of international law or urgent humanitarian reasons”.

The move was “a reflection of my stance towards ensuring human morality and order in migration policy,” Seehofer said.

Jordan “authorised the United Nations to organise the passage of 800 Syrian citizens through Jordan to be resettled in western countries,” Jordanian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Kayed said.

“The government gave the permission after Britain, Germany and Canada made a legally binding undertaking to resettle them within a specified period of time due to 'a risk to their lives'.”

German foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) has also confirmed the resettlement of several White Helmets and their families in Germany, roughly 50 refugees.

An Israeli government source confirmed Israel's military had rescued 800 people who were taken to Jordan.

“Upon request of the US, Canada and European states Israel has completed a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organisation ('White Helmets') and families,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon tweeted.

White Helmets head Raed Saleh said the evacuees had arrived in Jordan after being “surrounded in a dangerous region”.

They had been encircled in the Syrian provinces of Daraa and Quneitra, which respectively border Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, he told AFP.

Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan from Syria in 1967, in a move never recognised internationally.

Britain's Foreign Office said it had helped facilitate the overnight evacuations.

“White Helmets have been the target of attacks and, due to their high profile, we judged that, in these particular circumstances, the volunteers required immediate protection,” it said.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said she had “called for global leadership to support and help these heroes” at last week's NATO summit.

The North American nation will take in up to 50 White Helmets volunteers and their families, totalling up to 250 people, the country's public broadcaster CBC said citing senior officials.

Israel's Haaretz daily said the evacuees also included orphans who had been injured in the Syrian fighting.

It was unclear how many White Helmet volunteers remained in both the Daraa and Quneitra provinces after the evacuations.

But a volunteer in Daraa city, who asked to remain anonymous, said he had decided to stay despite being given the choice to leave.

“It's our country and we have a right to live in it in safety,” he told AFP, however adding he was among a minority who wished to remain.

“We are first and foremost a humanitarian organisation, not a military one, or a terrorist one as the regime alleges.”

The White Helmets have rescued thousands of civilians trapped under the rubble or caught up in fighting in opposition-held zones along various fronts of Syria's seven-year conflict.

Since its formation, when Syria's conflict was nearing its third year, more than 250 of its volunteers have been killed.

The group's motto — “To save one life is to save all of humanity” — is drawn from a verse in the Koran, although the White Helmets insist they treat all victims, regardless of religion.

– Thousands flee –

Some members have received training abroad, including in Turkey, returning to instruct colleagues on search-and-rescue techniques.

The group receives funding from a number of governments, including Britain, Germany and the United States, but also solicits individual donations to purchase equipment such as its signature hard hats.

On June 19, Syrian government forces launched a Russia-backed offensive to retake Daraa and Quneitra provinces.

Just a month later, regime forces have regained control of most of these two provinces through a combination of deadly bombardment and Moscow-brokered surrender deals.

Jihadists are not party to these deals, and Russian planes bombarded a holdout of the Islamic State group in Daraa province overnight, a Britain-based war monitor said.

More than 20,000 civilians have escaped bombardment on the IS-held corner in the past 24 hours, fleeing into regime-held areas, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
 

 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

IMMIGRATION

Germany to allow deportations of ‘suspect’ Syrians

Germany said Friday it would allow deportation of Syrians to their war-ravaged homeland from 2021 if they are deemed a security risk, five years after a massive refugee influx.

Germany to allow deportations of 'suspect' Syrians
A flight deporting refugees leaving from Baden airport on Thursday. Photo: DPA

The EU's biggest economic power and most populous member allowed in hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Syria's devastating civil war in 2015-16 but security officials said it was time to lift blanket protections
against expulsion.

“The general ban on deportations (to Syria) will expire at the end of this year,” Hans-Georg Engelke, state secretary at the interior ministry, told reporters.

“Those who commit crimes or pursue terrorist aims to do serious harm to our state and our population should and will have to leave our country.”

The decision, which drew vehement criticism from human rights groups, was taken at a telephone conference between federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, a hardline conservative who had long called for an end to the deportation ban, and his 16 state-level counterparts.

READ ALSO: Germany plans to deport 'dangerous' Syrian criminals

The Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-left “grand coalition” government, failed in their bid to win a six-month extension of the protections, in place since 2012.

They argued that the still precarious security and humanitarian situation in Syria made expulsions there indefensible.

'First EU country'

Engelke, standing in for Seehofer who was in quarantine after a coronavirus exposure, told a news conference that an estimated 90 Syrian suspected Islamists were believed to be in Germany.

Calls for a change in stance have been growing since a Syrian man was
arrested in November on suspicion of carrying out a deadly knife attack in the city of Dresden.

Prosecutors said the 20-year-old, accused of killing one tourist and seriously injuring another, had a raft of criminal convictions and a history of involvement with the Islamist scene.

He had been living in Germany under “tolerated” status granted to people whose asylum requests have been rejected, but who cannot be deported.

Boris Pistorius of the SPD, interior minister of Lower Saxony, noted that on a practical level expulsions to Syria would remain next to impossible “because there are no state institutions with which we have diplomatic relations”.

But he sharply criticised the symbolic meaning of Germany becoming what he called the first EU country to lift the deportation ban.

Germany took in more than one million migrants including tens of thousands of Syrians at the height of the refugee influx 2015-16 when several EU member states shut their borders to asylum seekers.

'Disgrace'

The German foreign ministry has described conditions in Syria as “catastrophic” and noted that its nationals continue to be “exposed to dangers when they return” to their home country.

Government forces have regained control of large swathes of territory once held by rebels and Islamist groups, but opponents of the Assad government still face torture and death, according to human rights organisations.

However as Germany heads into a general election year to replace Merkel after 16 years in power, conservative politicians seized on the issue amid concerns among some voters about the security risk posed by refugees.

READ ALSO: German interior minister rules out deportations to Syria

“In such a situation, you can't tell the German population on the issue of whether someone poses a danger… that it is taboo to even think about sending them home,” Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann told the news conference.

German campaigners slammed the decision, calling it opportunistic and driven by political interests.

“The behaviour of the conservative interior ministers is a disgrace for the rule of law and irresponsible in its substance,” Guenter Burkhardt of refugee rights group PRO ASYL said in a statement, calling it a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Syria's war, which broke out after the brutal suppression of anti-government protests in 2011, has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions.

Germany has launched several criminal cases over alleged war crimes in Syria under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows a foreign country to prosecute crimes against humanity and war crimes.

SHOW COMMENTS