How bad does Yemen need to get before Britain stops selling weapons to Saudi? (VIDEO)

It’s been 50 years since the British Empire left its foothold in Aden. Given the half-hearted attempts of Her Majesty’s Government to end the horrors in Yemen today, you’d be forgiven for thinking they shared no history at all.

In the closing months of 1967, Yemeni rebels concluded their campaign to oust the British presence, ending almost 130 years of colonial domination. Colonel Brian Lees, former defense attaché to Saudi Arabia, served during the British withdrawal.

“It was all very clumsily arranged. And I think it was not our finest hour from our relations with the Arab world,” said Lees.

“I think it’s probably one of the biggest mistakes we made in that period in our relations with the world, the decision by [then-Prime Minister Harold] Wilson to withdraw from the Middle East. We abandoned them, in fact. That is what it boiled down to.”

Fast forward half a century, and Britain has abandoned the Yemenis yet again. A Saudi-led coalition, using weapons, logistics and training supplied by the West, has launched a ferocious air war to restore the authority of President Hadi.

The civil war in Yemen escalated in March 2015 when Iranian-backed Houthi rebels seized the capital, Sanaa. The war, which has blighted the region with famine and cholera, has killed 10,000 civilians and injured 40,000 more, according to the UN.

Britain’s re-conquest of Yemen is not a practical solution, nor one anybody would seriously consider. But surely Britain, with its special relationship with Riyadh, could be doing far more to end the slaughter?

“We don’t have the diplomatic clout to do it anymore, I’m afraid,” said Lees. “Probably because everyone is so concerned with Brexit that the rest of the world can go hang, as far as the Foreign Office is concerned.”

“We haven’t played our hand at all well in the Middle East, I’m afraid.”

Should Britain stop arming Saudi?

Critics of the Saudi-led war say Britain has a moral and historical obligation to stop selling weapons to the Gulf kingdom and to pressure Riyadh diplomatically. Andrew Smith, spokesman for Campaign Against Arms Trade, thinks Britain has failed to take the initiative – frankly, because it shares the blame.

“With the atrocities that are being committed in Yemen every day, if the UK government hasn’t had any interest in flagging them up it’s because it has been so utterly complicit in the destruction which is taking place,” said Smith.

“I expect Theresa May and her colleagues are deeply ashamed of what’s happening. One of the worst humanitarian crises in the world has been inflicted on one of the poorest countries in the world. And UK arms have been central to that.”

Colonel Lees is not convinced. “I don’t think we have anything to be ashamed of,” he said.

“If the Saudis want to use the arms for instance in Yemen, provided they’re using it sensibly, then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t use it. Any arms you sell will be used like that. But our restrictions on selling arms are very strict, much stricter than almost any other country as far as I remember, as far as I know, much stricter than the French or even the Americans.”

“I have no qualms about what we have sold to the Saudis. I have doubts as to whether the weapons have been used sensibly. But that’s a personal, military criticism, nothing to do with whether or not it’s legal or moral. It’s wrong to take a moral judgement on these things.”

So, what exactly has Britain been selling to the Saudis? The really expensive items are fighter jets – Tornados and Typhoon Eurofighters. The UK has also supplied helicopters, drones, and armored vehicles.

Missiles, including Stormshadows and Brimstones, are another big seller. Aircraft components and sniper rifles are among the more recent deliveries, topped off with a selection of anti-riot gear, spy kit and security software.

Like it or not, the war in Yemen has made a lot of money and sustains thousands of high tech manufacturing jobs in the UK.

“This has been a huge money-making success for BAE Systems, Raytheon and MBDA,” Smith said. “They’ve all been rolling in the money from the conflict, because if there’s one industry which is dependent on war and conflict to survive, it’s obviously the arms trade. You’re talking about an industry where the people who are making money from it are so detached from the outcomes of it.

“The people who are cashing in on the destruction of Yemen aren’t people who are ever going to experience being in a village which is being bombed by Saudi forces, they’re never going to see the devastating consequences of the brutal weapons which they sell,” Smith added.

What do Yemenis think?

British Yemenis make up one of Britain’s oldest Muslim communities. Underscoring the wealth of empire, many came to work in shipping and heavy industries. In Sheffield, they worked in steel.

Dr Abdul Galil Shaif Alshaibi, a leading figure in that city’s Yemeni community, thinks the issue goes far deeper than the rights and wrongs of selling weapons. He says it’s a bigger story of corruption, stagnation, and of years of neglect.

“Selling arms is an issue to do with jobs now, it’s an issue to do with economic prosperity in this country. And you’re absolutely right – if we didn’t sell arms to Saudi Arabia, I’m sure somebody else will. And the arms that come Russia or from China are no less dangerous than the ones that you sell from Britain,” he said.

“At the moment we have 5,000 people a day suffering from cholera – that’s enormous. We have 60 percent unemployment among young people. What are they doing for 24 hours? Sixty percent? That’s almost 12 million people … Can you imagine what a field day that would be for somebody who’s heading al Qaeda and Daesh [Islamic State, formerly ISIS] to actually go and connect with these young people that are doing nothing for 24 hours a day – or their lives? There’s a generation that’s been lost, that basically has no job, no opportunity.”

“Britain should be using that diplomatic power to make peace in Yemen, to bring stability, because the very things that the British public are complaining about, which is terrorism, only come because Yemen is weak, Yemen is poor, Yemen doesn’t have a government with the right governance, the people in charge in Yemen are corrupt, the state doesn’t have sway all over Yemen, from Hadhramaut to Sa’dah, there are pockets that are left without real governance. And I think these are the very things that hit us back.”

Perhaps the solution is investment and development, which would allow Yemenis to finally profit from their excellent strategic location, long-recognized by successive empires.

As for British weapons, scrapping arms sales to Saudi Arabia would certainly send an important message. But would it end Yemen’s suffering, or merely change the brand of weapons killing them?

Whatever action it eventually takes, the British government is slowly realizing that allowing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis to continue is too great a price to pay to keep its Saudi customers happy.

‘Assad is here to stay, he’s won the Syrian civil war’: Brit who fought ISIS in Raqqa (VIDEO)

Macer Gifford left his high-flying city job in 2014 to join the fight against Islamic State in Syria. Now, as peace talks get underway, he wants his comrades in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) at the negotiating table in Geneva.

Arriving back in the UK just weeks after participating in the battle to free Raqqa, the de-facto capital of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), Gifford is adamant that a deal involving the SDF offers the best chance of a lasting ceasefire between Damascus and opposition groups, and constitutional reforms that reflect the nation’s diversity.

The SDF, a coalition of Arabs, Kurds and other ethnic and religious minorities armed by the US, has liberated swathes of territory from IS control. Despite self-governing up to a quarter of the country’s northern region, representatives of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS) have not been invited to peace talks.

Speaking to RT in London, Gifford described his relief at seeing Raqqa finally wrested from the grip of IS – a fight for which SDF fighters have paid a high price.

