Jan Egeland, the Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), denied having discussed the issue of repatriating refugees to Syria during a meeting with Faisal al-Mekdad, the Syrian regime’s foreign minister. The meeting was held a few days ago in Damascus.
On Monday, Egeland claimed in a tweet that the meeting’s purpose was “to discuss improving the humanitarian conditions of civilians and displaced persons inside Syria, given the increasing need for these efforts.”
“We are talking to the de facto authorities, to explore whether there are needs that have not been met,” Egeland said, adding: “I have not addressed the issue of the repatriating refugees.”
“It is very frustrating to see reports that “Egeland discusses the repatriation of refugees in Damascus” under al-Assad’s portrait, and shakes hands with ministers of a regime responsible for one of the worst humanitarian crises of the century,” said Egeland.
On December 9, the Syrian News Agency (SANA) reported that Egeland and Mekdad discussed “ways to strengthen cooperation between the Syrian government and NRC.”
As reported by SANA, Mekdad urged the NRC to “make every effort to alleviate the pain and suffering of refugees, facilitate their return to their country, and continue lobbying to remove any artificial obstacles to their safe and voluntary return.” The Syrian regime is taking every opportunity to invite Syrian refugees back to Syria and send assurances that the government is ready for their return. These comments were made despite the fact that residents in regime-controlled areas lack basic living and economic standards to meet the simplest daily needs.
Amnesty International said that a number of Syrian refugees who have returned home have been arrested, disappeared, and tortured by Syrian regime forces, proving that it remains unsafe for Syrian refugees to return.
In a September 7 report entitled “You’re going to die,” Amnesty documented violations committed by Syrian intelligence officers against 66 returnees, including 13 children, between mid-2017 and spring 2021.
Of these 66 returnees, five have died — having been held in custody after returning to Syria — while 17 remained forcibly disappeared.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.