UK Police launched a national campaign on Thursday, appealing to Muslim women to protect family members from the “dangers of Syria”.
“We are increasingly concerned about the numbers of young people who have or are intending to travel to Syria to join the conflict,’’ said Helen Ball, Senior National Coordinator for Counter Terrorism Policing.
’We want to ensure that people, particularly women, who are concerned about their loved ones are given enough information about what they can do to prevent this from happening,’’ Ball said.
Those wishing to help the Syrian cause should do it “legally” and “safely”, according to Ball.
“This is not about criminalizing people; it is about preventing tragedies,” she said.
A growing number of British people are going to Syria to fight according to the UK government. Although the police have been unable to give an exact figure, Ball said an estimate was in the “mid-hundreds”.
Michelle Russell from the Charity Commission encouraged people to donate to charities by making “informed choices” and discouraged people from travelling in aid convoys to the war ravaged country.
“There is a genuine and desperate need for humanitarian assistance to help people affected by the conflict in Syria,’’ Russell said. ‘’UK charities and their partners are playing an important role in the delivery of humanitarian aid to Syria and its neighboring countries.”
The UK is concerned with radicalized young Muslim men fighting in Syria. Helen Ball said that young men are “radicalized before they went or radicalized whilst they are there.”
Sajdah Mughal from Jan Trust, a women’s charity, said that she had been working with mothers to protect their children.
“It’s the mothers that need to be protecting and safeguarding their children,” Mughal said. “Mothers need to take more of an active role in their children’s lives.”
Mughal said one of the signs mothers should look out for is that their children are showing an increasing concern for Syria and wanting to “do something”.
The police are encouraging mothers to get in touch with them if they suspect their children may be vulnerable or thinking of travelling to Syria. The police said that the information would be dealt with “confidentially” and not be shared with other agencies.
However, Helen Ball was unable to offer an example of what kind of fighting in Syria would be deemed criminal, only stating “ Fighting full stop and training to fight will lead to an investigation.”
The campaign launch has been met with some skepticism. Charity CAGE, which works with those impacted by the War on Terror, said they viewed the campaign with “grave concern” and “skepticism”.
‘’In light of the increasing hostile environment for British Muslims expressing sympathy for the plight of the Syrian people, CAGE is concerned that the police campaign has the potential to result in a McCarthyite witch-hunt,’’ said Asim Qureshi, Research Director at CAGE.
“We view this as a duplicitous attempt by the police to exploit the natural anxiety of mothers in the Muslim community to assist them in their counter-terrorism work,’ Qureshi said.
Last week, a father of six, Abubaker Deghayes, urged his two remaining sons in Syria to return to the UK after one was killed in Syria and another was injured.
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