A report issued by the Northern Syrian Response Coordinators has contradicted Russian media reports that thousands of civilians have returned from Idleb province to areas under Assad regime control.
The team (volunteers concerned with documenting and offering statistics about displaced Syrians) said in a statement that “about 20 families, most of them from the Abou al-Dahour area in the Idleb countryside, have returned through the Abou al-Dahour crossing, which regime forces opened a few days ago.”
The statement denied Russian media reports of about 4,000 civilians leaving areas in Idleb for areas under the control of regime forces to then be transported to the al-Suqaylaybiyah area in the Hama countryside.
The response coordinators said that the departure of these families, who number about 150 individuals with agricultural equipment they own, provided momentum to the media to claim that a huge number had exited.
The report noted that “major fees had been imposed on the returning families by regime forces deployed in the area, and they were all subjected to duties on equipment by regime checkpoints in accordance with the following rates: 2 million Syrian pounds for a harvester, 1 million pounds for a Hyundai vehicle (medium transport), 600,000 pounds for a Porter-type car (small transport), 500,000 pounds for an agricultural tractor, and 15,000 for each head of sheep.”
The Response Coordinators said that “most of those leaving were elderly and were not wanted for compulsory or reserve service, while some of those shown by the Russian media to be leaving were already moving between regime areas and northern Syria, as most of them are employees and the retired, who are receiving their salaries from regime intermediaries in regime controlled institutions.”
The report said that “the propaganda published by Russia in regards to the situation in northern Syria and the status of Syrian refugees, and the pressures it is applying have not convinced everyone. They have tried to push the message that the regime is committed to the return of citizens.”
The report said that “more than 300,000 people were displaced from east of the train line during the attacks carried out by the Assad regime at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, and that their situation is severe. Some families have returned as a result of the so-called Russian guarantee and have been subjected to arrest, rape, and theft by regime militias.”
Last Monday, Russia announced the opening of the Abou al-Dahour crossing for civilians who wanted to leave opposition-controlled areas for regime areas. According to the Russian Sputnik agency, the crossing should stay open for five days.
Russia has intensified its efforts to return Syrian refugees to their country despite the dangers they face in Syria, foremost of which are the arrests and acts of revenge carried out by the regime against its opponents, in addition to the destruction of a large part of the infrastructure in the cities where the regime has carried out military operations, such as Aleppo and the Damascus countryside.
Moscow is also trying to popularize the idea of reconciliations in the Idleb countryside. It is a similar model to the one used in Ghouta and southern Syria.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.