Once desperate to leave, why do Syrian refugees now want to return home?
Syria’s conflict, which has killed an approximately half a million people and displaced almost half of the population from their homes, has lasted more than seven years with no political solution appearing on the horizon. Devastated in their war-torn home country, hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have risked their lives to leave their homes and fled to other countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan.
Now living below the poverty line, struggling to find job opportunities and afford even the most basic amenities including shelter, food, and healthcare, many of these Syrian refugees are heading back home. As per reports, a good number of Syrian Refugees want to return to their country for reasons ranging from poor conditions of displaced colonies to sheer homesickness.
In April, hundreds of Syrians who had lived for months as refugees in Lebanon left for their home country. The group, mainly including children and the elderly, left the Shebaa area in southeast Lebanon in 15 buses for the Beit Jinn district in Syria, southwest of Damascus, according to Reuters reports. Being termed as a “rare case of mass return,” this movement of refugees is expected to intensify in the coming days.
However, United Nations and host governments are not encouraging these repatriations stating that “the country (Syria) is not safe.”
UNHCR states that an estimated 1.1 million displacements were recorded in the first half of 2017, at an average of 7,300 displacements per day. Between January and May 2017, some 450,000 IDPs (internally displaced people) were estimated to have returned to their community of origin, 303,500 of whom in Aleppo Governorate.
Currently, in Lebanon, Adel Sultan (25), who fled the country and settled in Bekka valley’s tented settlement for a few months before the forced evictions, says he would love to go back.
“I would do anything to return to my Syria. That is my country. We belong there. It is heartbreaking that we had to leave our homes, our jobs, our souls behind and come here. Remain refugees or go back to Syria – it’s a tough choice we are facing,” said Sultan, who is jobless for over a year.
What is driving back?
So, once desperate to leave Syria, what is driving Syrian refugees back to their country? Reasons are numerous, and they outweigh the advantages of being a refugee. One of the main reasons is the failure of host countries to offer a healthy life and to arrange for basic needs like housing, education, health and social security.
A report titled ‘Dangerous Grounds’ by Norwegian Refugee Council states, “In Lebanon, 74 percent of refugees lack valid legal residency, and in Jordan, 113,000 refugees are not in possession of the vital Ministry of Interior card. Despite plans to accommodate, over 43 percent of refugee children remain out of school. The ambitious goal at the London 2016 conference to create 1.1 million jobs has encountered various challenges, and 80 percent of Syrian refugees outside of camps in Jordan are living below the poverty line, while more than 71 percent in Lebanon and 64 percent in Turkey are living in poverty.”
Currently, Lebanon, which is struggling with various economic problems, hosts the highest number of refugees per capita in the world – estimated 1.5 million refugees.
Critical gap in funding
Moreover, UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, has raised the issue of the significant gap in funding for Syrian refugees and host communities in 2018.
“We are already falling behind in providing cash assistance, in making sure we are picking up health bills, in supporting governments and municipalities to continue to give services to refugees,” said Amin Awad, director of UNHCR’s Middle East and North Africa bureau.
Muhannad Hadi of the World Food Programme (WFP), said, “The lack of funding for WFP will have a direct impact on the nutritional status of the people, mainly women and children, but not only that. We have seen the result of food cuts in the region has an impact on the education which is something fundamental in this region and we don’t want end up with a lost generation.”
Humanitarian organizations have asked international donors for $5.6 billion to support 5.5 million Syrian refugees. But already half-way through 2018, only 18 to 22 percent of required funds have been given, the representatives of various UN agencies mentioned at a conference in Amman, Jordan, last week.