Home Middle East Syria Not Ready for Refugees to Return from Jordan, Says Senior UNHCR Official

Syria Not Ready for Refugees to Return from Jordan, Says Senior UNHCR Official

Dominik Bartsch informs The National that while Jordan will not expel Syrians, economic pressures are prompting some to leave for Europe.

by Soofiya

In the aftermath of a brutal civil war that has left Syria in a state of devastation, the question of refugee return remains a contentious and pressing issue. Despite the cessation of major hostilities, a senior official from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has emphasized that Syria is not yet ready to receive the millions of refugees who fled to neighboring countries, particularly Jordan.

The Current Situation in Syria

Syria, once a vibrant and diverse country, now lies in ruins. The conflict, which began in 2011, has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the displacement of over half of the country’s pre-war population. Infrastructure is severely damaged, and essential services like healthcare, education, and sanitation are barely functioning. The socio-economic fabric of the nation is in tatters, with many areas still plagued by sporadic violence and insecurity.

The Plight of Refugees in Jordan

Jordan has borne a significant burden, hosting over 650,000 registered Syrian refugees, though the actual number is believed to be much higher. These refugees live in camps and urban areas, facing challenges such as limited employment opportunities, strained public services, and insufficient aid. Despite these hardships, many refugees are hesitant to return to Syria due to ongoing instability and the lack of basic necessities.

UNHCR’s Stance on Refugee Return

According to a senior UNHCR official, conditions in Syria are not conducive to a safe, dignified, and sustainable return for refugees. The official highlighted several key concerns:

  1. Security Issues: Despite a decrease in large-scale combat, security remains a significant concern. Many areas are still experiencing violence, and the presence of unexploded ordnance poses a constant threat to civilians.
  2. Human Rights Violations: There are persistent reports of human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention, forced conscription, and property confiscation. These abuses create an environment of fear and uncertainty, deterring refugees from considering return.
  3. Lack of Basic Services: Essential services such as healthcare, education, and clean water are severely lacking in many parts of Syria. The destruction of infrastructure during the conflict means that returning refugees would face immense challenges in accessing these services.
  4. Economic Hardship: Syria’s economy is in shambles, with widespread poverty and unemployment. Without significant international assistance and reconstruction efforts, the economic situation is unlikely to improve in the near term.

The Role of the International Community

The UNHCR official called on the international community to continue supporting host countries like Jordan, providing adequate funding for refugee assistance programs and development aid. Additionally, the official urged for increased diplomatic efforts to ensure a lasting peace in Syria and to address the underlying issues preventing safe returns.

Moving Forward

For the millions of Syrian refugees, the prospect of returning home remains a distant dream. As long as the conditions in Syria remain unstable and unsafe, the international community must uphold its responsibility to protect and support those displaced by the conflict. Humanitarian aid, coupled with a robust diplomatic push for peace and reconstruction, is essential to create an environment where refugees can return home with dignity and hope for the future.

Thirteen years into Syria’s devastating civil war, conditions in the country remain unsuitable for the return of refugees, according to a senior UN humanitarian official. Dominik Bartsch, head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) operations in Jordan, conveyed this in an exclusive interview with The National.

“Our assessment continues to be right now that the conditions for us to promote returns actively are not yet met,” Bartsch stated, underscoring the ongoing challenges facing potential returnees.

The Centrality of Syrian Refugees in Regional Politics

The issue of Syrian refugees is a pivotal topic in both European and Middle Eastern politics. Recently, eight European nations – Austria, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Malta, and Poland – called for a reassessment of the conditions in Syria to facilitate voluntary returns. This stance challenges the larger European powers, led by Germany, who are more protective of refugees and less inclined to engage with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

Bartsch expressed hope that these political moves might “renew dialogue” with Damascus and eventually improve conditions to the point where UNHCR can support refugee returns.

Refugee Distribution and International Aid

Europe currently hosts about one million registered Syrian refugees and asylum seekers, compared to 3.3 million in Turkey. Lebanon and Jordan together accommodate 1.4 million Syrian refugees. Western countries, including the US, have provided billions in aid to Jordan and Lebanon to help them manage the refugee influx. This aid has also funded infrastructure and public services, aiming to prevent another wave of refugees heading to Europe.

The Refugee Crisis in Jordan

Refugees began fleeing Syria en masse in 2011, following the government’s violent suppression of peaceful protests against President Al Assad. Many refugees in Jordan hail from the southern Hauran Plain, the epicenter of the revolt, and have familial and trade connections in Jordan.

Despite dwindling UN funding over the past two years, Jordan has not forced refugees to return to Syria. However, Bartsch noted that only a “very limited” number of refugees have voluntarily returned due to unfavorable conditions in Syria.

King Abdullah II and other Jordanian officials have firmly committed not to forcibly repatriate refugees, bolstered by Jordan’s strong tradition of hospitality. Nevertheless, economic pressures on Jordan are mounting, primarily affecting refugee households. A recent UNHCR and World Bank study highlighted worsening socio-economic conditions in Jordan’s main Syrian refugee camps, contributing to some refugees attempting to reach Europe through Libya.

Refugee Returns and Safe Zones

In contrast to Jordan, Lebanon has been forcibly repatriating increasing numbers of Syrian refugees to government-controlled areas, despite reports of persecution and killings. This has driven Cyprus to lobby for EU-established safe zones in Syria, a concept Turkey has previously implemented by returning refugees to Turkish-controlled areas in northern Syria.

Bartsch expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of safe zones, noting that past experiences suggest they do not ensure sustained and safe returns. “In our collective experience as the international community, we have seen that the concept of a safe zone is often not an effective tool to ensure sustained return and the ability for returning refugees to settle back down,” he said.

In conclusion, while the desire for Syrian refugees to return home remains strong, current conditions in Syria are far from meeting the requirements for a safe, dignified, and sustainable return. The international community must continue its support and work towards creating an environment that allows refugees to rebuild their lives in a peaceful and stable Syria.

In conclusion, while the desire for refugees to return to their homeland is strong, the reality on the ground in Syria necessitates a cautious and well-supported approach. Ensuring that returns are safe, voluntary, and sustainable must be the cornerstone of any policy regarding Syrian refugees. The international community, led by organizations like the UNHCR, must continue to provide support and work towards creating conditions that will one day allow refugees to rebuild their lives in a peaceful and prosperous Syria.

Related Articles

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More