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Syria Today – Safadi in Damascus; Lebanon Calls for Return of Refugees; Public Servants Resign en Masse

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
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Syria Today – Safadi in Damascus; Lebanon Calls for Return of Refugees; Public Servants Resign en Masse

The foreign minister of Jordan urged for global investment in Syria’s devastated infrastructure on Monday, with the aim of expediting the return of refugees to the war-torn country. Similarly, Lebanese Defense Minister Maurice Slim called upon France to assist Lebanon in repatriating Syrian refugees to their home country. Concurrently, there has been a significant wave of resignations by public servants in Lattkaia, with a staggering count of 900 resignations since the beginning of 2023.

Jordan’s FM Calls for Investment into War-Torn Syria to Speed up Refugee Returns

Jordan’s foreign minister Monday called for international investment into conflict-ravaged Syria’s crippled infrastructure to speed up refugee returns, Asharq al-Awsat reported.

Ayman Safadi made the remarks during a visit to the capital Damascus, where he met with Syrian President Bashar Assad and his counterpart, Faisal Mekdad.

“We have offered everything we can to ensure them a dignified life,” Safadi said at a news conference following his meetings. “But what we are sure of is that the refugees’ futures lie in their country.”

The Jordanian foreign minister said that securing critical infrastructure and basic necessities will speed up voluntary refugee returns, especially as international aid for refugees continues to decline.

Assad in a statement released by his office echoed similar sentiments, saying that investment in infrastructure and reconstruction would create the “best environment” for refugee returns.

“We reaffirm that the refugee file is a solely humanitarian and moral issue that should not be politicized in any way,” the statement read.

Anti-refugee sentiment has soared in Lebanon and Türkiye, two other neighbouring countries hosting Syrian refugees.

But while government-held Syria receives humanitarian aid through United Nations agencies, Western-led sanctions have made it difficult for Damascus to fix electricity, water and other infrastructure decimated in the conflict and more recently by a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake in February.

Safadi’s meetings with Mekdad and Assad also discussed the humanitarian crisis in Syria, steps toward a political solution to the conflict, and drug smuggling, which has become a lucrative industry in the economically shattered country.

Poor wages push more workers to resign in Syria’s Lattakia

The number of applied resignations from the public sector has reached 900 since early 2023, most pushed by poor wages, the head of the Workers’ Union in Latakia Governorate, on the Syrian coast, revealed on Monday.

In a statement to the pro-government al-Watan newspaper, Moneim Othman, head of the Workers’ Union in Latakia, said that most of the applied resignations are for workers, who do hard and tough jobs, or those who incur big transportation expenses due to far distances between their workplaces and residencies.

Workers, who resign, secure other jobs either on agricultural land or in shops or taxis or other jobs that at least save transportation expenses, according to Othman.

He added that workers have the right to resign, but the Union is not the party to accept or reject the resignation, but those for which they work, noting that many resignations have been rejected due to their impacts on workflow.

There are about 85,000 workers in both public and private sectors in Latakia, according to the official, who stressed that the issue of increasing resignations should be solved through improving the living conditions of the workers.

He noted that the Workers’ Union always calls for increasing the monthly wages by about ten folds in order for the workers to be able to secure their basics amid the dire economic conditions witnessed in the country.

He said, “We have been calling for an increase in wages for the poor workers, who cannot do their duties or offer for costs of clothes for their children.”

He confirmed that the increase in wages should be adequate in order to enable workers to secure all their families’ needs thus they can dedicate themselves full time to their work in a way that serves the work without being busy thinking about how to secure their basics.

Syria’s recovery is likely to be very long and difficult

Iranian scholar Majid Rafizadeh wrote an op-ed for Arab News in which he argues that Syria’s socioeconomic recovery will not be smooth and swift. For him, there are several reasons and obstacles that point to the premise that there is going to be a long road ahead for Syria as it seeks to implement a meaningful and substantial recovery that will benefit the majority of the Syrian people.”

In his views, while Syria’s readmission to the Arab League and the latest diplomatic rapprochements between Damascus and the Gulf states are indeed steps in the right direction, a lot of work remains to be done if the Syrian government truly desires to lead its nation into peace and prosperity.”

One reason for the rising violence in southern Syria is drug smuggling. There has been a surge in drug trading and smuggling recently. In addition, Daesh has not completely vanished from Syria and operates in scattered areas such as Deraa and the Syrian desert.

