Involuntary Returns: Syrian Refugees Face Increasing Pressure to Return Home
The re-establishment of diplomatic ties between Arab countries and Syria has put the repatriation of Syrian refugees at the forefront of discussions. However, this prospect has instilled fear among many Syrians who have sought refuge abroad, particularly in Lebanon. human rights groups have raised concerns about the dangers faced by Syrians who return to their war-torn homeland. This article sheds light on the persecution faced by Syrians worldwide and the specific challenges faced by Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Persecution and Forced Repatriation:
Millions of Syrians fled their country during the 12-year-long war, seeking safety in neighboring states like Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan. The recent restoration of diplomatic relations with Bashar al-Assad has alarmed many refugees, as it raises the possibility of losing their safe havens and being coerced into abandoning the lives they have rebuilt with great effort. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have long warned about the risks associated with returning Syrians to areas under government control, where arbitrary detention, torture, disappearances, and extrajudicial executions are prevalent.
Perils of Return:
International law prohibits the forced return of individuals to places where they would face persecution or serious human rights violations. While Arab leaders talk about voluntary and safe returns, these discussions have caused panic among Syrian populations. the rhetoric of voluntary and safe return is often a guise for making it difficult for refugees to stay in their host countries or forcibly sending them back. This situation has raised concerns about the welfare and safety of Syrian refugees, who fear persecution upon their return.
Lebanon’s Deportation Raids:
Lebanon, a country of around four million people before the Syrian war, has been significantly impacted by the influx of approximately 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Unlike Turkey and Jordan, Lebanon did not establish formal refugee camps and implemented restrictive labor laws that limited employment opportunities for Syrians. In recent months, Lebanese security forces have conducted deportation raids, sending more than 1,700 Syrian refugees back to Syria, a country still engulfed in war and under repressive government control. These deportations have become more systematic, raising concerns about the safety and well-being of the affected individuals.
Turkish and Jordanian Perspectives:
In Turkey, which hosts over 3.3 million Syrian refugees, the issue of repatriation became prominent during the recent elections. The opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, prominently displayed billboards proclaiming “Syrians will go!” before the election. While President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won re-election, Jordan, with over 650,000 registered Syrian refugees, has also advocated for a plan to facilitate the return of refugees, hosting discussions with Arab foreign ministers to explore possibilities.
Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugees:
A recent survey conducted by the United Nations refugee agency revealed that only a small percentage of Syrian refugees expressed plans to return to Syria in the next year. Many refugees have built new lives in their host countries and are hesitant to abandon the safety and opportunities they have found. However, with Arab countries re-establishing ties with the Syrian government, the prospect of forced returns creates anxiety and uncertainty among refugees.