Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon unwilling to return home
Both host countries have ramped up pressure on refugees to leave in 2022
By News Desk - October 24 2022

(Photo Credit: Alexandre Rotenberg/Shutterstock)

Syrian refugees in Lebanon are preparing to return home as part of a new repatriation plan, as the first wave will be scheduled to move on Wednesday, 26 October. However, only a few refugees in dilapidated camps in the central Bekaa Valley were willing to register.

Human rights organizations fear that the plan may not be voluntary, as there is concern about a policy of coercion, which they say is already in practice in Turkey, where 3.6 million Syrians who have fled their country live.

In June 2022, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that 15,149 Syrian refugees had voluntarily returned to Syria in 2022.

Since the start of 2022, 11,645 people have returned through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and 8,404 through the Bab al-Salam border crossing northwest of the country, according to a report published by the Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Nearly 6,000 Syrian refugees will be repatriated to Syria, according to the Lebanese Minister of Displacement, Issam Sharafeddine.

Speaking to Reuters, Manal, 29, originally from the Deir Ezzor governorate, who lives a difficult life in the Lebanese Bekaa Valley camp, said, “How are you supposed to go while there is a war?”

“Syria is not safe for return,” said Diana Samaan, Syria researcher at Amnesty International. The organization concluded that those who returned before that were subjected to human rights violations, including detention, torture, and enforced disappearance.

Outgoing Lebanese President Michel Aoun announced on 12 October that the government would facilitate their voluntary return, resuming its role in returning some 400,000 people who fled the violence in the wake of the 2011 conflict.

Lebanese authorities discussed with Damascus whether any arrest warrants were issued against these individuals before providing them with cross-border transportation.

The UNHCR did not endorse this process, but its representatives were available to take refugee inquiries, potentially playing the same role this time.

Over the past two years, there has been an increase in racist and xenophobic attacks against foreigners, notably Syrians in Turkey.

Between February and August, HRW interviewed 37 Syrian men and two Syrian boys in Turkey who had been registered for temporary protection. HRW also interviewed seven relatives of Syrian refugee men and a refugee woman whom Turkish authorities deported to northern Syria during this time.

Most of the interviewees were arrested in Istanbul. The arresting officials sometimes introduced themselves as Turkish police officers, and all demanded to see the refugees’ identification documents.

“I cannot go back to the capital because it is too dangerous,” said Firas, 31, in a telephone interview. Firas, who is from Damascus, was deported from Turkey in July 2022 and is now living in Afrin in northern Syria. “There are clashes [in Afrin]. What do I do? Where do I go?”

In October 2021, HRW allegedly documented that refugees who returned to Syria between 2017 and 2021 from Lebanon and Jordan faced grave human rights abuses and persecution at the hands of the Syrian authorities, demonstrating that Syria is not safe for return.

Nevertheless, the UNHCR recorded the return of nearly 450,000 internally displaced persons in 2020 to areas controlled by the Syrian government.

On 20 October, Syria’s Faysal Mikdad thanked Russia for its role in helping Damascus with the return of migrants and refugees to the war-torn nation.

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