In addition to heightened insecurity and the drug smuggling issue, it is critical to note that Syria’s path to recovery is multifaceted and complex. For one thing, the economy is crippled after years of conflict, which has inflicted an unimaginable degree of devastation. Syria’s gross domestic product has shrunk by more than half and its currency has lost a significant portion of its value, leading the World Bank to rank it as a low-income country.

Rafizadeh sees that in spite of the fact that Syria has recently been experiencing positive developments, such as being readmitted into the Arab League and improving its ties with the Gulf nations, Damascus’ route to full socio-economic recovery is going to be extremely difficult and will most likely take a very long time.”

The ICJ can slow down Assad’s normalisation drive

The case filed against the Syrian regime may not immediately result in justice for its victims, but it will undermine attempts to rehabilitate it, according to Al-Jazeera columnist Mark Kersten. 

In his op-ed, Kersten writes that the announcement that Canada and the Netherlands have begun legal proceedings against Syria at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is especially noteworthy. 

Ottawa has said it is seeking to hold Damascus accountable under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, ‘for the countless human rights violations it has inflicted on the Syrian people since 2011’.”

Kersten argues that the move by Canada and the Netherlands may end up being largely symbolic. But symbols matter. Justice is not always measured in outcomes; the process also matters. Even with the attention of the West focused on the situation in Ukraine, the ICJ case shows that Canada and the Netherlands are firmly in the corner of the victims and survivors of the Assad regime’s violence.

Keeping the hope alive that justice will eventually catch up with Assad might not prevent his political rehabilitation, but it could slow it down. The decision to bring Syria to the ICJ over its campaign of torture should help close the political space available to those who might otherwise consider doing business with Assad.

Kersten concludes that the Dutch and Canadian move at the ICJ means Assad will continue to be hounded by allegations of atrocities. It means that Syria’s victims and survivors will remain relevant in both the public consciousness and the international courtroom.

The process of achieving accountability, he adds, is often winding and painfully slow. But because of efforts like Canada’s and the Netherlands’, maybe, just maybe, the space around Assad will one day shrink and his friends will grow tired of rubbing shoulders with a war criminal par excellence. When that day comes, justice for Syria will move from a mirage to a distinct possibility.

Lebanon calls on France to support Syrian refugees’ return to homeland

Lebanese Defense Minister Maurice Slim on Monday called on France to support Lebanon in returning Syrian refugees to their homeland, the National News Agency reported.

“We call on France to convey Lebanon’s message to the international community about returning Syrian refugees to their homeland,” Slim said during his meeting in Beirut with Joelle Garriaud-Maylam, a member of the French Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Armed Forces.

Slim called on the international community to take necessary steps to support the Lebanese appeal for the return of the displaced Syrians to their country.

The Lebanese minister also praised the continuous French support for Lebanon and the initiatives to find solutions to its ongoing crises.

For her part, Maylam expressed her confidence in “the ability of the Lebanese to overcome the crisis that weighs heavily on Lebanon,” affirming “France’s permanent support for Lebanon in various fields, especially the military one.”

Families of thousands missing in Syria draw some hope from U.N. push to find loved ones

The Associated Press publishes stories about missing people in Syria and their families. 

In her small apartment in opposition-held Idlib in northwest Syria, Umm Mohammed is depressed and lethargic. But when her phone rings or someone knocks on the door she becomes suddenly alert. Maybe, finally, her husband has come back.

In 2013, Syrian soldiers broke into the couple’s home in Damascus as they were having breakfast, she said. She and her husband had previously taken part in anti-government protests.

“They beat him up in front of my young daughter” and then took him away, said Umm Mohammed, or “mother of Mohammed,” the name of her oldest son. She did not want to give her own full name for fear the authorities would harm her husband if he is still alive.”

The U.N. General Assembly voted Thursday to form an independent international institution to search for the missing in Syria in government and opposition-held areas.

The newly created institution would collect information from families, Syrian civil society organizations, whistleblowers, U.N. agencies, and through inquiries to the Syrian government and authorities in opposition-held areas.

In recent years, whistleblowers and defectors have come forth with some information, including the so-called Caesar photos, a trove of 53,000 images taken in Syrian prisons and military hospitals. The photos showed the bodies of detainees with signs of torture.

Setting up an international body would be a significant move in a region scarred by war, where tens of thousands of families in neighbouring countries are waiting for information about their loved ones.

Investigating their fate should also pave the way for addressing other human rights issues in Syria, including the dire conditions for political prisoners.

Umm Mohammad is less hopeful of getting information about her husband from Syrian authorities. Assad has denied holding political prisoners, labelling the opposition as terrorists. Direct cooperation with Syria by investigators could also be difficult because it does not extradite its citizens.

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