Celebrated Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat highlights UK's pitiful response to refugee crisis with powerful new drawing

Celebrated Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat has drawn a powerful new cartoon highlighting the UK’s pitiful response to the refugee crisis on Syria’s borders.

The new cartoon, commissioned by Amnesty International UK in collaboration with Mosaic Syria, comes ahead of the first anniversary on Thursday (29 January) of the UK government’s announcement of a special scheme to resettle ‘several hundred’ of the most vulnerable refugees from the Syrian conflict. A year on, Home Office figures show that only 90 people have been resettled here.

Nearly four years into the conflict, ten million people have been forced to leave their homes, nearly four million of whom have fled the country. The vast majority are living in precarious conditions in Syria’s neighbouring countries, and many are struggling to survive in freezing temperatures.

Ali Ferzat, now in his 60s, has spent many years drawing satirical cartoons but for most of his career avoided directly targeting the president. In 2011 however, with the authorities’ grip on free speech tightening and their ever more brutal repression of dissent, he felt a more direct approach was needed. He turned his attention to Bashar al-Assad. His cartoons lampooning the president and the authorities became symbols of freedom and were held by protestors during the uprising that preceded the current conflict.

That year, Ferzat was brutally attacked in Damascus by masked men who broke his fingers in an attempt to stop him drawing. He managed to leave the country, and over time his hands have healed and he continues to draw –insightful and powerful observations of his people’s plight that have been seen across the world.

In 2011 he was awarded the Sakarov prize for peace. The following year, he was named by Time magazine as one of the top 100 most influential people in the world.

He said:

“I do not think that the West in general has carried out its duties towards Syrian refugees and dealt with the reasons that led to the catastrophe that made them flee. The West stood looking at the biggest tragedy in the world and…they used the policies of the three Monkeys: I do not see, I do not hear and I do not talk.

“The satirical cartoons I draw mock everybody, not only the West including the UK and the US, but the whole world which has become like wax statues or snowmen who lack the warmth of morals and humanity.

“My cartoons are well-received by Syrian people and they helped pave the way to the revolution by breaking the fear barrier, which the dictatorship had been imposing for the last 50 years. They are also of interest to a regional audience because they deal with local people’s problems in a human way, without writing, so the cartoons can represent other countries too and can represent every human being in the world who dreams of fighting against injustice, corruption, dictatorship.”

Amnesty UK director Kate Allen said:

"Given the scale of the crisis on Syria's borders, the UK's response to the refugee crisis has been pitiful.

“While the government has made generous contributions to the humanitarian response in the region, clearly this alone is not enough.

“History will judge the UK’s shameful lack of action on taking in refugees as unforgivable. This cartoon is a poignant reminder that thousands of the most vulnerable refugees from Syria are looking to the rest of the world, including the UK, to provide the help they so desperately need, and that so far, much of the world has turned its back. The UK has a vital role to play and must urgently commit to taking its fair share of refugees, for many of whom the offer of a place of safety is literally a matter of life and death."

Amnesty International is calling for at least five per cent of Syria’s refugees to be resettled by the end of 2015 with a further five per cent resettled by 2016. This would ensure that all those currently identified as in need of resettlement by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees would be given places. Refugees in need of resettlement include survivors of torture, unaccompanied children and people with serious medical conditions.

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