Briefing by Director of the Foundation for the Study of Democracy Mr.Maxim Grigoriev at side-event "Humanitarian situation in Syria"
I would like to begin by introducing myself. I am President of non-governmental organization "The Foundation for the Study of Democracy". In this capacity, our point of view is not the position of the Russian state.
"The Foundation for the Study of Democracy" is a member of Global Research Network that was created by Executive Directorate of the Counter-Terrorism Committee of the UN Security Council and was granted Consultative Status with UN Economic and Social Council.
Since the beginning of the crisis, I have been to Syria five times as a journalist, and many of my colleagues from the Foundation have spent more than six months there. During this time we conducted hundreds of interviews with a variety of people in Syria including representatives of the opposition and former members of armed groups. So, we have a clear understanding of the situation there.
In this room I see those who already attended my briefings at the United Nations. Last time we discussed information and disinformation about the situation in Syria. We also cited unquestionable proofs of the fact that White Helmets mislead the global community. My book «White Helmets: terrorist accomplices and a source of disinformation» cites hundreds of unquestionable proofs of that.
At the present moment major forces of terrorists groups and illegal armed groups in Syria concentrate in the area of so called “greater Idlib” (Idlib province that is out of control of the Syrian government, as well as the adjacent territories of Latakia, Hama, and Aleppo). There they control local civil administration. In this area, a conglomerate of numerous NGOs has evolved. These NGOs have teamed up with Syrian opposition forces almost since the first years of war. The most famous one is the odious “White Helmets”. However, in reality, there are dozens of Syrian and foreign organizations that are involved in Idlib affairs.
Here we talk about a group of NGOs that cooperate with militants from terrorist organization “Jabhat al-Nusra” (present name “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham”).
It is worth noticing that terrorist groups and illegal armed groups fully dominate Idlib de-escalation zone, and all these NGOs must be operating in close contact with them.
If we take even a brief look at reports by the organizations in question, we see that they debunk myths about “catastrophic situation” of local healthcare. NGOs such as Violet, Syrian American Medical Society, Syrian Expatriate Medical Association, Syria Relief and Development, Syrian Development International, Hand In Hand for Aid & Development, and others maintain almost a full-fledged healthcare system in Idlib de-escalation zone.
Witnesses whom we interviewed said that some branches of these NGOs act like medical divisions of terrorist groups and illegal armed groups – just like White Helmets did before. Their resources and capacities are used in the first place for the illegal armed formations, and only in the second – for peaceful citizens. There are well-established supply routes that deliver medicines and first-aid equipment manufactured in Great Britain, Israel, Canada, the US to terrorist groups and illegal armed formations.
My book «White Helmets: terrorist accomplices and a source of disinformation» cites unquestionable proofs that this organization falsified chemical attacks and used staged scenes. Just the same way, now in Idlib there is a number of NGOs that provide disinformation or use unverified data.
Apparently, this is the information that then gets into humanitarian agencies, the Media, various lobbying structures and is used in a certain way to disinform the global community.
For example, when the United Nations staff from Gaziantep Office receives information from three different sources they formally consider the message verified and accept it. There is simply no one to double-check the validity in Idlib, and it is unlikely that such a task is set at all.
Witnesses whom we interviewed say that this mechanism is exploited by British Hand In Hand for Aid & Development Council for Arab British Understanding, Dawlaty, Dutch PAX and others.
These NGOs do not conceal that they receive funding from Qatar, US, Great Britain, Belgium and other countries. Islamic Foundation Human Appeal from Great Britain also provides funding for them. This organization was several times accused of having links with al-Qaeda.
Today I would like to provide to the distinguished audience information about the situation in refugee camps Al-Hawl and Rukban. I would like to point out that both of them should rather be called prisons than refugee camps, because people who live there cannot exit freely.
Recently a whole range of international Media outlets, such as The Guardian, The Sunday Times, ABC News and The Sun, wrote a lot about the situation in Al-Hawl. The majority of these articles are right: over 10,000 wives and children of militants from terrorist organization ISIS – citizens of Europe, UK, US, Australia – pose a direct threat to the countries.
Our foundation as a member of Global Research Network, established by Executive Directorate Counter-Terrorism Committee of the UN Security council, many times has taken part in CTED events on de-radicalization. The importance of this work is self-evident.
We must recognize that Syrian Democratic Forces that were created and – until recently – controlled by the US failed the work on de-radicalization of those people. There are structures of ISIS functioning inside the Al-Hawl camp. Now it is very likely that 10,000 wives of terrorists and teenagers who have grown up at the territory of ISIS camps might return to their countries of origin. Let me remind you, that absolute majority of them shares terrorist ideology and views the US, countries of Europe and Russia as their enemies.