“The liberation of Raqqa was a weight off my shoulders. It was something that I’d been fighting for for three years now. It was a brutal and difficult fight, Raqqa. Hundreds of SDF fighters died, the city was severely damaged by the airstrikes and by the Islamic State’s tactics overall. And to come to the end of all this was a massive relief,” he said.

“But then there was also a great deal of sadness as well because some of the people I’d started out on this journey with had died and they weren’t at the end and some of them had even died within a few days of the liberation. So it was real mixed feelings.”

IS may have lost its urban strongholds, but its fighters are still at large in the vast desert regions of Syria and Iraq. The war is by no means over.

“Now that ISIS have been defeated in Raqqa and in Mosul too, they’ve scattered. Their so-called caliphate has imploded,” said Gifford. “There’s two sides to the Islamic State. They were a state in every sense of the word – they had the infrastructure, they had the financing and they had the territory of what you could call a state. That’s now gone – we’ve defeated it.

“The difficulty now is that the twisted ideology that underpins Islamic State is the next thing that we’ve really got to go after. Because, of course, these people are still out there, they’re still running around in the desert. But a lot of them are dead men walking.”

The counter-insurgency campaign to finally stamp out the extremist group could last many years. But Gifford doesn’t believe hunting jihadists is necessarily the most pressing challenge facing Syria right now. The priority, he says, is a comprehensive ceasefire and a new democratic framework.

Peace talks have started in earnest. Russia, which took the lead in brokering an agreement with Turkey and Iran at Sochi last week, has called for a Syrian National Dialogue Congress to take place in December. The aim is to further the peace process, agree constitutional reforms, and set a date for free elections.

Meanwhile, UN-backed peace efforts led by Saudi Arabia have suffered several setbacks and resignations. Opposition groups, including the Free Syrian Army (FSA), have struggled to find common ground.

“The problems that the international community, particularly Britain and America, and regional powers like Turkey and Saudi, are facing is that they’re not representing all of Syria,” Gifford said. “They are backing groups, some groups within the FSA are just as bad as the Islamic State – we have to be absolutely clear with people about that.

“Many more are nationalists who want to see a very different Syria than the rest of the world really wants to see. And the frustrating thing is these people are also very unmovable – they have got one objective in mind and that is the removal of Assad. That they want to keep out minority groups and they want to dominate the narrative. And it’s deeply frustrating for those who actually want a very realistic, very pragmatic approach, and an inclusive one, too.”

Gifford broadly accepts the Russian peace plan, but warns that it could be just as unrepresentative if the SDF are denied a seat at the table.

“The Russian track is actually very workable, but not in its current form, in my opinion. What I want them to do is not to bow to any pressure from Saudi or Turkey and not invite the Kurds. They are far too big to leave out,” said Gifford.

“It’s deeply worrying for me as a humanitarian and as an activist not to see the invitation already reached out to the SDF, primarily because it’s not realistic – if you don’t invite these people who control 25 percent of Syrian territory and are democratic and they also are Syrians, they’re not foreigners – it means that any future deal would be unworkable. But what I hope to see, very soon, is an open invite, very shortly from the Russian government, to the SDF.”

Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Britain and the US have insisted on the removal of President Bashar Assad. They argue that the regime’s violent repression of the Arab Spring protests, use of barrel bombs on rebel-held territory, and suspected use of chemical weapons means there is no place for him in Syria’s future. But Assad can’t simply be wished away, says Gifford, and Britain and America’s continued calls for his removal are at odds with reality.

“I don’t think they’ve properly understood the crisis – and certainly not Britain. Britain is probably the worst,” said Gifford. “We need the world to realize that the reality is that Assad is here to stay, he’s won the Syrian civil war, he defeated the FSA in Aleppo. And the FSA is divided, it’s weak, it’s pulling in different directions, and it’s not at all a coherent opposition to anybody. And it’s certainly not capable of starting a government by any stretch of the imagination.

“So what I want to do is I want an immediate ceasefire. I want all the people of Syria to get round the table and we need, really, a coalition, a coalition of the willing, where people talk about the future, about a democratic Syria, a secular Syria, one that’s built to last and one that’s built for everybody. And the SDF have a huge role to play in this, and as Syrians they’re very much open just to seeing Assad stay. And as long as there’s democracy the people will then choose in future whether he stays or goes. But it’s got to be the Syrians that decide. Not us. Not the Brits and not the Americans.”

Why has a Cold War-era Soviet submarine surfaced in England’s River Medway? (VIDEO)

Kent seems an unlikely place to encounter a 1,950 tonne Soviet war machine. But don’t be alarmed if you happen to spot U-475 ‘Black Widow’ looming out of the river as you cross the Medway – the Cold War hasn’t resumed and the Soviets aren’t about to annex Strood.

Built in 1967, Black Widow saw active service with the Russian Baltic Fleet at the height of the Cold War. Although modest compared to Russia’s latest Project 885 Yasen-class nuclear submarine, the U-475 was pretty formidable in its day, armed with 22 nuclear tipped warheads and 53 explosive mines.

But how did this cold warrior, built during the premiership of Leonid Brezhnev, end up moored, of all places, in Rochester?

Known to the West by its NATO reporting name ‘Foxtrot,’ the sub is one of four that were sold off by the Russian navy in 1994. Brought to the UK by a private investor and initially opened as a museum, first near the Thames Barrier, then in 1999 at Folkston harbor, Black Widow is now undergoing major refurbishment on the River Medway.

“All this work you see going on, the restoration, we’re trying to do it sympathetically, correctly, and do a nice paint job on it so that we can find a location to move it to, to exhibit it again so that the general public can get on and see a bit of Cold War history,” restoration manager John Sutton told RT, atop the metal hulk.

“It’s unique. In the UK there’s nothing like it, nothing from the Cold War that can match it, from the Russian navy itself.”

/ © Paolo Fumo / RT

A crew of 70-80 seamen would have spent three months per voyage aboard Black Widow stalking their opponents at sea, at a time when tensions between the superpowers threatened all out nuclear war.

“These people would have felt it so much more, because they knew they were either shadowing somebody or being shadowed by somebody, NATO forces would have been following them or they would have been following NATO forces. It would have been probably tense most of the time,” said Sutton.

/ © Paolo Fumo / RT

“Sure, they had their down time when they would have come to the surface and jumped in the sea for a swim around. But for the majority of the time they were on duty 24 hours a day. This isn’t a toy. This is a war machine.”

Black Widow now has many more practical uses than menacing NATO. She’s open to hire for photoshoots and educational outings, music videos and even feature films. Adventure thriller Black Sea, starring Jude Law, was filmed on board in 2013 and a post-apocalyptic black comedy called The Fitzroy was shot here in 2012.

/ © Paolo Fumo / RT

“You would think it’s only people interested in military things, but it’s not. It appeals to everyone,” said Sutton.

Three other submarines just like her, in various states of repair, can be found in Zeebrugge in Belgium, Long Beach, California, and San Diego maritime museum. One that is still owned by the Russians is held at the Museum of the World Ocean in Kaliningrad.

