Dublin vigil calls for accountability for thousands of ‘disappeared’ in Syria

Estimated 82,000 people have been forcibly disappeared since war broke out in 2011

Members of the Irish Syria Solidarity Movement (ISSM) have protested in Dublin to draw attention to the thousands of people that have "disappeared" in Syria under the Assad regime. Video: Sorcha Pollak


Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees could face imprisonment, torture, rape and death if they are forced to return to their home country and live under the Assad regime, activists have warned.

Placards covered with photos of Syrian men, women and children greeted commuters travelling past Busáras on their journey home on Thursday evening. Members of the Irish Syria Solidarity Movement (ISSM) gathered at the depot to show support for the families of the many thousands who have disappeared during the civil war.

Faces of smiling children peered out from images dotted around the Amnesty International Universal Links human rights monument as one hundred names of missing Syrians were read out over a loudspeaker. The short vigil in Dublin’s city centre was held in solidarity with the ‘Families for Freedom group’ which is calling for answers and information on the estimated 82,000 people who have ‘disappeared’ without a trace since the war broke out in Syria in 2011.

ISSM is now calling on the Irish Government to raise the plight of the Syrian ‘disappeared’ in its campaign to win a seat on the UN Security Council.

Last month, the Syrian Government released the death certificates of hundreds of people who were forcibly disappeared during the conflict, publicly acknowledging for the first time that these people died while in detention. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of men, women and children still remain unaccounted for.

Detention centres

In 2014, more than 50,000 images by a defector known as ‘Caesar’ exposed to the world the brutal torture and killings of detainees caught up in Syrian detention centres. However, most of the death certificates released last month recorded heart attack as cause of death, says Leonie O’Dowd from ISSM.

“We’ve known for a long time that torture and rape were used in Assad’s prisons,” said Ms O’Dowd who took part in Thursday’s vigil. “These are predominantly men but there are women and children in prisons too. Sometimes whole families are disappeared and then there’s the dreadful stories of children being tortured and raped so the father will give himself in.”

The mass detention and torture of innocent people during the Syrian civil war has turned into a “massacre”, said Ms O’Dowd.

“It’s extermination and elimination. When Assad takes over an area he buses the extremists out and then the local people, particularly activists but anybody who has lived there actually, disappear, are detained and forcibly conscripted. That’s what we expect to happen if refugees are forced to return, that’s the fact that awaits them. It’s absolutely not safe to go back.”

Ms O’Dowd says Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s “sophisticated propaganda campaign” of fighting a war against extremism is just a cover up for the mass atrocities he is carrying out on Syrian civilians.

“Assad doesn’t actually bomb the extremists, he bombs civilians. That’s his tactic. On the one hand everybody knows this and on the other hand nobody cares. It’s extraordinary how little anybody cares about this. It’s gone off the agenda.”