Syria, donors must step up to help refugees return: UN

By Reuters
May 29, 2024
Displaced Syrians stand in queue to get their food from Barzani charity at a refugee camp in Bardarash on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq. —Reuters/file

BRUSSELS: The Syrian government and international aid donors must both do more if they want millions of Syrians forced to flee the country by war to return home, the UN’s refugee chief has said.


“If you leave it unattended ... it comes back with a vengeance,” Grandi told Reuters in Brussels on the sidelines of a European Union-led conference on aid for Syrians.

The forum yielded pledges of 7.5 billion euros in grants and loans for coming years, the EU said on Monday evening.

But 13 years after an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad spiralled into war, the fate of more than five million Syrian refugees living outside the country is increasingly contentious.

Lebanese politicians have been pushing for more refugees to be sent home. Some 800,000 Syrians are registered with the UN refugee agency in Lebanon, whose authorities say the true number of Syrians in the country is around two million.

The issue has also risen up Europe’s political agenda, with EU member Cyprus concerned that large numbers of refugees unwelcome in Lebanon will arrive on its shores.

But Western nations have not resumed ties with Assad, regarding him as a war criminal - an accusation he denies - and saying Syria is still unsafe for large-scale returns.

Some Arab states began re-engaging with Assad in the aftermath of a deadly 2023 earthquake but had little success in convincing him to create conditions for refugee returns.