“It’s uncomfortable and claustrophobic and it’s a certain type of person that would want to go and live on it,” Sutton admits. True, but that hasn’t put off those tourists drawn to a bit Soviet kitsch. And once she’s restored to her former glory, Black Widow will be reopened as an educational facility. The question is: where?

“We’re looking at different locations, we’ve actually had enquiries from Germany, but we’re looking for somewhere around London or into a city type environment where we have the right size population that would appreciate it.”

So what about Britain’s naval towns Portsmouth, Plymouth or Glasgow? Or its historic shipyards in Liverpool, Newcastle or Belfast?

“You’d be surprised, they’re all full up – they’re either full up or they’ve been developed, so they don’t want submarines outside their windows in the marina, they want nice, flashy marina boats, gin palaces. But I’m sure there’s a place somewhere in the UK that would appreciate it.”

Got somewhere to berth a 302 ft killing machine? If so, they want to hear from you.

Balfour at 100: Should Britain celebrate or apologize for its colonial legacy in Palestine? (VIDEO)

November 2 marks 100 years since the Balfour Declaration – the colonial-era document that paved the way for the creation of Israel. But is the centenary a cause for celebration, or is it high time for an apology?

In November 1917, at the height of the First World War, Britain’s then-Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour issued a 67-word declaration that would shape the Middle East for a century to come.

As the Ottoman Empire, in alliance with Germany, began to crumble, Britain and France eyed the spoils of war. Among the pickings was Palestine.

Spread across the strategically coveted eastern Mediterranean, the region is home to some of the most fertile land in the Middle East and many of the holiest sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, a prominent Zionist of his day, Balfour declared Britain’s support for the establishment of “a national home for the Jewish people” in what would later become the State of Israel.

Although the declaration itself was not legally binding, and Britain’s handling of its mandated territories in Palestine after 1920 can be blamed for weakened Arab opposition, Balfour’s symbolic role in Israel’s national story and the fate of the indigenous Arab population leaves a deeply divisive legacy 100 years on.

Simon Johnson, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), says British Jews should feel proud of the UK’s role in the creation of Israel – today a key regional trade and security partner.

“For the British Jewish community it’s a very significant anniversary,” Johnson told RT.

“We are, as a Jewish community, very proud that it was our government that took the first steps toward the recognition of Jewish aspirations to its own homeland, and during the hundred years, and particularly now, continues to be a strong supporter of the right of the State of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state within the international family of nations.”

Johnson and the JLC have thrown their weight behind Balfour100 , a website and events series aimed at celebrating Britain’s role in the creation of Israel.

“What we want to do is recognize and present the proper story of the Balfour Declaration, put it in its proper historical context, and we’re very happy to debate with people what else might have been the impact from it,” he said.

Ahead of the 100th anniversary, pro-Palestinian groups launched a petition calling on the British government to scrap plans to celebrate. They argue Prime Minister Theresa May should instead use the occasion to issue an apology.

Responding to the petition in April this year, the Foreign Office said: “The Balfour Declaration is an historic statement for which Her Majesty’s Government does not intend to apologize. We are proud of our role in creating the State of Israel. The task now is to encourage moves towards peace.”

Johnson echoes the Foreign Office position. He says those calling for an apology have misunderstood the historical role of the declaration, and warns that denying the State of Israel its right to exist could be construed as anti-Semitism.

“I actually think the government’s response is absolutely right. Things that have happened in the past have happened, the government is rightly proud of the role the British government played in the creation of [the State of Israel], but is rightly now looking to the future and to a long-term and lasting, just peace based on two states for two peoples.

“I think the call for an apology is fundamentally wrong because it’s a misunderstanding of what the Balfour Declaration did … If you’re asking the government to apologize for a non-binding document that ended up leading to the creation of the State of Israel, what you might be saying, some people might be saying, is that they don’t believe there should be a State of Israel.

“Now that position, if you deny the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and you do not deny that right to any other people around the world, there’s a potential for that to be seen as anti-Semitic. It’s certainly delegitimizing of the existence of the State of Israel.”

One of the groups calling for an apology is the Palestinian Return Center (PRC). It argues that government plans to celebrate the centenary will damage the peace process and whitewash Britain’s colonial past.

“This is not a new response that we’ve heard from the British government,” PRC spokesman Pietro Stefanini told RT.

“They said not long ago that they do not intend to apologize and this shows that they are in complete denial over their colonial crimes in Palestine, and they’re still not willing to recognize the huge historical responsibilities they have towards Palestinians for the British occupation of Palestine that led to the mass displacement of the Palestinian nation in 1948.”

Stefanini warns that Palestinians will be deeply offended if any kind of commemoration takes place.

“Marking it with pride is basically the same as celebrating for the Palestinian diaspora. And I can tell you, Palestinians feel very offended by the plans that this government, after a hundred years, that they have been suffering in refugee camps, been occupied, while they are still without any right to self-determination, that this current government would make any sort of plan to celebrate.

“It is very, very offensive for the Palestinian community. And it would certainly not bring the parties any closer to peace and it would only inflame a rather tense situation that we see on the ground, especially for Palestinians who do not have any political hope to move forward in any real sense.”

It would be a gross oversimplification to suggest all British Jews hold the legacy of Balfour with equal reverence. In fact, acknowledging the wider shades of opinion among the community could nourish the spirit of compromise that may nudge the peace process forward.

Jews for Justice for Palestinians, for instance, offers one such a perspective. The group’s parliamentary and diplomatic liaison officer, Arthur Goodman, says the government’s response to the Balfour apology petition is a skew on British history.

“In reality the British government shouldn’t be particularly proud because, more than the Balfour Declaration itself, the way they ran it, in the Mandate, was very detrimental to the Palestinians,” he said.

“If it had been to create a homeland on an equal basis with the already existing indigenous population, that would have been different. But that’s not what the British Mandate did. They created a state for the Zionists, who were Jews, and they excluded the possibility of the Palestinians having a state or having an equal part in a binational state.”

What would an apology actually achieve?

“Very little. In fact, if that’s all the government did, but didn’t actually help the Palestinians create a state, then it would just make Palestinians and Arabs even more convinced that the British government, among others, was being very hypocritical,”said Goodman.

“I think the correct response would be not to celebrate it, not to mark it, except to say that it’s now time for Israel to accept that it already has 78 percent of British Mandate Palestine and that should be enough for it. And the other 22 percent, i.e. the Occupied Territories, rightly belong to the Palestinians.”

Kirkuk to Dunkirk: Kurdish journalist fights to stay in UK after fleeing assassins (RT EXCLUSIVE)

© Rob Edwards

A Kurdish journalist is fighting for UK asylum after serving with American forces in Iraq, narrowly escaping assassination for his reporting, being labeled a torturer by US immigration, and entering Britain illegally smuggled inside a lorry, RT has found.

