Jo Cox Championed Refugees, Syrians

British MP Jo Cox’s assassination has produced an outpouring of grief. It has also led many to praise her devotion to humanitarian causes and those suffering. US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power spoke at a celebration of her life earlier today:

Nobody was a stranger to Jo Cox. Survivors of rape, child soldiers, owners of small town business, and factory workers, Pakistani immigrants, and Syrian refugees. Jo Cox took their experiences to places like Westminster and the United Nations and reminded policymakers that the decisions that they – we – make can change the lives of those individuals. She made them – us – understand that that is not a burden, it’s a tremendous privilege. She “got close,” and she brought up close the struggles of people who otherwise seemed far removed. In doing so, she showed us that they were not so different from us and that they yearn for the same dignity as us and deserve the same rights.

Jo Cox was known for lamenting the absence of a moral compass in foreign policymaking. But what she may not have seen, because of her tremendous humility, was that she provided that compass. While we mourn her death, we will continue to embrace the example that she set in her life.

One of the things that made her this moral compass was her commitment to protecting people from mass atrocities. Last year she wrote:

Some may think that a military component has no place in an ethical response to Syria. We completely disagree. It is not ethical to wish away the barrel bombs from the Syrian government when you have the capacity to stop them. The deaths and fear generated by these indiscriminate air attacks are the main drivers of the refugee crisis in Europe. Nor is it ethical to watch when villages are overrun by Isis fighters who make sex slaves of children and slaughter their fellow Muslims, when we have the capability to hold them back.

What is critical in advancing any military component is that the protection of civilians must be at the centre of the mission. This objective becomes ever more imperative in the light of Russia’s bombing in recent days. We need a military component that protects civilians as a necessary prerequisite to any future UN or internationally provided safe havens. The creation of safe havens inside Syria would eventually offer sanctuary from both the actions of Assad and Isis, as we cannot focus on Isis without an equal focus on Assad. They would save lives, reduce radicalisation and help to slow down the refugee exodus.

The approach of focusing on civilian protection will also make a political solution more likely. Preventing the regime from killing civilians, and signalling intent to Russia, is far more likely to compel the regime to the negotiating table than anything currently being done or mooted. Of course, a military approach by itself won’t work, nor will any of the other components. Only through an integrated strategy with the protection of civilians at its core can we rescue something from this crisis.

Barry Andrews writes:

One of the central reasons why the five-year long conflict has been allowed to continue for so long is that not enough people of influence, not enough people like Jo Cox, were prepared to stand up and fight for the Syrian people.

From her days as an aid worker to her final hours, she routinely raised the issue of Syria, and particularly the UK and Europe’s wretched response to the crisis, the need for increased diplomacy, the lack of humanitarian access, and the creation of safe havens to protect civilians….

Still hospitals continue to be targeted, along with schools, markets, bakeries and other places where civilians gather in numbers. A week ago, an airstrike on a vegetable market in Idleb City killed more than 30 people, some of them children.

On June 10th, food aid finally reached Darayya, a suburb of Damascus, for the first time in four years. Early the following morning, only hours after the convoy left, barrel bombs were dropped there….

Jo Cox was one of a small number of brave and outspoken people who advocated on behalf of all these people; those who are in daily fear of their lives inside Syria; those left directionless on the fringes of society in Greece or other European countries; and those seeking refuge in other parts of Europe, striving to build a new life for their families, wherever that may be.

She was a vital voice at a high level. She wasn’t afraid to ask the tough questions. She was principled, determined and passionate.

She was a true humanitarian.