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Syrian refugees returning home face torture, abuse: report

September 7, 2021

A report by Amnesty International contradicts some governments' views that Syria is now safe to return for refugees. Returnees have faced detainment, torture, disappearance, and sexual violence.

Syrian refugees return from Hatay in Turkey.
While Assad's forces have largely prevailed in Syria's civil war, Amnesty says returning is still dangerous for those who fledImage: Depo/ZUMA/picture alliance

A report by Amnesty International said Syrian refugees who have returned home could face detention, disappearance, torture and sexual violence. 

"The very fact of having fled Syria is enough to put returnees at risk of being targeted by authorities," said Marie Forestier, a researcher on refugee and migrants rights at Amnesty International. 

The report documents the experiences of 66 returnees, including 13 children, who came back to Syria between mid-2017 and early 2021. Five of the people had died in custody, while the whereabouts of 17 remained unknown. 

The report, entitled You're going to your death, contradicts the stance of some governments that it is safe for Syrian refugees to return to some parts of their home country.

Returnees being targeted

Denmark and Sweden had earlier started revoking the residency permits of Syrian refugees, claiming that capital Damascus and nearby regions were now safe. The governments of Lebanon and Turkey have put pressure on refugees living in dire conditions to return. There have also been reports of Turkey forcefully deporting Syrians back to the country.

The report has documented evidence from Syrians who have returned to Syria from Lebanon, Rukban (an informal settlement between the Jordanian and Syrian borders), France, Germany, Turkey, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. 

"Any government claiming Syria is now safe is willfully ignoring the horrific reality on the ground, leaving refugees once again fearing for their lives," said Forestier, urging other countries to not send people back to Syria.

Returning refugees were targeted by Syrian security forces, said Amnesty. A woman Amnesty identified with the pseudonym Noor, who was coming back from Lebanon with her two children, were detained by border security forces and sexually abused.

She told Amnesty that the officers said to her: "Why did you leave Syria? Because you don’t like Bashar al-Assad and you don’t like Syria? You're a terrorist … Syria is not a hotel that you leave and return to when you want."

The Syrian civil war has claimed more than half a million lives and prompted millions to flee the country. 

tg/msh (dpa, AP, AFP)