Aram Fareeq Abduljabbar, 32, arrived at the Grande-Synthe refugee camp in Dunkirk, northern France, on January 25 before crossing into Britain concealed in a lorry on March 1. However, his journey had begun six years earlier when he was targeted for his reporting while working for the Kurdistan Post.

On September 9, 2011, Aram says he narrowly escaped death when gunmen fired on him from a black BMW in the streets of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. The incident, which had come after repeated threats and intimidation, finally forced him to skip the border into Turkey.

“I don’t have a choice,” said Aram, speaking to RT in the Dunkirk camp in February. “My life is not safe in Iraq.”

After a stint in sheltered accommodation in Wakefield, Aram is now living in Bradford, northern England, awaiting a Home Office ruling on his case.

His story almost seems like a microcosm of the wider refugee crisis.

A vocation

Aram left school in 1995 and went to work at his father’s market stall, selling clothes and polishing shoes. Three of his paternal uncles had been killed by Saddam Hussein’s regime, he says, so supporting his family took priority over further study.

When he came of age in 2000, Aram joined the Kurdish armed forces, the Peshmerga, with whom he could earn extra money. When the US Army invaded northern Iraq and toppled Saddam in 2003, Aram’s brigade, 16 Sulemani Division 4, was amalgamated into the Iraqi National Guard.

Comrades? Aram serving alongside US forces during Iraq war. © Aram Fareeq Abduljabbar

Besides training Aram to man military checkpoints, the Americans also taught him and other Iraqi troops in their charge about human rights, including freedom of the press. It was this introduction that spurred Aram to become a journalist, which he took up while on fortnightly leave from his unit. Quitting the military in 2006, Aram began writing and broadcasting full time.

In 2010, he started work at the Kurdistan Post, where he took a particular interest in exposing corruption. However, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) were not fond of the paper’s line, and his troubles soon began, Aram says.

Powerful enemies

The young reporter’s collaboration with US forces had already courted ill favor, making him a target of terrorist groups. Aram says he twice survived improvised explosive devices (IEDs) intended for him in Kirkuk, and now has difficulty hearing in his left ear.

Because his family had suffered so much under Saddam, Aram wanted to use his platform to highlight allegations against KDP President Masoud Barzani, who he accused of working with the Baathist regime to suppress Kurdish opposition.

By raising such awkward issues, Aram made some powerful and determined enemies.

Aram says he was attacked multiple times by KDP heavies because of his work. In 2009, he says he was set upon by thugs in Suleimani, who broke his nose. He was later stabbed near the Kurdish parliament in Erbil.

Human rights groups say the KDP had Aram’s friend and fellow journalist Sardasht Osman abducted and killed in 2010. They also claim party militants gunned down Soran Mama Hama, also a reporter, in 2008. Kawa Garmyane, another of Aram’s friends, was killed in the city of Kalar in 2013 before he could publish corruption allegations, this time by suspected PUK assassins.

By that time, Aram had already left the country.

‘Leave or die’

One day in 2011, the phone calls started.

“By telephone some terrorist every day, every day call me, ‘I kill you, you need to stop the b******t… I kill you like Sardasht Osman,’” Aram told RT.

The caller, who spoke in Kurdish but dialed from a Fallujah area code, told Aram he must stop reporting on the KDP and Barzani, and that he must leave the country or be killed.

Taking the threats seriously, Aram went to the police.

Kirkuk’s police authority is suspected of having close ties with the political establishment – particularly the PUK. Officers at first dismissed the phone calls as a practical joke, but later made it clear that Aram should not be reporting on the affairs of the KDP and PUK. Aram was on his own.

On September 9, the assassins struck.

Aram was on his way to Tuz Khurmatu just south of Kirkuk when a group of men in a black BMW opened fire.

Although Aram escaped without injury, he was convinced that he would die if he stayed in Iraq, so he left his job and family and set out on a journey that would eventually bring him to Britain.

No shelter

Aram made contact with the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, which sent him to Kayseri, deep in the heart of Turkey, where he soon found himself unable to earn a proper living and in squalid conditions.

He applied for refugee status at the end of January 2012, but it would be a full year before he received his official documentation.

Aram’s UNHCR refugee certificate. © Aram Fareeq Abduljabbar

Desperate to secure asylum, he reached out for support from the media industry.

“Aram contacted us back in 2013,” said Monir Zaarour, Middle East and Arab World Co-coordinator for the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

“He sent us details of his case, but we were unable to verify the details of his story, as we rely mainly on our affiliates in the ground.

“I believe he didn’t report the threats he received to the Kurdistan Journalists’ Syndicate before he left the region to Turkey. However, we sent a letter on his behalf to the UNHCR in Turkey to support his case,” Monir noted, while saying that Aram’s account is entirely believable.

“Iraq remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, including the Kurdistan Region of Iraq,” he said, noting that “several journalists have been assassinated in the last few years in the region because of their critical reporting.”

British Home Office guidance on humanitarian protection defines the threat of “unlawful killing” as “where there is a real risk that a person would be unlawfully, that is extra-judicially, killed by the state (or agents of the state), or there is a real risk of targeted assassination by non-state agents and there is no effective protection and no feasible internal flight alternative.”

Aram’s asylum case appeared to be open and shut, but a red flag suddenly appeared.

Accused of torture

Having worked closely with the Americans during the Iraq occupation, Aram felt he stood a good chance of being granted asylum in the US, so he traveled to Istanbul to meet with the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) to discuss his eligibility.

He was rejected.

On June 17, 2013, US Citizenship and Immigration Services said Aram was not admissible under provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) because, it stated, he is an “alien who ordered, incited, assisted or otherwise participated in torture.”

US Citizenship and Immigration Services rejection, dated June 2013. © Aram Fareeq Abduljabbar

Aram denies the allegation, insisting that he had been misinterpreted during the screening interview. While he admits that, as a journalist, he witnessed the Iraqi army committing acts of torture, he insists that he did not participate.

RT has been unable to independently verify Aram’s story.

Accepting that there may have been a translation issue, Aram was told he should wait for a review, when he could better explain his case. However, frustrated by the delay, he took his case back to the UNHCR to try for asylum elsewhere.

After years of waiting while living precariously, the UNHCR finally told Aram he would not be given asylum in Turkey.

After this setback, Aram’s Iraqi friends urged him to leave Turkey and loaned him money for his journey onward. On January 8, 2017, six years after his ordeal had begun, Aram paid a group of smugglers to take him to Italy.

He crossed the sea in a small boat with several other families, all taking the same uncertain leap from one unwelcoming continent to another.

Illegal entrant clandestine

Aram was fingerprinted by Italian police on January 14. After several failed attempts to cross into France, he paid a smuggler €600 to spring him across the Italian border. From Nice, he traveled to Paris and, from there, he arrived in Dunkirk on January 25.

It was here that RT met Aram, carrying his expired IFJ press card and eager to share his story on February 7.

