On March 6, members of AfD took to social media to illustrate their trip to Syria, showing pictures of Damascus and posing with allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
According to Deutsche Welle (DW), the group is comprised of four Bundestag MPs as well as three state parliamentarians from the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW).
Helmut Seifen, the deputy leader of the AfD's parliamentary party in the NRW state parliament, told DW that during the trip to Syria the seven-man team aims to determine "whether there is war everywhere, or if there are safe areas as well," at the same time adding that MPs would likely only travel to "safe" areas.
"The goal of the trip is to thoroughly inquire on-site about the humanitarian situation and reconstruction work in areas which have been liberated from terrorists," the party said in a statement cited by German news magazine Der Spiegel, adding that the trip was taken due to a lack of trust in media coverage of the conflict.
Meeting With Assad Ally
On March 5, the delegation held a meeting with Syrian Grand Mufti Ahmad Hassoun, who reportedly called for Syrian refugees to return home. Christian Blex, an AfD parliamentarian from NRW, posted a picture from the meeting, having mistakenly written on Twitter that Hassoun had "emphasized how important the separation of religion and church is."
According to DW, later it was clarified that the Grand Mufti had called for "the separation of religion and state." Furthermore, in his tweet Blex “asked” Chancellor Angela Merkel to invite the mufti to Germany.
Treffen mit dem Großmufti, Ihre Exzellenz Dr. Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun. Betont, wie wichtig Trennung von Religion und Kirche ist! Ruft Syrer in Deutschland zur Rückkehr auf. Würde d. Aufruf auch von Berlin aus machen! Frau Merkel, laden Sie ihn doch mal zu sich ein. #syrienreise pic.twitter.com/7KdzrmfK2x— Dr. Christian Blex (@ChristianBlex) 5 марта 2018 г.
‘Blue Jeans Instead of a Black Veil’
"We have lived through the harshness of war in Germany before and we are still aware of the suffering it brings. We were surprised when we saw people going about their normal lives in Damascus," Blex told reporters, according to the pro-Syrian government news website Tishreen.
Belebter Mittagsverkehr mit sehr vielen Taxis in #Damaskus. Herzlicher Empfang. Man merkt, dass die Menschen uns Deutschen erzählen möchten, was in ihrem Land passiert ist. Gerade erfahren: Medizinische Geräte wie Prothesen kommen durch EU-Sanktionen nicht mehr an! #Syrienreise pic.twitter.com/zwsTYr58i2— Dr. Christian Blex (@ChristianBlex) 5 марта 2018 г.
The MP was thunderstruck by the fact that some women wear jeans in the country.
"Blue jeans instead of a black veil! Women sit in bars. Barely imaginable in Mecca — also sadly not in Berlin-Neukölln […]"
Syrische Frauen in #Damaskus. Blue Jeans statt schwarze Schleier! Frauen sitzen in Bars. In Mekka kaum vorstellbar — in Berlin-Neukölln leider auch nicht. Und die Regierung unterstützt "Rebellen", die solche Frauen unter die Burka pressen wollen. Schande. #syrienreise pic.twitter.com/al9dXTSwLy— Dr. Christian Blex (@ChristianBlex) 5 марта 2018 г.
Auf dem Basar in #Damaskus. Alltag pur. Moderne Geschäfte. Frauen mit und ohne Kopftuch. Kaum zu glauben, dass jetzt zigtausend syrische Männer in Deutschland sind und auch noch ihre Familien nachholen sollen… #Syrienreise pic.twitter.com/BqqvYpkH1T— Dr. Christian Blex (@ChristianBlex) 6 марта 2018 г.
At the same time, some Syrians reminded the group of the plight in the Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus, with a journalist Yaacob Kaddoury sarcastically writing on Facebook:
"That's it guys, our demand to wear tight jeans has been granted and that means all our problems have been solved… let's return home! Let the chips fall as they may."
The parliamentarians’ trip to Syria has raised concerns among German Green party MPs, with lawmaker Konstantin von Notz tweeting that the AfD politicians were acting like "Assad fan boys."
Last year AfD proposed to designate Syria as a safe country of origin, insisting that the war in the country was coming to an end and that Germany should start talks with President Assad to repatriate Syrian refugees.
Founded in February 2013, the AfD’s primary focus was on the opposition to bailouts of European Union member states like Greece, mired in economic crisis and debts. Over time, the right-wing party has evolved into an anti-immigration party. The AfD strongly condemns Chancellor Merkel’s “open-door” policy towards refugees from Africa and the Middle East, which has welcomed more than 1.5 million migrants since 2015.