The Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat has spent four decades on the front line of satire, skewering the evils of Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime, but now the Middle East’s most famous living satirist has turned his pen on the British Government’s failure to help more than a handful of Syria’s most vulnerable refugees.
In this cartoon, published exclusively in The Independent, Ferzat, 63, draws stark attention to the plight of 3.7 million Syrian refugees as he accuses Britain of lacking “the warmth of morals and humanity” by allowing just 90 refugees from the conflict region to come to Britain.
In a brazen act of defiance in 2011, his award-winning caricatures depicted President Assad as a broken dictator, sitting on a broken armchair over a broken country. The regime’s response was rapid and brutal; he is now living in exile in Kuwait after masked gunmen, who he describes as “Assad’s thugs”, attempted to silence his sharp satire by pulling him out of his car, shattering his hands and leaving his fingers broken.
Ferzat has not been silenced, and to mark the anniversary this week of the British decision to grant a limited number of Syrian refugees asylum, he has called on the UK to “carry out its duties” and live up to its promise of helping those affected by the “biggest tragedy in the world”.
Four years of conflict in Syria has created nearly four million refugees, and last January – following a campaign supported by The Independent – the Government committed to resettling 500 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees. However, that pledge was reduced to a commitment to resettle “several hundred” Syrians over three years. And to the dismay of aid agencies, just 90 Syrians have arrived under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme.
Ferzat, who was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Peace in 2012 and named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine, said: “I do not think that the West in general [has] carried out its duties towards Syrian refugees… It has used the policies of the three monkeys: I do not see, I do not hear and I do not talk.”
In pictures: Global refugee crisis
In pictures: Global refugee crisis
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Yemeni refugees carry water to their tent at the Mazraq internally displaced people's camp in the northwestern province of Hajja
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A displaced man from Yemen's Saada province amid UNHCR tents at a camp set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Mazraq in Yemen's Hajja region, 360 kms northwest of Sanaa
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Yemeni refugees queue to get food aid at the Marzaq internally displaced people's camp in Harad in the northwestern province of Hajjah
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Displaced Yemenis from al-Jaachan Al-Ansin, a village in the province of Ibb, some 200km South-East of Sanaa, stand next to their tents in a makeshift refugee camp in Sanaa
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Yemeni refugees walk to a refugee camp in the southern Saudi province of Jizan after crossing the border from Yemen into Saudi Arabia
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Syrian refugees arrive in Turkey at the Cilvegozu crossing gate of Reyhanli, in Hatay. The number of people driven from their homes by conflict and crisis has topped 50 million for the first time since World War II, with Syrians hardest hit, the UN refugee agency (UNCHR) said, in an annual report released on World Refugee Day
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Syrian refugees walking among tents at Karkamis' refugee camp near the town of Gaziantep, south of Turkey
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South Sudanese refugees waiting for food in the Kule refugee camp near the Pagak Border Entry point in the Gambella Region, Ethiopia
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African refugees live homelessly at a temporary shelter beside a road on World Refugee Day in Sana'a, Yemen. The number of African refugees who have come to Yemen during the past few years has reached 750,000, most of them are Somalis
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An Iraqi refugee girl from Mosul stands outside her family's tent at Khazir refugee camp outside Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq. The militants' capture of Iraq's cities of Mosul and Tikrit makes their dream of a new Islamic state look more realistic. It already controlled a swath of eastern Syria along the Euphrates River, with a spottier presence extending further west nearly to Aleppo, Syria's largest city. In Raqqa, the biggest city it holds in Syria, it imposes taxes, rebuilds bridges and enforces the law - its strict version of Shariah
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Refugees queue to register at a temporary camp in northern Iraq
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A young Syrian refugee stands near jerry cans used to collect water at Al-Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria. The United Nations hopes that political talks between the warring sides in Syria will clinch local ceasefires to allow vital food and medicines to reach millions of civilians
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A child refugee from the northern province of Raqqa in Syria, reacts from the cold weather in a Syrian refugee camp beside the Lebanese border town of Arsal, in eastern Bekaa Valley
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Boys help their father remove snow in front of their tent in the Azaz refugee camp
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A Syrian refugee family from Aleppo crosses the Bosphorus from Uskudar to the European side of Istanbul
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A child refugee stands next to a home constructed using a billboard in the settlement of Qab Elias in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
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Refugee baby Rim in the settlement of Qab Elias in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
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Refugees arriving at a camp near Bossangoa, 190 miles north of Bangui, the capital. Forty-one thousand people fled their homes following mass executions in the area
Juan Carlos Tomasi/Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders
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Representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a deeply divided opposition, world powers and regional bodies started a long-delayed peace conference aimed at bringing an end to a nearly three-year civil war
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A women and a girl wash at a tap at a temporary displacement camp set up next to a Kurdish checkpoint in Kalak. Thousands of people have fled Iraq's second city of Mosul after it was overrun by Isis (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) militants. Many have been temporarily housed at various IDP (internally displaced persons) camps around the region including the area close to Erbil, as they hope to enter the safety of the nearby Kurdish region
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Families arrive at a Kurdish checkpoint next to a temporary displacement camp in Kalak