Aram speaks to RT in Grande-Synthe refugee camp

Some weeks later, on the brink of giving up, Aram crossed the English Channel concealed inside a lorry with the help of smugglers and set foot in London for the first time on March 1.

As an ‘Illegal Entrant Clandestine’, the British Home Office considered Aram “liable to detention” and sent him to Wakefield’s special Initial Accommodation center, Angel Lodge, where he lived under curfew, banned from leaving town under the watch of private security giant G4S.

He was soon moved into the community in Bradford, where he now awaits his asylum ruling.

Contacted by RT, a Home Office spokesman said: “We do not comment on individual cases, but judge every case on its individual merits.”

Child refugees still arrive in Calais & Dunkirk as UK scraps resettlement of 3,000 (VIDEO EXCLUSIVE)

Five months after the Calais ‘Jungle’ was bulldozed by French authorities, migrants and refugees are still arriving, hoping to reach the UK. In response, Britain has scrapped the Dubs Amendment, allowing for the resettlement of 3,000 unaccompanied minors.

Up to 10,000 camp residents were dispersed across France after the Jungle was cleared in October 2016. Many of those who were not granted asylum, deported or sent to overburdened reception centers have now resorted to sleeping rough on the streets of Paris.

With conflicts and political instability still blighting the Middle East and Africa, and the failure of British authorities to offer asylum seekers safe and legal passage, the pull factors bringing migrants and refugees to the French coast have not changed.

Those scattered around France are now returning to Britain’s doorstep, where they are joined each day by fresh arrivals, many of whom, after months of traveling, are unaware that the Jungle has vanished.

“People thought the conditions in the Jungle were bad, but this is worse,” Care4Calais founder Clare Moseley told RT.“It’s just that in the Jungle you could see them and now you can’t.”

Care4Calais is just one of the charities still operating in the area, distributing food and clothing to those hiding from police in and around the port town. Many are under the age of 18 and traveling alone. Some have relatives already in the UK.

“In Calais at the moment the minors we are coming across I would say are generally aged 13 to 16 years old, mostly boys. In Dunkirk there are much younger children, there’s more families,” said Moseley.

RT met dozens of youngsters, most of them from Eritrea, who are hiding in patches of woodland close to the industrial wasteland where the Calais Jungle once sprawled. Braving wet weather and often freezing temperatures, the boys bide their time, trying to board trucks bound for the UK.

“I guess anybody who has worked with homeless people in the UK maybe would be more accustomed to seeing this, to seeing people sleeping with no shelter at all in the middle of winter when it’s this cold, to seeing people who have not had any opportunity to wash or change their clothes, who have skin disease, gum disease, things like that, that go untreated, which is just horrible,” said Moseley.

Although lacking the basic infrastructure offered by charities in the Jungle, and now with fewer volunteers on hand to distribute dwindling stocks of aid, migrants and refugees remain determined to make the journey, risking detention and deportation if caught by police.

With a general election looming in France, keeping these children out of sight almost seems like a deliberate political move.

“Unfortunately, shockingly for me, children don’t give up hope easily. It’s in their hearts and they don’t give up on it,” said Moseley.

“So when they’re told ‘no’, instead of just giving up they just think, ‘Right, I’m going anyway, I’m going to come, I’m going to keep trying.’ Children don’t give up hope.”

British Home Secretary Amber Rudd has defended the government’s decision to scrap the Dubs Amendment – named after its author Lord Alfred Dubs, who was himself rescued as a child from Nazi Europe.

She says resettling 3,000 lone child refugees would only encourage more to risk the perilous journey across Europe. Critics say refugees will continue to arrive, regardless, until the fundamental causes of the crisis are resolved.

‘French people attacked me’

Since the Jungle was cleared, the population of the government-run camp at Dunkirk, just 30 miles (48km) up the coast from Calais, has started to grow once more.

Of the roughly 1,600 people living in the rows of damp wooden shelters, rising out of the mud between a busy motorway and railway tracks thick with passing freight, many hundreds are children and infants.

“Sometimes I think I’ll kill myself. Here, it’s no good,” says Mohammed, a 15-year-old Iraqi Kurd who is traveling alone.

Mohammed says he has been attacked in what may have been one of the many anti-refugee hate crimes that go unreported here.

“Two people attacked me. Because I am alone. When I went outside [the camp] they attacked me,” he told RT.

“I don’t know why. I’m not speaking, I am [just] walking, going out. [And they] attack me. I don’t know why.”

Mohammed says his assailants were French.

Aid workers in northern France have tried to document cases of violence against migrants and refugees, but few of these incidents ever make headlines.

“My experience of hate crime committed against refugees here is extremely unpleasant,” said Moseley.

“It always seemed to be targeted against the younger ones. It says something about the type of people who do that, doesn’t it? It always seemed to happen by people in groups, never somebody on their own, people in a group would target one person. They would take that one person away somewhere and do something really horrible to them.”

‘We are not dangerous – we are in danger’

Hostility against migrants and refugees has deepened in recent months, expressing itself in Britain’s vote to leave the EU, US President Donald Trump’s travel ban and the growing momentum behind Marine Le Pen’s campaign for the French presidency.

Rebaz, a 24-year-old also from Iraqi Kurdistan, has only been in Dunkirk for one month. He thinks political rhetoric that conflates refugees with terrorists is actually strengthening the appeal of groups like Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

“I think Donald Trump and the people like him are doing right now, it helps terrorism,” Rebaz told RT.

“It motivates people to help them, to be among them, there are so many people in the Arabic world who say they want to be peaceful to the European people, but now Donald Trump is hating us so we want to fight back, we must fight back against them, we must kill their people, some motivation. What Donald Trump is doing now is helping ISIS.”

For all its talk of protecting human rights and its condemnation of IS brutality, Rebaz says Europe is failing refugees. He insists Europeans have nothing to fear from those seeking asylum.

“You know, in Iraq, we have escaped from terrorism, from terrorists. As you know, in Iraq the situation is not good. There is ISIS, there is so many things like that. We have escaped from them. But here in Europe, they talk about human rights, but they don’t help us. They see [us as] terrorists.

“I want to tell them that we are not a danger – we are endangered. We are not dangerous, but we are in danger.”

Rebaz is not exaggerating. There are potentially scores of legitimate asylum cases going unreported in Dunkirk alone.

One man who approached RT in the camp is Aram Fareeq Abduljabbar, a 32-year-old journalist from Kirkuk, northern Iraq, who says he was targeted by gunman because of his critical reporting.

Journalists in the region are regularly threatened and even murdered amid violent political infighting between rival Kurdish parties and factions.

Recent examples include Sardasht Osman, who was killed in 2010 after publishing articles critical of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), and Kawa Garmyani, who was shot dead outside his home in 2013 days before he planned to publish allegations of corruption against a leading opposition politician.

Fearing he too was in danger, Aram fled the country.

“By telephone some terrorist every day, every day call me, ‘I kill you, you need to stop the bullsh*t … I kill you like Kawa Garmyani and Sardasht Osman,’” Aram told RT.

