Northeast Syria : A group of British “revolutionaries” who travelled to Syria to help build a Marxist-inspired society say they will defy new legislation which could result in them being prosecuted on terrorism charges. The Home Office revealed in May that it was planning to designate northern Syria a “no-go area” and that British citizens would have 28 days to leave or face a 10-year prison sentence if they attempt to return to the UK.
It said the law was aimed at tackling terrorism, but the volunteers accuse the Government of failing to distinguish between Britons in the extremist enclave of Idlib, in Syria’s north-west, and those working in the north-east alongside Kurdish groups that helped defeat Daesh.
The law would mean just travelling to or remaining in the north-east would be considered a terrorist act, despite the UK partnering with the Kurds in the coalition against Daesh.
Dozens of Britons have been drawn to the autonomous Kurdish region, known as Rojava; some to fight with the People’s Protection Units (YPG and YPJ) against Daesh, while others were attracted by the Kurds’ Marxist-inspired feminist, anti-capitalist project.
More than 10 Britons are undertaking voluntary work on ecological and community projects as well as medical and media outreach.
The Telegraph spoke last month to three of them in the town of Derik on the border with Iraq, where they said they should not be criminalised simply for travelling to a war zone. “On the one hand, [the Home Office] talks about the UK’s need for international cooperation with the Kurds in fighting terrorism. And on the other, it is punishing those of us who come here to do just that,” said Matt Broomfield, 25, from Shropshire, who left the UK more than a year ago and founded the Rojava Information Centre to help get news from the region out to an international audience.
“I won’t be leaving, regardless of the Government’s draconian actions,” Broomfield said.
“I’m not just here trying to get arrested, I want to be part of important revolutionary change,” said Theo Stevens (a pseudonym), who has been volunteering at the Internationalist Commune of Rojava, since arriving in the country four months ago. “There’s a lot more work that needs doing than fighting... I couldn’t just abandon all we’ve done here,” said Stevens, 29, who had been involved in Bristol’s anarchist and Leftist movements.
Another volunteer, Lizzie Irvine, 30, from south-east Scotland, has been working in an all-female commune housing widows and Yazidis rescued from Daesh for the last six months.
“Something beautiful is growing in an ugly part of the world and I feel a duty to help that flourish,” she said.
“Britain shouldn’t be criminalising people like us.”