Photo: Samer Bouidani/dpa/NTB Scanpix

A warning against mass returns to Syria

Roald Høvring|Published 12. Mar 2018
As the war in Syria enters its eighth year, thousands of Syrian refugees are at risk of a potentially life-threatening return to Syria.

The United States, Europe and Syria's neighbouring countries have been openly discussing sending Syrian refugees back to the war-torn country. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) warns against this and argues that the time is not right for a large-scale return of refugees.

According to a recent report by NRC and five other international aid organisations, approximately 66,000 refugees and 655,000 internally displaced people returned in 2017. However, for each family that returns, three new families were displaced as a result of the armed conflict in Syria.

We continue to indicate and insist that the conditions do not make it possible and that the time is not right for large-scale return. We emphasise the fundamental principle of international law; that refugees should only return when it is done in a voluntary, safe and dignified way. 

Below are eight reasons the time is not right for a large-scale return of Syrian refugees:

# 1: Miserable conditions in neighbouring countries force refugees to return.

Many of the more than five million Syrian refugees have endured miserable conditions for several years in neighbouring countries. Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, despite their hospitality, have not been able to integrate refugees, secure their rights, or provide them with housing, work, school and healthcare. Many refugees feel that, because of this, they will have no choice but to return to Syria. In spite of the terrible conditions, just 66,000 people chose to return to the war-torn country last year.

# 2: Refugees are being forced to return.

Jordanian authorities closed the border with Syria in spring 2016, and last year the government deported 400 refugees every month. In Turkey, which has also closed the border with Syria, many Syrian refugees feel the pressure to return.

# 3: Europe denies any responsibility for refugees.

About one million Syrian refugees have applied for asylum in Europe. After 2015, European countries closed their borders and have only been willing to accept three per cent of the Syrian refugees the UN wishes to resettle in third countries. At the same time, many European countries are reluctant to assist the host countries in the areas surrounding Syria.

# 4: The war in Syria still forces people to flee.

The war in Syria has lasted seven years and is far from over. In the first nine months of 2017, 2.4 million people were displaced from their homes. That is equivalent to 8,000 each day. About 629,000 of them fled to one of Syria’s neighbouring countries. For each family returning, three new families were displaced as a result of fighting in Syria. The UN estimates that 1.5 million people will be displaced in 2018.

# 5. Those who return are forced to flee again

An increasing number of displaced people are forced to return to demolished neighbourhoods. In 2017, 721,000 displaced people returned to their homes. Of these, 66,000 were refugees and 655,000 were internally displaced. About 37,000 of those who returned were forced to leave their homes again in 2017.

# 6: Those who return depend on humanitarian assistance.

More than 13 million, or seven out of ten people in Syria, need humanitarian aid. About 1.75 million children between the ages of five and seventeen lack access to formal education. Nearly seven out of ten people live in extreme poverty. Half of the workforce is out of work.

# 7: There must be more money earmarked for reconstruction before people can return.

More than ten million people live in areas where the basic infrastructure has been destroyed. About a third of all homes and schools, and about half of all health institutions, have been damaged or completely destroyed in the conflict. According to the World Bank, reconstruction is set to cost close to USD $180 billion.

# 8: Lack of political solutions.

Before funds can be granted for reconstruction, the parties to the conflict and foreign donors must enter into political agreements. Political solutions to the conflict in Syria are vital, and western countries must put money on the table for reconstruction. Meanwhile, we must continue to provide aid to those in need.