World: Syrian returnees subjected to “gross human rights violations and abuses”, UN report details

Geneva, 13 February, 2024.-Many Syrians who had fled the war face gross human rights violations and abuses upon their return to Syria, according to a report by the UN Human Rights Office released today.

The documented violations and abuses have been perpetrated by the Government, de facto authorities and other armed groups across the country, the report states. They include arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, sexual and gender-based violence, enforced disappearance and abduction.

People have also had their money and belongings extorted, their property confiscated, and have been denied identity and other documents. While the Syrian population as a whole face such human rights abuses and violations, “returnees appear particularly vulnerable”, the report highlights.

“This report paints an alarming picture of the suffering of returnees, in particular women, amid the increasing number of deportations of Syrians from other countries. The situation of these returnees raises serious questions about the commitment of States to due process and non-refoulement,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk.

“Those who wish to return and restart their lives in Syria must not be stigmatised, discriminated against or subjected to any sort of violence or abuse once back in their home country,” he said.

“Those who remain in host countries must be treated according to international law, including the principle of non-refoulement. The rights of refugees and asylum-seekers must be respected. Their return should be voluntary with conditions for a safe, dignified and sustainable return.”

One returnee said he was violently arrested once back in Syria and taken to an unknown location by local authorities’ security forces, kept blindfolded for two days, and repeatedly beaten.

A woman returnee, detained for a week with her two daughters by Government security forces as they tried to leave Syria for a second time, said her family had to pay a US$300 bribe to speed up their release. “I was interrogated daily and asked about the reasons for travelling to Lebanon,” she said.

The report further highlights that women returnees face specifically discriminatory restrictions on their liberty to move freely and independently. It also documents a number of cases of women being forced by male family members to return to Syria to assess the conditions for safe and sustainable return for the rest of the family.

Economic hardship, abuse, increasingly hostile speech and rhetoric against refugees, raids and mass arrests in some host countries have compelled many to return to Syria, the report says. Türkiye announced in May 2022 what it called the “resettlement” of one million Syrian refugees back to Syria, with reports of increased restrictions and forced deportations.

In Lebanon, following months of increasing tensions and animosity towards Syrian refugees, Lebanese security forces conducted more than 70 raids targeting Syrian refugee communities in camps and residential areas across the country in the spring of 2023. At least 1,455 Syrians were arrested and 712 of them deported.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that the overall conditions in Syria do not permit safe, dignified and sustainable returns of Syrian refuges to their home country,” the report says. It also notes that most of the interviewees said they had decided to flee again, even though, once back abroad, it was likely they would face precarious economic conditions and harassment.

The report calls on all parties to the conflict to fully respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

It also urges the Syrian Government and all other parties to the conflict to grant UN entities and other international and non-governmental organisations unhindered access to monitor the conditions of Syrians who return home.

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