“After that, in a BMW, try to kill me in north Kirkuk by shooting at me, two or three men shoot at me. After that I am leaving to Turkey.

“I don’t have a choice.”

RT is currently trying to verify Aram’s claims.

Monir Zaarour, Middle East and Arab world coordinator for the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), told RT his organization wrote to the UNHCR in Turkey, helping Aram secure official refugee status in 2013. Aram’s case is not without precedent.

“Iraq remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists including Kurdistan Region of Iraq,” said Zaarour. “Several journalists have been assassinated in the last few years in the region because of their critical reporting.”

If the British government is willing to suspend its scheme to resettle 3,000 unaccompanied children, the prospects for those like Aram fleeing persecution appear slim. Despite this hardening political mood, thousands more refugees are likely to spill into Europe over the course of 2017.

British banker turned Kurdish fighter launches Syrian aid charity (VIDEO EXCLUSIVE)

Former London currency trader and Conservative Party Councilor Macer Gifford left his high-flying City career in December 2014 to join the fight against Islamic State. Now he’s returning to Syria, this time at the helm of his own aid organization.

Although hundreds of Westerners have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join jihadist ranks in recent years, throwing in their lot with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and other extremist groups, a smaller, yet significant, number have joined the fight against the Islamists.

Gifford, 30, who has twice traveled to the region to fight alongside the Kurdish YPG, the People’s Protection Units, lacked any formal military training or language skills when he struck out for the frontlines of Rojava – a predominantly-Kurdish region of northern Syria bordering Turkey.

Shocked by the medical situation he found in the areas liberated from ISIS control, Gifford launched the Zurich-based Friends of Rojava Foundation to help restock and rebuild northern Syria’s shattered health system.

“The ambition really is to become one of the major suppliers of humanitarian aid, or particularly hospital aid, in all of Syria,”Gifford told RT’s Rob Edwards.

“Very soon I’ll be reaching out to the Russian government to get them to help me transfer equipment directly to their airbase within Rojava in Qamishlo and really trying to create more of a dynamic relationship on a human level between the Kurdish people fighting in northern Syria and the Russian government, and that would have huge implications for my charity.”

Gifford describes his journey from the world of finance to combat and advocacy work.

“The story begins at my desk,” said Gifford.

“It begins with a job that involves a huge amount of studying. The one thing that moves the currency markets is politics. And the events of the summer of 2014 were shocking everyone to their core and were making markets quite volatile.

“My days were spent, for hours at end, reading newscasts and news articles about what was going on in Syria and Iraq. And just watching the people surrounded on Sinjar Mountain, just watching the events in Kobani with the heroic liberation movement fighting for survival, it really inspired me and it became an obsession.”

The violent extremist group calling itself Islamic State was relatively unknown beyond foreign policy and intelligence circles before summer 2014. But the group’s rapid advance across both Iraq and Syria, its attacks on the Yazidi population and execution of journalists and aid workers hammered Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s millenarian movement into the public consciousness.

“With all those journalists sitting and being murdered on their knees in orange jumpsuits, watching women being carted off and to be sold into sexual slavery, these images were just probably the most foulest and horrendous – it was an act of genocide, basically, and no one was really talking about it.”

It was this sense of frustration at government inaction that eventually drove Gifford to get involved.

“Britain and America didn’t have a coherent strategy to get rid of ISIS, they didn’t know what their response should be, and I felt that as a citizen – as a civilian who goes out there, joins the people that are suffering the most – if I could learn from them and explain and articulate to the West what they’re fighting for, then maybe something good will come out of this. So, I almost consider myself more of an educator than a fighter.”

Although Gifford says he discourages other Westerners from following in his footsteps – those like Ryan Lock, the third British volunteer killed while fighting alongside the YPG in December last year – he insists they are fighting a moral cause.

“Of course Ryan’s presence there, it’s not for me to say yes or no whether he should be there. We’re all on our own journey, we’ve all gone there for our own reasons … it would be ridiculous of me to say that he shouldn’t have been there.

“I saw the movement there as a fight between good and evil, between democracy and fascism, very much like the civil war in Spain in the 1930s.

“I made contact with the YPG on Facebook, they told me to fly to Sulaimaniya, where I would be met by someone who would facilitate my transfer across the border, and so in December 2014 I left my home and just went for it. And it was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

Besides risking their lives by entering active warzones, often without any formal military training, foreign fighters also risk arrest under counter-terrorism laws on their return home to Britain.

Gifford says those fighting the jihadists should be treated differently under British law to those fighting for IS.

“There is a very incoherent policy when it comes to returning fighters. I think the lines are less blurred when it comes to those who fight for jihadist groups.

“Any extremist needs to be in prison, and I’ve got a very hard view on this. In fact, anyone who goes and actually sets foot on a plane, never mind actually physically gets to Syria, belongs in a jail cell, because the very moment you get on that plane, you’ve attempted murder, you’re trying to assist in what these people are doing out in Syria.

“However, those that fight against ISIS, that fight against international terrorists – for a group that are supported by Britain, supported by the Americans and gets a lot of support from international journalists – they should not be treated as terrorists.”

(‘Macer Gifford’ is not the real name of the individual concerned – it is his nom de guerre. There is another individual whose real name is Macer Gifford who has no connection to the individual described in this article.)

Ex-soldier prevented from fighting ISIS & arrested on terrorism charges speaks to RT (EXCLUSIVE)

Robert Clark, the British ex-serviceman who was prevented from traveling to Iraq to fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), has spoken out for the first time since being sentenced under the Terrorism Act last week.

Speaking exclusively to RT, Clark says IS sympathizers have sent him “threats” and “hatred” via Facebook since his story went public last year.

“I think I’d be safer in Iraq at the moment, with everyone posting articles and saying I shouldn’t be fighting ISIS,” Clark told RT’s Rob Edwards.

“I lost access to all my Facebook accounts. I don’t know who it was. But I managed to get back into an old Facebook with my actual name. And in the message requests there’s a bit of a, well, a bit of hatred in my inbox, put it that way. Just like loads of threats basically.”

The 23-year-old from Carmarthenshire, Wales, who served four years in the British Army, says it was wrong to arrest him because he doesn’t pose a security threat. The real danger, he says, is home-grown Islamist extremism.

“If you just look in the media and you see people going out to fight with ISIS. If they’re not stopping them but they’re stopping me then there’s something a bit wrong.

“They knew exactly what I was doing… but there’s people going out there which they don’t know about going to ISIS camps, and they’re wasting time arresting me, doing all this court case, just wasting police time, when they could be following up on people who they need to be following up on.

“They knew I had no associations with terrorists, and there’s people flying out there freely who have links to terrorism.”

Clark contrasts his case with the time it took to convict hate preacher Anjem Choudary – who was sentenced in August 2016 for incitement to violence.

“It’s like that hate preacher… how it took them five years to put him in jail. One of the police officers dealing with my case was actually on his case and was saying that it took them five years to put him in jail while it takes six weeks to put me in jail.”

