The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, emphasized that the UN agency is actively involved in a dialogue with the Syrian government regarding the establishment of suitable conditions for the return of Syrian refugees. He underscored the significant presence of Palestinian and Syrian refugees in Lebanon, where one in four people belongs to these communities.
During a briefing to the UN Security Council, Grandi elaborated on the measures being taken, which encompass ensuring that the Syrian government is fully aware of the rights and protection owed to refugees. Additionally, they are focused on facilitating refugees’ access to essential services, housing, and international support.
Grandi pointed out that despite humanitarian efforts expanding to reach more individuals in various regions, there has been insufficient political investment in peacemaking. He stressed the ongoing endeavors in Syria to establish conditions conducive to the voluntary return of Syrian refugees.
Grandi also highlighted the urgent need for $600 million by the year’s end to support UNHCR’s initiatives. He expressed concerns about the challenging outlook for 2024, as major donors are reducing aid, and multilateral support is lacking.
Both the United Nations and the international community maintain that the current situation in Syria is unsuitable for the safe and voluntary return of refugees. The UN Independent Commission of Inquiry has emphasized that insecurity remains widespread in areas distant from conflict zones, rendering the safe return of Syrian refugees improbable.
The UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria has documented specific cases in which Syrian refugees returning from neighboring countries faced mistreatment by the Syrian government’s security forces. Some were extorted for their release, while others were detained by security services. Many, including children, remain missing to this day.
Notwithstanding these challenges, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has repeatedly announced its commitment to engage with the Syrian government to create favourable conditions for the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland.
In March, the High Commissioner for Refugees faced criticism from Syrian and Western activists for his visit to Syria and his meetings with President Bashar al-Assad and government ministers. After visiting Latakia and Hama governorates, the UN official acknowledged the substantial efforts made by the Syrian government and civil society organizations in providing aid and relief to those affected by an earthquake.
Early Return Programs
In September 2022, prominent international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, appealed to the United Nations to halt initiatives that might “encourage the premature and unsafe repatriation of Syrian refugees” to their home country. They emphasized that Syria remains “unsafe for repatriation.”
These organizations disclosed that a “Strategic Framework” had been exclusively agreed upon between the Syrian government and the United Nations, with no involvement from other nations. They clarified that this framework “comprises a comprehensive section dedicated to refugee returns, and there is an emerging emphasis on early recovery efforts in areas where a significant number of returns may be expected.”
In a letter addressed to the United Nations, the organizations reported that they had “verified, in April 2022, the existence of a confidentially maintained regional roadmap supporting the repatriation of Syrian refugees. This roadmap had been devised by the UN-led Working Group on Return and Reintegration in Damascus.”
According to the signed agreement, the Syrian government gains significant authority in determining how, where, and when UN-assisted repatriation initiatives should be executed, as stated by these organizations.
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.