We should not forget that another, much bigger group of people in Al-Hawl and Rukban has nothing to do with terrorism and should not be treated like prisoners.
Due to tremendous efforts by Russia facilitated by the UN most of the inhabitants of the Rukban camp were able to leave it. However, I would like to give you an account of what life there meant for the people kept there. I would like to stress that there are still more than than thousand people in Rukban camp.
To independently assess the situation in Rukban camp, the Foundation for the Study of Democracy conducted a sociological survey of two hundred forty-eight refugees who had managed to leave the camp, and held detailed interviews with fifty of them.
These surveys are presented in my report “Rukban Camp: Tragedy of the Syrians in the American Zone of Occupation”.
In the vast majority of cases, interviews were conducted in temporary accommodation centers one or two days after people we interviewed had managed to leave Rukban.
According to the testimonies all the interviewed refugees were certain that fighters were not independent but received orders from American military base Al-Tanf on a daily basis. Not only did those fighters obey those orders but they fully depended on the US base as they were trained, equipped with arms and transport and received salary there.
Refugees provided detailed accounts of cases of terror by pro-American militants: numerous cases of killings and beatings. The reason for this could be the militants’ assumption that some refugees had a positive opinion about the legitimate government of Syria or said that they wanted to leave the camp to go to the territory under the control of the government.
Extremely hard conditions in the Rukban camp and inability to provide food for their children also led to some women being forced to engage in prostitution. Quite often, pro-American militants kidnapped children and then returned them to their parents after receiving a significant ransom.
Refugees claimed pro-American fighters kept them in the camp by force, which actually makes them hostages and thus the camp seems more like a prison or a concentration camp.
The refugees also spoke about insanitary conditions in the camp, about dirt, rubbish and food leftovers in the streets, about insects, rats, stray dogs, etc. Thousands of children who grew up in the camp were deprived of an opportunity to get education, many of them cannot even read or write.
The results of a sociological survey of two hundred and forty eight refugees who had managed to leave the camp, as well as detailed interviews with fifty of them unequivocally confirm the following conclusions:
- Refugees from Rukban camp spoke in detail about the structure of the camp management system. Various militant groups that prevent refugees from leaving the camp serve as the major management tool. This effectively makes Rukban a concentration camp or a prison where refugees are held hostages.
- Witnesses also report that ISIS militants are openly present in the camp, as well as those who sell weapons of this terrorist organization.
- Refugees cite numerous examples of killings and beatings of camp residents by militants and tell about cases of rape and harassment of women and children.
A separate source of income for militants is abduction of young children, who are returned to their parents only for a significant ransom. Witnesses are convinced that the artificially created disastrous situation of refugees actually pushes single women with children who lack the means to exist towards prostitution.
Refugees said that drug use is widespread among the militants, and they regularly drive the camp territory in cars and shoot into the air and at Rukban residents.
Former camp residents, including former militants, said all members of the armed groups had undergone military training at the US base. Interviewees fearfully talked about the prisons in the camp itself, and even more fearfully about the prison at the American base of Al-Tanf.
None of the interviewees had any doubts that the camp is run by the Americans and the militants are directly subordinate to them. In support of this, they cited numerous facts, including daily meetings and meetings at the Al-Tanf base of the American command with the leaders of all militant groups, and American military training, weapons, supplies, payment of salaries, etc.
Interviewees described in detail how the system of intimidation to keep people in detention is functioning. They said that refugees with a positive attitude towards the Syrian government were subjected to pressure, including beatings and tortures.
The refugees and their families said that after the terror by pro-American militants, the next most important problem for them was hunger. Families interviewed said that their young children were starving and eating no more than once a day.
The lack of medical care in Rukban resulted in the deaths of many children and adults in the camp. The refugees interviewed gave numerous examples of deaths of their own children and relatives from illnesses that could have been successfully treated if medical care had been available. According to the estimates of refugees with medical education, twenty to thirty people die every month in Rukban from the lack of medical care.
Based on the testimony of former refugees from Rukban camp, we explicitly state that, under the direct control of the United States, numerous severe human rights violations have occurred and continue to occur in Rukban camp. And in general the problems surrounding the refugee camps appear only in camps created in the area under illegal occupation.
We call upon the United States to withdraw from the illegally occupied part of Syria and to release the forcibly detained Syrian citizens.
Thank you for your attention.