Last week Clark was handed a year-long community order for failing to give officers the password pin to his cell phone during a routine counter-terrorism check at Heathrow Airport back in September, while attempting to board a flight to Jordon. Once in the country he planned to take a connecting flight to Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, where he was to be met by members of the Peshmerga.

He is required to perform 50 hours’ unpaid work and pay a fine of £85 (US$103). He is also banned from leaving the British Isles for a year.

“The reason they stopped me was the Schedule 7 counter-terror law. They don’t have to have a reason to stop anyone – they can just literally pick some random person and say, ‘We’ll stop him.’”

Clark insists he had cooperated fully with officers before his scheduled trip.

“They knew exactly what flight I was getting on, they knew what kit I had in my bags, they knew everything.

“The police had given me an official document stating I was going to go and fight against terrorism and they’re basically advising me not to travel and if anything did happen to me, if I got kidnapped, the British government wouldn’t assist me in any way.

“They told me they had no power to stop me from going. They can just advise me not to travel. And [yet] as soon as I get to the airport, they arrest me for being a terrorist.”

Clark also hit out at media coverage of his arrest and subsequent trial. He was apprehended while attempting to board a flight to Jordon and was not, as was widely reported, traveling to Syria to fight with the YPG (People’s Protection Units), he said.

“I was going to Iraq to help in the Mosul offensive. I don’t know where they got that information from… My flights were booked to Iraq. I wasn’t planning on crossing the border any time. I just wanted to help the Iraqi people, the victims of war.”

Battle for Mosul: Beating ISIS won’t end Iraq’s civil war, UK experts tell RT (VIDEO)

Caught in the crossfire, driven to hunger, held as human shields – civilians trapped in Mosul face a living nightmare, as coalition forces attempt to topple the last urban stronghold of ISIS in Iraq, while meting out sectarian punishments of their own.

The battle to retake Mosul, captured by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in summer 2014, began in October when Iraqi security forces, Shia and tribal militias, and the Kurdish Peshmerga launched an audacious ground assault with British and US-led air support.

Fierce IS resistance and concern for the estimated 1.5 million civilians still trapped inside the city, however, have stalled the operation’s progress, casting doubt over the swift liberation that Baghdad and coalition strategists had hoped for.

Speaking to RT’s Rob Edwards, Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, chair of the AMAR Foundation and Britain’s trade envoy to Iraq, says Mosul’s civilians now face a desperate humanitarian situation.

“They will pour out of Mosul traumatized, some of them having been bombed, some of them having lost limbs and there may be one and a half million people in that condition,” said Nicholson. “So inevitably there’s going to be a huge amount of damaged humans.

“AMAR specializes in that, it’s exactly why we exist – it’s to help people when they’re in desperate situations and to patch them up as fast as possible, save their lives and to get them into secure locations.”

The AMAR Foundation, established in response to Saddam Hussein’s persecution of the Marsh Arabs, launched its Mosul Appeal in October to provide medical services and education to Iraq’s internally displaced.

“The fall of Mosul is a terrifying prospect for the inhabitants of Mosul and AMAR has to be ready to save as many lives as possible,” Nicholson added.

The peer is unambiguous in her assessment of what lies in store for Islamic State’s captive subjects.

“The Islamic State have captured and kidnapped a lot of people. Some of them were already residents of Mosul, others not residents of Mosul, and they’re really using them as human sacrifices.

“They are using them to demonstrate their extreme cruelty, and they’re using cruelty to cow a resident population into submission and to frighten away others.

“They are also using cruelty to attract global sadists who come to practice their sadism. There’s a small proportion of the human race that are born sadists, sadly, or born without any understanding of inflicting pain on others. They don’t have that feeling in them.

“So it’s not really human shields that are being used. Now, I’m sorry to say, it’s basically human sacrifices and those people will probably die. But many others will escape. And we must save as many lives as possible in the AMAR Foundation.” 

Atrocities committed by IS militants against civilians are well documented, but a growing body of evidence suggests torture, home demolitions, and extrajudicial killings are not confined to jihadist ranks.

Amnesty International researcher Diana Eltahawy and her team recently uncovered evidence of Iraqi federal police apparently executing Sunni Arab villagers in revenge for IS attacks – allegations vehemently denied by the Iraqi government, which has refused to launch an inquiry.

“In one particular incident, on the 21st of August, we found that armed men wearing federal police uniforms tortured and killed at least six villagers in the south of Mosul on suspicion that they might have had links with the armed group calling itself the Islamic State,”Eltahawy explained.

“According to information that we have, these were villagers who had stayed behind while fighters had moved the majority of the civilian population out of the area, so Iraqi forces present on the ground appear to have been suspicious that anyone who remained behind might have been a fighter.

“But these are individuals who did not pose any threat, they were villagers who handed themselves over to the Iraqi forces, who carried white flags and who lifted their shirts to show they didn’t have explosive belts. And after that they were beaten, they had their beards pulled and in one case burned before a group of them were taken aside and shot dead.”

Iraq is a majority Shia country, but Mosul and its hinterland are home to many millions of Sunni Arabs. The Islamic State has sought to exploit sectarian resentment among Sunnis who have been effectively disenfranchised by Baghdad’s Shia dominated establishment.

Revelations of sectarian abuse perpetrated by Mosul’s supposed liberators do not bode well for reconciliation.

Tallha Abdulrazaq, a researcher at the University of Exeter’s Strategy & Security Institute, says the blame for this simmering resentment lies with the policies of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his successor Haider al-Abadi’s failure to address Iraq’s burning civil rights question.

“The issue here is that after 2008, the Maliki government marginalized the Sunni Arab community. So right now the Sunni Arab community are thinking ‘why should we put our necks out on the line only for you to revert back to your sectarian policies?’

“So even with Daesh [IS] being defeated, and even considering that they have a lack of support among the vast majority of Sunni Arabs, Sunni Arabs have no interest in fighting them because, frankly, they see the Iraqi government and, to a lesser degree the Peshmerga units that are doing this, razing homes, they see them as being the same as Daesh, not any better.”

Abdulrazaq says a far-reaching political solution is required to work in tandem with the Iraqi government’s military strategy, otherwise the conditions that allowed IS to grow and maintain its grip for so long will remain unchanged.

“If we restore equal rights to all Iraqis, whether they’re Kurdish, Sunni, whether they’re Arab Sunnis, whether they’re Shia Arabs, whether they’re Shia Turkman, it doesn’t really matter, so long as they’re treated equally as Iraqi citizens, we will have a solution to Daesh. Right now, that doesn’t exist.”

“The best case scenario is for the Iraqi military, including the popular mobilization forces and the tribal militias, to stop any and all atrocities right now, because if they manage to get the civilians on board, if the people of Mosul and the Iraqi community, the Sunni Arab community especially, manage to see this is different from Falluja, this is different from Tikrit and all these other places where atrocities have been committed, there’s a chance at some kind of reconciliation.

