In a joint letter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel MP, senior trade union officials oppose any Home Office decision to make Kurdish-run North-East Syria a “designated area” under the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019. Under such a designation, anyone visiting the region could face up to 10 years imprisonment, a fine or both. They urge the Homes Secretary “Don’t criminalise international solidarity.”
Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 – No precedent for such outrageous powers
This law was enacted amidst alarm that UK citizens who had travelled to join Daesh in Iraq or Syria might return home. As is often the case with so-called anti-terror or security legislation, however, such a law can be easily applied in broader ways. It could be used to criminalise the many UK nationals and residents who have travelled to the area, sometimes known by its Kurdish name Rojava, for several purposes: to study the democratic developments there, to assist with the rebuilding of communities and infrastructure and to support the struggle against Daesh. It could also mean that UK citizens will be criminalised for no other reason than visiting their family who happen to be in the “designated area.” There is no precedent for such outrageous powers.
UK Government appeasing dictatorial president of Turkey
If the UK Government goes ahead, then it would be further appeasing the increasingly dictatorial President of Turkey, who has invaded Northern Syria and continues to make threats of full-scale invasion against the Kurdish population of North-East Syria. It would indicate that relations with Turkey are more important than the human rights of UK citizens.
The joint letter below has been signed by numerous trade-union officers at national, regional and branch level.
Alarmed at criminalisation
Dear Home Secretary
We are writing to you as trade unionists to raise our concern at the intention of the Home Office to declare North-East Syria a “designated area” where UK nationals and residents would face the threat of 10 years imprisonment, a fine, or both if they visited or remained in the area.
As trade unionists, we regularly participate in international exchanges and solidarity with fellow trade unionists in parts of the world where they engage in struggles for democracy, human rights and peace. They sometimes have to contend with state and non-state violence as they attempt to represent their members.
We, therefore, understand that there are many genuine reasons for visiting such areas. These can include journalism, research, medical or technical assistance to civic society or local administrations, supporting the defence of communities against violence as well as trade union solidarity. It also includes visiting family members who live in these areas.
In the case of North-East Syria, many UK nationals and residents have visited the area for these genuine reasons and many more will want to do so in the future.
We, therefore, are alarmed that such people could be criminalised, compelled to prove their intentions in a criminal trial and thus be treated as guilty until proven innocent. Or they may be intimidated altogether from visiting the area.
Therefore we ask you to desist from making North Syria a “designated area” under the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019.
We ask that you acknowledge this letter and re-assure us that genuine solidarity towards the people of North Syria will not be criminalised.
- Mick Whelan, General Secretary, ASLEF
- Tony Burke, Vice-President, UNITE
- Manuel Cortes, General Secretary, TSSA
- Doug Nicholls, General Secretary, GFTU
- Christine Blower, NEU International Secretary
- Mike Arnott, Secretary Dundee Trades Union Council
- Eddie Burns Secretary South Lanarkshire EIS
- Terry Conway Islington Unite Community
- Maggie Cook UNISON NEC
- Simon Dubbins, International Officer, UNITE
- Margaret Gallacher, UNISON South Lanarkshire
- Steve Hedley, RMT
- Cerith Griffiths, FBU Wales Regional Secretary
- Shavanah Taj, PCS National Officer Wales & South West
- Steve Sweeney, NUJ
- Lynn Henderson PCS National Officer Scotland
- Chandana Keerthi Bandara, Journalist
- Alain Hertzmann, Unite
- Les Levidow UCU
- John McGowan, Social Workers Union
- Bill MacKeith, NUJ Oxford branch
- Jim McFarlane UNISON NEC
- John Miller, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth District TUC
- Thomas Jeff Miley UCU
- David Morgan, NUJ London Magazine branch
- Tom Murphy, Unite Camilla Power, UCU, Dockland branch
- Kate Ramsden UNISON NEC
- Paul Scholey, Senior Partner, Morrish Solicitors
- John Toner NUJ National Organiser, Scotland
- Arthur West, Kilmarnock and Loudoun TUC
- Barry White, NUJ (p/c)
- Stephen Smellie UNISON NEC
Please circulate the letter to alert fellow members about the dangers of North-East Syria becoming a “designated area”.
How can you help the campaign?
With growing support in the trade union movement, devolved governments and the Parliamentary Labour Party the Freedom for Ocalan campaign is calling on trade unionists and activists to support the many local campaigns now running throughout the UK and Europe.
If you’re a member of a trade union it’s critical you support us by requesting your branch, regional or national trade union affiliate now.
With trade union support in the last twelve months we’ve been able to;
- Have the privilege of being the international solidarity theme for the 2018 Durham Miners Gala and had a major presence at this years Tolpuddle Martyrs festival 2019.
- Sent delegations to Turkey and Kurdistan and supported local trade unions
- Successfully lobby the devolved government of Wales to support the goals of the campaign
- Run conferences in the House of Lords and City Hall London