Fears around Russian-backed Syrian repatriation
Syrian refugee groups and the UN’s refugee agency are concerned about a Russian-backed effort to repatriate Syrians who fled their country amid the civil war that has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced millions.
Russia’s special presidential envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev revealed the initiative speaking with Syrian government officials in the region.
Russia, a key backer of hardline Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, wants refugees to go home, though an ongoing conflict in Syria continues to kill and displace civilians.
The Syrian regime’s news agency SANA reported this week that hundreds of Syrians who had fled war in their homeland to neighbouring Lebanon returned to the country.
The reports said that after their arrival at the Jdeidet Yabous crossing on the border with Lebanon, the returnees were transported by government buses to their homes in the countryside around the capital Damascus.
Mr Lavrentiev has asked the international community to support the Russian initiative.
“We all understand that the Syrian government is not capable of rendering much financial assistance because of the situation. And we appeal to the international community to of course contribute to this, all countries,” he said.
The proposal includes the establishment of working groups in both Lebanon and Jordan, involving US and Russian officials.
Mr Lavrentiev claims hundreds of Syrian refugees are already returning daily to Syria even from countries such as Italy and Turkey, and the Russian media have reported a successful crackdown on terrorists by Russian-backed Syrian forces as the main reason why people return to Syria.
He pledged that innocent refugees would not face repercussions from Syria’s feared government forces and the diplomat urged Syrians to rebuild their war-ravaged nation.
But Syrian refugee groups have expressed doubts saying they fear conscription into the Syrian army.
And the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR shares their concerns. It said it has “not been involved in the repatriation discussions” and warned against forced and quick returns amid security concerns.
Lebanon hosts around 1.5 million Syrian refugees, of whom fewer than one million are registered with the UN.
In Jordan, there are 650,000 UN-registered Syrian refugees, but the government says it hosts some 1.3 million and has repeatedly called for more international support.
The conflict in Syria began in 2011 with a government crackdown on protesters before turning into a much more complex affair involving regional powers and jihadist groups.
AMES Australia Senior Journalist