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An Iraqi refugee girl from Mosul stands outside her family's tent at Khazir refugee camp outside Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq. Days after Iraq's second-largest city fell to Isis fighters, some Iraqis are already returning to Mosul, lured back by insurgents offering cheap gas and food, restoring power and water and removing traffic barricades
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A girl, who fled from the violence in Mosul, carries a case of water at a camp on the outskirts of Arbil in Iraq's Kurdistan region
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A displaced Iraqi woman washes her family's laundry as the children shower outside their tent at a temporary camp set up to shelter civilians fleeing violence in Iraq's northern Nineveh province in Aski kalak, 40 kms west of the Kurdish autonomous region's capital Arbil
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Iraqi refugees from Mosul arrive at Khazir refugee camp outside Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad
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The international Red Cross said that the road from Bor to the nearby Awerial area 'is lined with thousands of people' waiting for boats so they could cross the Nile River and that the gathering of displaced 'is the largest single identified concentration of displaced people in the country so far'
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People unload the few belongings at Minkammen, that they were able to bring with them to the camps
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Thousands of exhausted civilians are crowding into the fishing village of Minkammen, a once-tiny riverbank settlement of a few thatch huts 25 kilometres (20 miles) southwest of Bor
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Many people had spent days hiding out in the bush outside Bor as gunmen battled for control of the town, which has exchanged hands three times in the conflict, and remains in rebel control
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A young boy pulls his suitcase of belongings as he walks to find a place to rest after getting off a river barge from Bor
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A displaced family camp under a tree providing partial shade from the midday sun
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A boy carries a fish, caught from the nearby Nile river, in a cardboard box on his head back to his relatives to eat
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A mother and her baby, one of the few to have a mosquito net, wake up in the morning after sleeping in the open
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Four-month old Haida Majzub was born in the Ajuong Thok refugee camp inside South Sudan. The camp, in northern Unity State, hosts thousands of refugees from the Nuba Mountains, located across the nearby border with Sudan
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A girl fills a container with muddy water in the Ajuong Thok Refugee Camp
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The clashes in South Sudan began when uniformed personnel opened fire at a meeting of the governing party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement
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45 year old Dilbhar looks towards the camera as she stands in the Shamalapur Rohingya refugee settlement in Chittagong district. She escaped to Bangladesh from the Bodchara village in the Mondu district of Myanmar
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32 year old Mahada Khatum, 5 year old Hasan Sharif, and 9 year old Umma Kulsum sit outside their home in the Shamalapur Rohingya refugee settlement in Chittagong district. The family escaped violence and discrimination from the Zomgara Baharchara village in the Meherulla district of Myanmar
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Hamid and his daughter Rajama sit inside their home in the Shamalapur Rohingya refugee settlement in Chittagong district. They fled to Bangladesh from the Dhuachopara village in the Rachidhong district of Myanmar
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Afghan children wait for relief supplies from the Muslim Hands United For The Needy during an aid distribution at a refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul
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Afghan people carry relief supplies received from the Muslim Hands United For The Needy during an aid distribution at a refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul
Ferzat is now working with Amnesty International UK and the London-based aid agency, Mosaic Syria, to bring attention to plight the 3.7 million Syrian refugees, some of whom are in their fourth winter in tented camps.
Tomorrow is one year on from when Home Secretary Theresa May bowed to pressure from Labour and the Lib Dems to establish the VPR scheme and this anniversary will see Amnesty International call for rich countries to resettle 10 per cent of Syria’s refugees by the end of 2016.
In November, the charity joined a call by 30 relief agencies for Britain to resettle up 10,000 refugees in response to a call from the UN’s Refugee Agency UNHCR. Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s director, said: “Given the scale of the crisis on Syria’s borders, the UK’s response to the refugee crisis has been pitiful… History will judge the UK’s shameful lack of action on taking in refugees as unforgivable – we are talking about people for whom the chance of resettlement may be, literally, a matter of life or death.”
Ferzat’s call for action comes as faith leaders in Britain have called on David Cameron to act. In a letter published on The Independent website, Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders, have called on the PM urgently to increase the number of Syrians being resettled in the UK.
A Home Office spokesperson said the UK has been at the “forefront of the international response” to the crisis and had pledged £700m in humanitarian aid. The spokesperson added: “We have granted asylum or other forms of leave to over 3,400 Syrian nationals and dependants. In addition, through our Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, we are working closely with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to identify those most at risk and bring them to the UK.”
Arif’s story: ‘Life is better’
When 12-year-old Arif came to Britain this summer he was in urgent need of medical care. With his parents and three siblings he’d fled Syria for Lebanon in 2011 as civil war tore his country apart.
His parents, Nabil and Yara, said it was the “feeling of impotency” that forced them to flee from the “risk of arrest” and bombs that “fell from all sides”.
It was little better in Lebanon, where the family were forced to live in a room with no running water. An accident in the hut in October 2013 left Arif with terrible burns to his legs and, with little money, advanced medical care was hard to come by.
It was only last spring, when the family were selected to be resettled in Britain under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, that Arif finally got the treatment he needed. Now, his parents say, he’s “loving being back in school” and, for one family at least, “everything has changed for the better”.
To protect their identity, The Independent has changed the family’s names and isn’t revealing where in the UK they liveReuse content