Recently, there have been indications of the possibility of returning Syrian refugees from some neighboring countries, particularly Lebanon, and to a certain extent Jordan and Turkey, regardless of the refugees' consent to return voluntarily.
August 20, 2018
Wael Sawah – Pro-justice
Article 32 of the International Refugee Convention of 1951 states the following:
1. The Contracting States shall not expel a refugee lawfully in their territory save on grounds of national security or public order and in pursuance of a decision reached in accordance with the process of law.
2. Each refugee shall be entitled, in accordance with the established law and procedure of the country, to submit evidence to clear himself and to be represented before the competent authority.
3. The Contracting States shall allow such refugee a reasonable period within which to seek legal admission into another country. The Contracting States reserve the right to apply during that period such internal measures as they may deem necessary.
Article 33 adds:
1. No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
2. The benefit of the present provision may not, however, be claimed by a refugee whom there are reasonable grounds for regarding as a danger to the security of the country in which he is, or who, having been convicted by a final judgment of a particularly serious crime, constitutes a danger to the community of that country.
Recently, there have been indications of the possibility of returning Syrian refugees from some neighboring countries, particularly Lebanon, and to a certain extent Jordan and Turkey, regardless of the refugees’ consent to return voluntarily.
Last month, Lebanon witnessed a number of worrisome developments regarding the presence of Syrian refugees on its soil. Prominent politicians have raised calls for the return of refugees to Syria and have made unfounded accusations of an international plot to settle them in Lebanon. At the Friends of Syria Conference of Donor Countries in Brussels in April, Lebanon made significant commitments on refugee rights, including residency status, education, and legal protection and pledged to refrain from forcing refugees to return to places where they are at risk. These pledges can have a real and positive effect on the lives of Syrians in Lebanon – if implemented. But since then, things have taken a turn for the worse.
However, no sooner Lebanon had renewed its commitment in Brussels not to forcibly return refugees than politicians raise their voices and demand their return. The foreign minister in the caretaker government, Gebran Bassil, recently gave UNHCR two weeks to develop a strategy for the repatriation of refugees, claiming that they were trying to delay their return to Syria. He then froze residency permits for UNHCR staff in Lebanon – without the support of the government – accusing it of obstructing the return of Syrian refugees by “spreading fear”.
In Jordan, incidents of forcible expulsion of Syrian refugees are frequently repeated on suspicion of links to “terrorist groups”, while entire families, including children, are returning.
Human Rights Watch documented in its latest report issued earlier this month entitled, “I do not know why they brought us back” systematic returns to Syrian refugees under the supervision of the Jordanian authorities.
According to the report, the Jordanian authorities have recently deported about 400 Syrian refugees registered monthly, while about 300 registered refugees returned to Syria voluntarily during that period.
HRW interviewed 13 Syrians whom the Jordanian authorities had recently deported over the telephone and concluded that the Jordanian authorities had provided only scant information about the reason for their deportation and had received no real opportunity to appeal or seek legal advice.
The group noted that mass expulsions had increased in mid-2016 and again at the beginning of 2017, following two terrorist attacks in the country, although there was no evidence that any of the deportees were involved.
While the situation in Turkey is still less acute for Syrians than both Lebanon and Jordan, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reassured his supporters that the Syrians would not remain in Turkey forever, suggesting that his “open door” policy had lost its validity after it was activated in the early years of the conflict.
A poll conducted by the Center for American Progress of Political Research showed that 78% of Turks believed their country was spending too much money on refugee care.
Human Rights Watch said authorities in Istanbul and nine provinces on or near the Syrian border had stopped registering new asylum seekers, warning of illegal deportations, forcible return to Syria and denial of health care and education.
On the other hand, Syrian officials are showing a false interest in the return of the Syrian refugees to the country. The government recently called for the return of refugees and passed legislation as preparation for reconstruction. What the government is trying to achieve is to give a false impression of the return of security to Syria, and try to achieve two gains from it. The first is to give the image of the compassionate that cares about its citizens, and the second is to minimize international attention to what is happening in Syria if the number of Syrian refugees is reduced all over the world.
Russia is now playing the biggest role in arranging the forced returns. In mid-July, Russia announced that it had established the Centre for the Reception, Allocation and Accommodation of Refugees, which will monitor and facilitate returns, in cooperation with the Syrian government. However, Syria has not achieved the most basic standards of safety and security necessary for the return of refugees. Where the country’s areas are still in conflict, and there are growing fears that the government will invade Idlib. Even in areas that are largely peaceful, there are still threats to returnees.
Nevertheless, the actions of the Syrian regime do not match his words. The Head of the Air Force Intelligence Jamil Hassan said that more than three million Syrians are wanted and their judicial cases were ready. He added that the huge number of people wanted will not be a major difficulty in achieving the plan.
According to the Syrian Reporter Website, Hassan described dealing with those who return to be like dealing with sheep. The corrupted ‘sheep’ will be filtered out and the good one will be used, and those who are wanted will be charged with terrorism. He added: “After eight years, Syria will not accept the presence of cancerous cells and they will be removed completely,” citing a series of earlier speeches by Bashar al-Assad.
He added that more than 150,000 security files of wealthy people and Syrian businessmen who “aided the terrorists” have been complied. They will be dealt with through harassment and pressure, pending the full withdrawal of their funds, which will be used to “rebuild what they destroyed”. They will remain under house arrest by the security forces to speed up payment.