The UK Home Office’s Independent Advisory Group on Country Information has just issued its latest guidance to staff assessing applications for asylum from Syria. Disturbingly the 29-page guidance makes no reference whatsoever to Christians, despite the fact that it is now widely accepted that Christians in Syria are facing genocide. Instead the guidance simply asks staff assessing asylum claims to ask two questions:
“2.4.1 If the person’s fear is of serious harm or persecution on the basis of actual or perceived support for the Assad regime, the onus will be on that person to establish that they are unable to obtain sufficient protection from that regime.
2.4.2 If the person’s fear is of serious harm or persecution on the basis of actual or perceived support for rebel groups, the onus will be on that person to establish that they are unable to obtain sufficient protection from those groups.”
Christians in Syria are the objects of jihad by Islamist groups and when their towns and villages have been captured they are subject to summary execution, forced conversion, enslavement, enforced dhimmitude (subjugated, non-citizen status) and religious cleansing. These are not random acts of violence; they are directly based on Islamic law (sharia).
Christians are in fact caught in the middle of the conflict with Sunni jihadist groups such as IS and Jabhat al Nusra (now calling themselves Jabhat Fatah al Sham since their “break” with al Qaeda a fortnight ago) dominating the opposition, and the government forces increasingly relying on Shia jihadis such as Iraqi Shi'a groups, Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon and Iranian Revolutionary Guards. To suggest that Syrian Christians, who before the war constituted an estimated 10% of Syria’s 22 million people, should have to choose between these to obtain protection when they are facing genocide flies in the face of the most basic humanitarian considerations and may well be in breach of international law.