Quarter million Syrian refugees could return next year, UN predicts

Some neighbouring host countries are applying pressure on refugees to leave

Syrians in Beirut, Lebanon, preparing to return to their homeland. Photograph: Jamal Saidi/Reuters

Syrians in Beirut, Lebanon, preparing to return to their homeland. Photograph: Jamal Saidi/Reuters

 

The UN agency responsible for refugees has predicted that 250,000 Syrians could return to their homeland next year, making a modest but significant reduction in Syrians residing in neighbouring host countries.

UNHCR regional director Amin Awad said the figure could go up or down “according to the pace with which we are working and removing obstacles to return”. Some 37,000 Syrian refugees have returned this year from Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

The UN seeks to raise $5.5 billion (€4.8 billion) for 2019-2020 to aid countries hosting the 5.6 million Syrian refugees, including one million babies born in host countries. Some 70-80 per cent of refugees live below the poverty line. The UN Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan is designed to develop public services of host communities, benefiting both refugees and local people.

The Russian military, which is involved in facilitating refugee repatriation, said 114,000 had gone home this year through Jordanian and Lebanese border crossings. More than 31,000 had returned from Jordan, which hosts 666,294 UN-registered Syrian refugees, via the Nasib facility, which opened on October 15th.

While Amman refuses to accept more refugees, it says Syrians in Jordan should depart only voluntarily. Nevertheless Jordan is eager for them to leave. They have depleted the kingdom’s slender natural resources and are placing strains on its infrastructure.

Lebanese security chief Gen Abbas Ibrahim said 90,000 Syrians of the 950,334 UN-registered refugees living in his country had gone home. Beirut is putting pressure on them to leave.

Unpopular in Turkey

Turkey, which hosts 3.5 million Syrians, the largest number, estimates several hundred thousand have settled in Turkish-occupied pockets of territory around the northern Syrian city of Jarabulus. Syrians have become unpopular with some Turks. They are accused of working for less pay than Turks and straining public services, leading to tensions with local communities.

Turkey has also closed its border to Syrians, including those fleeing violence in northwestern province Idlib, which is controlled by al-Qaeda and other armed factions and is encircled by the Syrian army.

Numbers cited by the UN represent refugees registered with the UNHCR, while the Russian and Lebanese figures could include both registered and unregistered refugees. Lebanon and Jordan have as many unregistered as registered Syrians.

There are as many internally displaced as refugees,with the result that half of the Syria’s population of 23 million are homeless. The Russian military said 177,000 internally displaced have returned home this year.

The pace of refugee and displaced return depends on security as well as how they are treated by the authorities. Tens of thousands may have fled homes without identity documents and title deeds. Many cannot reclaim homes either because Damascus has sealed off devastated areas slated for redevelopment or internally displaced people have moved into refugee or displaced housing.

Men who fled conscription are given six months to a year to settle their families before induction into the armed forces while Syrians who lived in opposition-held areas or took part in anti-government protests fear detention.