Posted on 24th April 2014
Women in the East Midlands are being urged to help make young people aware of the dangers of travel to Syria.
A national campaign to highlight the dangers is being launched in London today (Thursday 24 April) by the UK’s Senior National Co-ordinator for Counter Terrorism Policing, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball, and supported by other launch events around the country.
It is hoped that women in British Muslim communities in particular can persuade young people to understand how travelling to the country can put the lives of themselves and others at great risk.
The civil war in Syria has attracted foreign nationals to the country to fight or to offer humanitarian assistance. Among them have been a number of UK nationals who have been killed, injured or kidnapped.
Supplies of humanitarian aid have often failed to reach the intended recipients, instead being commandeered by the combatants. There is also concern that organisations purporting to be charities working in Syria have in fact been extremist organisations aiming to radicalise young people.
One of the key messages of the campaign is letting people who genuinely want to help the Syrian cause know how they can do so safely and legally.
The advice is to donate to registered charities which have experience of providing humanitarian assistance in high risk, insecure and dangerous environments and which have ongoing relief operations in Syria and neighbouring countries, such as the Disasters Emergency Committee or its member charities.
The Charity Commission’s website should be used to check that a charity is registered and to ensure that donations will be used properly - www.charity-commission.gov.uk
Travelling to Syria with the intention of fighting is also an offence under the Terrorism Act and British police forces have pledged to prosecute anyone aiming to reach Syria with that purpose in mind.
To support the campaign, a passport-style leaflet has been designed which outlines the risks of travelling to Syria and will be issued at ports across the country.
DAC Ball said: “We are increasingly concerned about the numbers of young people who have or are intending to travel to Syria to join the conflict. We want to ensure that people, particularly women, who are concerned about their loved ones are given enough information about what they can do to prevent this from happening.
“We want to increase their confidence in the police and partners to encourage them to come forward so that we can intervene and help. This is not about criminalising people it is about preventing tragedies. We want to inform those who wish to genuinely help the Syrian cause how they can do so safely and legally.”
Michelle Russell, of the Charities Commission, said:“There is a genuine and desperate need for humanitarian assistance to help people affected by the conflict in Syria.
“UK charities and their partners are playing an important role in the delivery of humanitarian aid to Syria and its neighbouring countries. In part, they have only been able to do this by the generous donations of the public.
“We want everyone to make informed choices about which charities to support and how to support them so that they can feel confident that their contribution really will make a difference to the humanitarian effort.”
Insp Andy Townsend, one of the region’s Prevent strategy officers, is co-ordinating the campaign in the East Midlands.
He said: “It is estimated that hundreds of UK citizens may have already travelled to Syria or be en route to the country since the civil war began two years ago, and there has been a recent increase in arrests made at British ports and airports of individuals suspected of travelling to Syria to fight.
“Even though the war there has fallen down the news agenda in the UK, we can’t lose sight of the fact that some young people may be influenced by their peers to travel there too. By doing so, not only do they risk their own lives but they can create a drain on scarce and vital medical resources so desperately needed by Syrian citizens.
“That is why we in the East Midlands, along with all other regions in the UK, are delivering the same message: understand the very great risk to yourself and to others, and understand how we can all help to make a positive difference to the thousands of Syrians who are the innocent victims of this conflict.”
Anyone who has concerns about members of their family or community travelling to Syria is urged to telephone their local police force on 101. Trained call handlers will enable callers to contact specialist Prevent strategy officers.