Syrian refugees’ fate remains unanswered after 10 years

Walaa Mohammad, center, from outside Damascus, Syria, works in the Durra factory, at the Al-Hassan Industrial estate in Ramtha, Jordan, June 1, 2016. (Photo: NYTimes)
AMMAN — As the Syrian refugee crisis enters its 11th year, the fate of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees remains a topic of debate among activists and the refugees themselves.اضافة اعلان

Jordan’s official position was expressed most recently by Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi during a phone call with United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen l on Tuesday evening, according a ministry statement.

The discussion covered the need to find a political solution for the Syrian crisis “in a way that … creates conditions for the voluntary return of refugees.”

The question of resettlement versus return is particularly pertinent for Jordan, which is the world’s second host of refugees by capita. Around 658,000 Syrian refugees are formally registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but estimates place the total population of Syrians in Jordan at 1.3 million, making up approximately 10 percent of the Jordanian population, according to the International Labor Organization.

“We would like to convince them to go back. We would like to see that their reception is welcome back into Syria,” said former foreign minister Jawad Anani in an interview with Jordan News. He added that the safe return of Syrian refugees to their home country could only be accomplished through a United Nations Security Council Resolution “which would guarantee the safe conduct of those people back to their country.”

“The Syrian government should not be content with the fact that those people have become the responsibility of other countries,” he went on.

Anani suggested that the forced return of Syrian refugees and the nationalization of Syrians in Jordan are both unlikely. “I don’t think that this will happen in the near future until we understand what modalities are going to be applied to those Syrian refugees,” he said of the nationalization of Syrian refugees. “And of course we cannot act alone, we have to look at what will happen in countries like Lebanon for instance, Turkey, and Egypt.”

UNHCR outlines three “durable solutions” for refugees: Resettlement, local integration with the host country, and return, also known as repatriation.

Repatriation must be “voluntary, dignified, and safe,” according to the agency, which explains that “resettled refugees obtain the right to reside long-term or permanently in the country of resettlement; they may also have the right to become citizens of that country.”

A representative for UNHCR Jordan advocated for a kind of middle ground in which refugees could access more social services in Jordan, without being fully recognized as Jordanian citizens.

“Although the return of refugees back home remains the ultimate solution, UNHCR Jordan is also advocating for the gradual inclusion of refugees in national protection systems and social safety nets,” said UNHCR Jordan spokesperson Lilly Carlisle in an email to Jordan News.

“Especially in light of the economic impact of COVID-19, this remains an important means to solving the high levels of poverty among refugees and helping them to rebuild their lives while in Jordan.”

In an interview with Jordan News, Syrian refugee Fahed (name has been changed), who has lived in Jordan since 2012, said that his family, friends, and himself are all seeking to permanently resettle in a third country — not return to Syria or remain in Jordan. “The majority of Syrian refugees are thinking about going to another country. Neither Syria nor Jordan,” he said. “If you can’t work, you can’t live.”

According to Anani, the return of refugees could be positive for the recovery of the Syrian state. If the government is “intent on reconstructing their own country, they need all these people,” he said. “The task of reconstructing Syria is huge. It will take probably five years at minimum, to 10 years, to bring back things to something close to normal. And they need all these laborers.”

But most Syrian refugees resist the idea of returning to Syria, where violence and political abuses are still rampant. “We know from intention surveys amongst refugees that there is no intention of returning to Syria in the next 12 months because of a host of concerns around safety, livelihoods in Syria,” said Alexander Kouttab, head of Policy and Advocacy at the Norwegian Refugee Council Jordan, in a previous interview with Jordan News.

“These refugees have nowhere to go back to. They have nothing to go back to,” said Amr Al-Azm, associate professor of Middle East history and anthropology at Shawnee State University in Ohio, in an online interview with Jordan News. “The males will end up in the army and probably killed in the process [if they return]. The rest, they have nothing go back to, their homes, their livelihoods, their homes are all destroyed.”