Discussion around the return of Syrian refugees to Syria is beginning to become a focus in major host countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, which have responded negatively to the recent announcement of the reduction in food assistance for Syrian refugees to these countries due to lack of funding. After more than twelve years of this crisis, international priorities have shifted, and interest has drastically decreased in the Syrian crisis and the issue of Syrian refugees. As such, hosting countries are dealing individually with the issue.
In Lebanon, lawmakers denounced the new resolution adopted by the European Parliament, appealing Lebanese authorities not to deport Syrian refugees, also expressing concerns about the escalation of anti-refugee rhetoric by Lebanese political parties and ministers. In Turkey, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Turkish authorities continue forcible deportations of Syrian refugee, as many Syrian refugees are forced to leave their families.
There is no doubt that the lack of funding and change in priorities is forcing host countries to revise their polices. Further, the return of Syria to the Arab League and the open channel of dialogue has brought the refugee issue to the fore, as their return would help in ending the crisis for many. In both Lebanon and Turkey, the Syrian refugee issue has become a matter of internal politics, while in Jordan there was no real debate over the future of those refugees. Even though in the Jordanian case it may be a more complicated issue as large numbers of Syrian refugees are not in the refugee camps, as many already have their work permissions and have engaged in social life and in businesses. Returning many of these refugees from Jordan will be much more complicated, particularly since Jordan relies on donors such as the US and EU for its economy, which will likely oppose forced deportation.
The lack of an overarching solution for the Syrian crisis on the international level makes the return of Syrian refugees difficult. At the same time, the steps taken by Arab countries in the recent Arab Summit in Jeddah are the first towards creating a path for the return of refugees. But at this stage, the issue of security is the priority with the presence of militias in Syria, weapons smuggling and the large narcotrafficking networks, from which countries like Saudi Arabia is still suffering.
While seeking bilateral understanding with the Syrian regime over the return of refugees could be seen as the most practical solution at this stage, it is difficult to see this happening without a clear road map and warranties from the Syrian side. In fact, the return of refugees will likely be promoted by the Syrian government as an indication of the end of the crisis where the international community is obliged to recognise it as a legitimate government, particularly as it will serve to end the crisis on the Arab level.
Dr.Amer Al Sabaileh