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World must help Syrian refugees return home

Host countries are suffering from refugee fatigue. The condition is precarious especially in Lebanon that has the highest concentration of refugees per capita.



By Christiane Waked (Regional Mix)

Published: Sat 5 Oct 2019, 10:40 PM

Last updated: Sun 6 Oct 2019, 12:42 AM

It would take a long time to heal the emotional wounds of the Syrians whose lives have been ravaged by the war. However, arguably the first step would be to reassure a safe return of the refugees to their homes in Syria. Since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, over 6.6 million have been displaced internally and 5.6 million have been forced to seek refuge in countries far and wide.
Now that the recently created Syrian Constitutional Committee has been authorised to draft a new constitution for the war-torn country, it is an opportune time to think of a roadmap that will help Syrian refugees return to their homeland with dignity and in the safest way possible. They should be reintegrated into the society and made part of the future political process that'll build the new Syria.
Such a process needs coordination at the highest level. The United Nations should bear the responsibility of working with the Syrian government and countries with a high influx of Syrian refugees (such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey) to facilitate return of Syrians to their homeland.
The Syrian government should also be considerate on its part. Many young men do not wish to return to the country fearing conscription. The government could announce an amnesty scheme and allow suspension of military conscription for a period of two years.
Host countries are suffering from refugee fatigue. The condition is precarious especially in Lebanon that has the highest concentration of refugees per capita in the world (more than 40 per cent of the demographic mass of Lebanon). Lebanon's total population is about four million, of which around two million are refugees. Needless to say, this has created an overwhelming pressure on the country's resources, utilities, and potential, and created resentment towards the refugees, which could escalate into a serious conflict between the Lebanese and the Syrian refugees.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun talked about the Syrian conflict recently at the 74th UN General Assembly in New York, and called upon his counterparts to work together to resolve the crisis. Aoun raised questions about the positions of certain states and international organisations that are trying to prevent a safe return of the Syrian refugees to their homeland by highlighting the allegations that the security situation in Syria is dangerous.
Aoun's concerns are legitimate. After all, it is hard to forget that the Palestinian presence in Lebanon had destabilised the country in 1975. Now that Daesh has been defeated, many regions in Syria are completely safe for the creation of secure 'de-escalation zones'. A political solution in Syria is near and what can be a better way to help rebuild the country than to allow the Syrians help themselves in the reconstruction process. It will bring together all parties and open channels of communication. It is the best way to restore the dignity of this nation and reconstruct what was torn by the war.
Until now refugees, especially those living in the neighbouring countries, have been faced with two options, either to be trapped in the host countries that no longer can afford them or travel illegally to Europe or other western countries, a trip that will not guarantee their safety and future. It is time to offer them a third and final option - to return safely to their homeland.
Christiane Waked is a political analyst based in Beirut


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