Far-right German NGO visits Syria, tells refugees to return

Alternative Help Association says Syria, where more than 500,000 have been killed, is a safe country to return to.

by
    AHA was founded in 2017 by the German Identity Movement - a local branch of the far-right identitarian movement [Screenshot from AHA's video posted to Facebook]
    AHA was founded in 2017 by the German Identity Movement - a local branch of the far-right identitarian movement [Screenshot from AHA's video posted to Facebook]

    Two blond, white men look into the camera, with beautiful Syrian hilltops and blurred village buildings in the background.

    They seem calm and their voices sound peaceful, although most Syria observers would find their words hard to accept.

    At the heart of their message: Syria is a safe country for refugees to return to.

    Alternative Help Association - a far-right identitarian organisation from Germany, known by its acronym AHA, is back in the Middle East.

    Several months after their trip to Lebanon, which Al Jazeera reported on in June this year, the group has now visited Syria, taking its involvement in the region to the next level.

    Its key aim is to keep Syrian refugees in the Middle East out of Europe.

    {articleGUID}

    While marginal and involved in small-scale projects, AHA has sparked outrage as the only NGO which aims to prevent refugees from reaching safety in Europe.

    In Lebanon, the group discouraged refugees there from travelling west.

    With the new phase of their project in the Syrian village of Maaloula, the group is sending yet another message: that areas controlled by Syrian President Bashar al Assad's forces are safe. Syrian refugees should now rush to return back home to rebuild their war-damaged country.

    Home to heavy fighting in 2013 and 2014, Maaloula, 55km north of Damascus, is a Christian village and one of the few places where the local population speaks Aramaic - the language of Jesus Christ.

    It's hard for me to understand how anyone could ask the Syrians to come back to a country where the government is arresting the White Helmets and accusing them of being terrorists, while all they do is saving the people bombed by the same government.

    Wassim, Syrian refugee journalist in Europe

    "The purpose of AHA's first visit in Syria was mainly to get a foot on the ground, establish first contacts with local players and figure out by what means we can provide help where it is needed," Mario Muller, one of the AHA workers who appears in the video, told Al Jazeera.

    "Reasonable help for Syrians can only take place locally: every Euro we spent in our country for social benefits, integration and security related to refugees will do much better in their homeland."

    The group claims to have made a donation to the Maaloula Foundation to rebuild a parish hall for the local community and is considering sending volunteers to the village to work and share "cultural experiences" with young Syrians.

    Wassim, a Syrian journalist currently working in Europe, said the far-right group's project was "hard to understand".

    He left Syria in November 2012 following a six-month detention in the Air Force Intelligence Directorate in Damascus suburbs. 

    "It's hard for me to understand how anyone could ask the Syrians to come back to a country where the government is arresting the White Helmets and accusing them of being terrorists, while all they do is saving the people bombed by the same government.

    "Or ask people to get back to a country where more than 250,000 persons are missing after getting arrested by the regime," Wassim told Al Jazeera.

    He says he was arrested for helping a foreign media outlet cover the situation in his neighbourhood. After two weeks of torture, including electric shocks, beating and hanging upside down, he confessed to everything the Assad government accused him of. 

    "You didn't have to carry a gun or attend the protests to be considered a traitor. Not showing your support for the regime alone could make you one," Wassim added.

    "I don't think anyone who had written a single word against the regime, or even joined any discussion about the regime would dare to even think about getting back to Syria."

    A Syrian child tries an improvised gas mask made by his father as part of preparations for raids in the rebel-held Idlib province's village of Maar Shurin, on September 11, 2018 [Omar Haj Kadour/AFP]


    AHA's last visit aims to demonstrate that Assad's government will ensure Syria's stability, a view held widely across the European far right.

    AHA was founded in the summer of 2017 by the German Identitare Bewegung (German Identity Movement) - a local branch of the far-right identitarian movement.

    Under the slogan of "Homeland - Freedom - Tradition", identitarians have sought to halt mass migration to Europe, secure national borders and preserve Europe's ethnocultural identity. 

    "It seems like Assad, though he surely doesn't run a Western democracy, is the only guarantee for the many minorities like Christians, Shia or Druze to have a future in their homeland", Muller told Al Jazeera.

    "We never felt insecure in those areas and the refugees can and have to return and help in rebuilding their country. This is also what many Syrians told us. Their country needs the refugees, now."

    According to international rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, world leaders, hundreds of thousands of Syrians and the UN, the Syrian government has been responsible for some of the most egregious crimes in the war, including chemical attacks against civilians.

    In March 2016, Staffan de Mistura, the UN's special envoy for Syria, estimated the death toll to be at around 400,000. The number killed is now believed to have risen above 500,000, while millions remain displaced and impoverished.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    'We scoured for days without sleeping, just clothes on our backs'

    'We scoured for days without sleeping, just clothes on our backs'

    The Philippines’ Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm ever to make landfall. Five years on, we revisit this story.

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    Daughters of al-Shabab

    Daughters of al-Shabab

    What draws Kenyan women to join al-Shabab and what challenges are they facing when they return to their communities?