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Returning Syrians facing death and torture – Amnesty report

22 September 20210 comments

Syrians returning home after seeking refuge in neighbouring countries have suffered detention, disappearance and torture, including sexual violence, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

The report, titled “You’re going to your death”, documented a catalogue of horrific violations committed by Syrian intelligence officers against 66 returnees, including 13 children.

Among the cases are there deaths of five detainees, Amnesty said. And the fate of 17 more forcibly disappeared people remains unknown.

The report comes as some countries, including Denmark, Sweden and Turkey, have restricted protections extended ton Syrian refuges and put pressure on the to go home.

Amnesty says the report is proof that no part of Syria is safe to return to. Returnees told the organisation that intelligence officers explicitly targeted them for their decision to flee Syria, accusing them of disloyalty or “terrorism.”

“Military hostilities may have subsided, but the Syrian government’s propensity for egregious human rights violations has not. The torture, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary or unlawful detention which forced many Syrians to seek asylum abroad are as rife as ever in Syria today,” the report said.

“What’s more, the very fact of having fled Syria is enough to put returnees at risk of being targeted by authorities,” it said.

Marie Forestier, Researcher on Refugee and Migrants Rights at Amnesty International Marie Forestier said that Syria was a not a safe place for refugees to return to.

“Any government claiming Syria is now safe is wilfully ignoring the horrific reality on the ground, leaving refugees once again fearing for their lives,” Ms Forestier said.

“We are urging European governments to grant refugee status to people from Syria, and immediately halt any practice directly or indirectly forcing people to return to Syria. The governments of Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan must protect Syrian refugees from deportation or any other forcible return, in line with their international obligations,” she said.

Amnesty International’s report documents serious human rights violations committed by the Syrian government against refugees who returned to Syria from Lebanon, form Rukban – the informal settlement on the border between the Jordanian and Syria – France, Germany, Turkey, Jordan and UAE.

The study was carried between mid-2017 and spring 2021 and is based on interviews with 41 Syrians, including returnees and their relatives and friends, as well as lawyers, humanitarian workers and Syria experts.

The report says Syrian authorities have targeted returnees to Syria, accusing those who fled the country of treason or supporting “terrorism”.

Amnesty documented 24 cases where men, women and children were targeted as a direct result of these perceptions, and subjected to human rights violations including rape or other forms of sexual violence, arbitrary or unlawful detention, and torture or other ill-treatment.

In some cases returnees were targeted simply because they came from parts of Syria that had been under opposition control.

The Amnesty report said the punishments for people who fall foul of the government are particularly brutal.

It documented 14 cases of sexual violence committed by security forces, including seven cases of rape, committed against five women, a teenage boy and a five-year-old girl.

Sexual violence took place at border crossings or in detention centres, during questioning. Testimonies are consistent with well-documented patterns of sexual violence and rape committed against civilians and detainees during the conflict by pro-government forces. 

The report said some families chose for women to return to Syria ahead of their husbands, assuming they would be less likely to be arrested than men – partly because women are not subject to compulsory military service. 

However, Amnesty International documented the arbitrary or unlawful detention of 13 women, some of whom were interrogated about their male relatives, and of ten children, aged between three weeks old and 16 years old, who were arrested along with their mothers.

Security forces subjected five children to torture and other-ill treatment. Women are as much at risk as men when they return to Syria, and should therefore be granted the same level of protection. 

In total, Amnesty documented 59 cases of men, women and children who were arbitrarily detained after returning to Syria.

In 33 cases, returnees were subjected to torture or other ill-treatment during detention or interrogation. Intelligence officers used torture to coerce detainees into confessing to alleged crimes, to punish them for allegedly committing crimes, or to punish them for alleged opposition to the government.