“But that’s very unlikely to happen. So, I’m afraid all I have for you is a worst-case scenario – that atrocities continue, sectarian rule is restored over the city of Mosul and the threat of Daesh doesn’t disappear – it remains because they have no partners on the ground who are able to effectively neutralize them, as happened in 2008 with Al-Qaeda.”

The death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s so-called caliphate as a territorial edifice within Iraq will no doubt strike a devastating blow to the jihadist group’s morale and global reach. Its survival as a guerrilla force, however, capable of continuing some form of asymmetric warfare, remains a pervasive fear.

“The best case scenario would be if the vile Baghdadi drops down dead, as it were, and all his people ran away,” said Nicholson. “The question is where they run to.”

“The worst case scenario is when they run into the undergrowth and they become sleepers in differed cities and towns and tribes and villages throughout Iraq and, in that sense, never give up.”

EXCLUSIVE: Iraqi Christian who fled ISIS ‘slow-motion genocide’ fights UK deportation (VIDEO)

When Islamic State seized Mosul in summer 2014, the Iraqi city’s Syriac Orthodox Christians were given an ultimatum: convert to the jihadists’ extreme Salafist Islam, pay the jizya religious tax, or die. Two years on, those who fled are still not safe.

Sarmad Ozan, a 25-year-old engineering graduate who was deacon of his church in Mosul before the Iraqi Army’s humiliating rout in the northern city, is now appealing a British Home Office decision to deny him asylum.

In a climate where Brexit and a series of terrorist atrocities across Europe have dulled public sympathy for refugees and emboldened anti-immigrant sentiments, Sarmad’s treatment is a damning example of the inconsistency and culture of disbelief that has developed at the heart of Britain’s asylum system.

Speaking to RT ahead of his next appeal hearing, Sarmad describes the fall of Mosul and the first chilling weeks of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) domination.

“In 2014, 10th of June, it was forbidden in these days for people to go out of their homes because [the Iraqi Army] said it is a state of emergency, don’t go out. But after a few hours they announced that ISIS had taken over Mosul.

“Everyone fled Mosul during the night. All the families drove their cars to the nearest city or anywhere. We went to a monastery near Mosul. We stayed there for about two weeks.

“ISIS had taken Mosul, but they didn’t kill anyone at that time. They said we will not kill anyone, our problem is just with the government. So we came back at that time, went back inside our house and stayed there.

“But in the next month, in July, they announced in the mosque three options for the Christians inside Mosul. They say you should convert to Islam, or pay jizya, that’s like a heavy tax, or be killed after this 24 hours. So every Christian family left Mosul that day.”

IS didn’t let Mosul’s Christians leave without one final humiliation, however. Gunmen robbed them and turfed them out of their vehicles as they fled, forcing whole families to walk the full 85km (52 miles) to the next biggest Iraqi town not already under IS control, Erbil – a city administrated by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).

“They made checkpoints at the borders of Mosul where they checked identity cards, because your religion is on your identity card,” said Sarmad.

“So whenever they see a Christian they grab everyone from the car and they take everything. So we left with nothing. We walked all that day towards Erbil. All the Christian families were walking that day.

“We arrived at night. Young people slept on the pavements, some people in tents, the church halls. We stayed in different places. Then we found a place in a church hall.”

The Kurds have held the line against IS almost singlehandedly since Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s men seized Mosul. But with their own designs on an independent Kurdish state once the fighting stops, Kurds only begrudgingly accepted the wave of Arabic-speaking Christians spilling into their territory. Sarmad says they were not made to feel welcome.

“Because we are Arab people, they don’t give jobs to us and they consider us from a different country … They don’t give jobs to the people who are not in the Kurdish party,” Sarmad explains.

“Kurdish people are from Kurdistan … They don’t want Arabic people inside Kurdistan. And they don’t give us any rights inside Kurdistan. So how can this become our country?”

Iraqis are not given refugee status in neighboring Arab states. If they don’t have family to stay with in Jordan, or elsewhere in the region, the alternatives for the internally displaced are to head south or to the capital, Baghdad. However, since the US-led invasion of 2003, sectarian conflict has exploded across Iraq. Christians, Sarmad explains, are not guaranteed safety anywhere.

“We were living, before 2003, without discrimination between people. You live with everyone without asking about their religion or anything. But after 2003 it become more difficult. When you are a Christian, when they deal with you, they talk with you, it’s in a different way.”

“There are no Christians now in Mosul, a minority in Baghdad and the south, we are a minority everywhere inside Iraq and this is difficult for the people. They can make fake checkpoints to check for the Christian, they can kill them in the checkpoint.”

“They call it a slow-motion genocide for the Christians inside Iraq. Because they are killing them day after day, 10 people in one day. Or maybe they will bomb a church. From 2003 until 2014 they used to bomb churches inside Mosul. They killed bishops and priests inside Mosul and even Baghdad and everywhere in Iraq. And the government cannot do anything for them.”

Despite the horrifying reality facing Iraq’s Christians, the Home Office has ruled against offering Sarmad asylum, claiming he can safely return to Kurdistan or Baghdad.

The decision is all the more astonishing as Sarmad’s older brother has already been granted UK asylum. As an ordained priest, who studied English in Britain, he was given refugee status in 2010 after bombs were planted outside the family home in Mosul.

“After he was ordained [and] it was advertised on the TV … we got a threatening letter to our house saying we will kill the Christians, we will bomb your churches and kill every Christian in the city, and they put his name as well in the threatening letter … After a few days, they put a bomb on the gate of the house.”

As Sarmad is an adult, and therefore not classified as a dependent, the British Home Office does not see the need to keep the brothers together, ruling he must return to his family in Erbil.

Sarmad graduated from the University of Mosul with a degree in engineering in 2013. After his arrival in Kurdistan he was awarded an Iraqi government scholarship to study his masters in the UK.

He moved to Britain in early 2015 to take English lessons before his course began. But as the violence intensified across Iraq, Sarmad’s state funding suddenly dried up. With no way to pay for his studies, and afraid to return to an increasingly hostile Iraq, he applied for asylum in Britain.

“I’m still appealing because it’s impossible to go back to a place with nothing. Our house is taken by ISIS. Everything taken by ISIS. Even our neighbors are now supporting ISIS. So how can I go to a place where they are all supporting ISIS? It’s like someone going back to die. That means if they want to send me back, they want to kill me.

“The situation there is unsafe and unstable. Even the Home Office admit that it is unstable inside Iraq and don’t advise anyone to travel to Iraq, but they want us to go back.”

Unable to plan beyond his next asylum hearing, trapped in a legal limbo, Sarmad laments the years and the opportunities robbed by the conflict and Britain’s unwillingness to guarantee his safety.

“I want to live as a normal person. I want to live normally. Because from 2014 until now, it’s two years, I’m just waiting and not doing anything. Our lives, all our Christian lives in Mosul, are ruined by ISIS and we are still not doing anything. We want to continue our lives.”