Why It’s Far Too Early to Talk of Return for Syrian Refugees

In News by MIIC

Syrians who had fled their hometown due to the fighting carry their belongings upon their return to Aleppo’s Myassar neighborhood in April 2017. AFP/George OURFALIAN

Since 2011, some 5 million Syrians have fled from the armed conflict in their homeland and sought refuge abroad, the largest numbers of them going to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. But that massive exodus has now slowed to a trickle, and there are growing signs that some of the refugees may be ready to return to Syria.

In July, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that up to 450,000 uprooted Syrians had returned to their places of origin in the first six months of the year. While the vast majority of this number had been displaced within Syria, the organization said that it had also monitored the return of more than 30,000 refugees from neighboring countries during the same period. There was, the UNHCR concluded, “a notable trend of spontaneous returns to and within Syria.”

Other agencies concur with this assessment. According to NGOs working in the region, in June around 200 refugees were repatriating each day from Turkey to Jarabulus in northern Syria, an area liberated from ISIS by Turkish-backed rebels. In the same month, an additional 30,000 refugees crossed the border into Syria to celebrate the end of Ramadan, most of them then returning to Turkey.

These developments have served the interests of several key stakeholders in the Syrian situation. Jordan and Lebanon have long tired of the refugees’ presence on their territory, citing the unbearable pressure that it places on their economy, environment and infrastructure, as well as the threat that Syrians allegedly pose to local and national security. Both countries have effectively closed their borders to new arrivals from Syria, and are increasingly anxious to see the day when those who have already been admitted make their way home in large numbers.

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