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Syria Today – Arab-U.S. Meeting; Refugees in Jordan “Fearful and Apprehensive”

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Arab-U.S. Meeting; Refugees in Jordan “Fearful and Apprehensive”

On Wednesday, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken convened a “strategic dialogue” at the State Department in Washington to address the Syrian “regime” issue. Concurrently, media reports shed light on the anxieties and worries expressed by Syrian refugees in Jordan regarding the potential of being compelled to return to Syria. These concerns highlight the profound apprehensions over the safety and stability of their war-torn homeland, especially under the authoritarian rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Arab League, US officials meet to tackle Syrian issue

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a “strategic dialogue” at the State Department in Washington on Wednesday to discuss the Syrian “regime.”

Ahead of the meeting, Gheit expressed the Arab League’s commitment to strengthening its relationship with the United States, as reported by The National.

Following the meeting, a State Department official informed The National that Blinken conveyed to Gheit that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was not deserving of readmission to the Arab League.

The discussions revolved around shaping the engagement of Arab states with the Syrian “regime,” with a particular focus on urging al-Assad to facilitate humanitarian access, resume political processes, release detainees, and address the issue of captagon trafficking.

The US official emphasized that the dialogue with the Arab League demonstrated the potential for enhanced collaboration and deepened cooperation.

They fled Syria’s shattering civil war. Now, Syrian refugees in Jordan fear being forced to return

In a long report, AP highlighted the fear and apprehension expressed by Syrian refugees in Jordan regarding the possibility of being forced to return to Syria highlighting the deep concerns over the safety and stability of their war-torn homeland under the authoritarian rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian refugees in Jordan are expressing fear and apprehension over the possibility of being forced to return to Syria. As regional talks aimed at ending Syria’s isolation took place, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to allow 1,000 Syrian refugees living in Jordan to return home, which was seen as a test case for larger repatriation efforts. While Jordan’s top diplomat spoke of voluntary returns, panic spread among the Syrian community in east Amman, where many have built new lives since fleeing their war-torn country.

The prospect of returning to a shattered Syria under the authoritarian rule of Assad has left many Syrian refugees terrified. Despite public hostility and economic difficulties in neighbouring countries, the number of registered Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon has remained relatively stable for the past seven years. Lebanon and Turkey have even started deporting hundreds of Syrians since April, a move considered a violation of international law.

Jordan, which has been praised for its acceptance of millions of Palestinian, Iraqi, and Syrian refugees, is also shifting its approach. The “Jordan Initiative,” introduced in May to encourage cooperation with Assad on refugee returns and illicit drug trafficking, signals a change in the country’s stance from accommodating host to advocating for sending refugees home. Human rights groups argue that it is still unsafe for refugees to return to Syria due to arbitrary detention, disappearance, and extrajudicial killings. The conflict has resulted in a collapsed economy, bread lines, currency devaluation, and electricity shortages.

While Jordanian security forces have not increased deportation raids in recent months, the government has expelled tens of thousands of Syrians over the years, often on allegations of crimes or failure to register. The historical context of these deportations raises concerns among Syrian refugees in Jordan, who have witnessed the repercussions firsthand. The re-embrace of Assad by Jordan adds to the mistrust and unease among the Syrian community.

The fear of long-term displacement is reminiscent of the experience of Jordan’s Palestinian population, who fled or were displaced during the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948. The longer refugees stay, the less likely they are to return, and this prospect worries Jordan, given its 2.2 million Palestinians.

Only a small number of Syrian refugees in Jordan are voluntarily returning home, with just 4,013 individuals in 2022, according to UN figures. A survey conducted by the UN refugee agency in February revealed that only 1.1% of respondents across the region intended to return to Syria in the next year, indicating that the conditions for return are not currently conducive.

While the Jordanian government claims that all returns will be voluntary, the line between voluntary and forced returns can be blurred. In some cases, refugees were deported for alleged work violations, and their relatives who followed them to Syria due to loss of income were then registered as voluntary returnees. Elderly Syrians who express a desire to return often do so with the expectation of spending their final years in their homeland.

Overall, Syrian refugees in Jordan remain apprehensive about the prospect of returning to a war-torn and unstable Syria under Assad’s rule.

Türkiye’s Syria Policy after Erdoğan’s Win

The Crisis Group has published an article arguing that the re-election of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has alleviated concerns among Syrian refugees in Turkey regarding a potential shift in Ankara’s policy towards Damascus. However, while maintaining stability for the refugees in the short term, the status quo leaves them in a state of uncertainty, caught between irreconcilable objectives and strategies of the involved parties in the ongoing Syrian conflict. Turkey’s complex involvement in Syria, including its military presence and conflict with the SDF, necessitates a diplomatic approach to address security concerns and outline a long-term vision for the territories it controls. The choices made by Turkey will have a significant impact on the Syrian conflict and the fate of millions of Syrians in Turkey and protected areas.

According to the article, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s re-election has eased concerns among many Syrian refugees in Turkey that Ankara’s policy toward Damascus would change at their expense. With Erdoğan remaining in power for another term, Turkey intends to maintain its military presence in parts of northern Syria and keep the majority of Syrian refugees in Turkey for the time being. Although discussions between Turkey and Damascus about renewing ties have taken place, Erdoğan’s new cabinet includes officials who view Syria as a significant national security concern, which makes a dramatic shift in approach unlikely. While the status quo provides temporary stability for Syrian refugees and those displaced in northern Syria, it also leaves them in a state of limbo, subject to the uncertainties of a war in which the involved parties have irreconcilable objectives and lack clear strategies.

The article argues that Turkey’s involvement in Syria is complex due to its shared border, hosting of millions of Syrian refugees, and conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its Syrian affiliate, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Turkey aims to prevent further refugee influxes and weaken SDF control in northeastern Syria. Its military actions, including incursions and drone strikes, have not significantly reduced the SDF’s influence. While Turkey has engaged in discussions with Damascus, it remains skeptical that the Syrian regime can address its security concerns satisfactorily, such as preventing refugee influxes and addressing PKK attacks from northeastern Syria.

Erdoğan’s re-election implies that Turkey’s Syria policy will likely remain unchanged. Syrians who feared the consequences of an opposition victory may find some relief in his win. However, supporters of the regime or the SDF have less to celebrate. Turkey’s priorities in Syria, particularly addressing the SDF threat and preventing a regime offensive in Idlib, will persist. Erdoğan is unlikely to present a long-term vision for Turkey’s Syria policy, given the uncertainty surrounding the endgame in Syria and the influence of other key actors. This leaves Syrian refugees and internally displaced individuals in a state of uncertainty.

In conclusion, while a policy shift is unlikely, it would be beneficial for Turkey to explore diplomatic avenues to achieve its goals, especially regarding the SDF. Military means alone rarely resolve political problems, and Turkey needs a plausible long-term vision for the territories it controls in northeastern Syria. Turkey could articulate conditions for reducing tensions and explore possibilities for detente with the SDF. The choices Turkey makes will shape the course of the Syrian conflict and affect the fate of millions of Syrians in Turkey and areas protected by Turkish forces.

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