Refugees Return to the Media…While the Sweeping out of Syrians and Syria’s Bleeding Continue and Rise!
The issue of Syria refugees has resurfaced over the last week, and this time through the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and the focus by Lebanese and Syrian media on some of them returning to Syria. As is usual from the extremists in the Syrian sides, the issue was exploited as a tool for media dueling, as well as trying to politicize the issue in a way that perpetuates the current situation, from which extremists from the sides benefit in putting additional obstacles to prevent making progress towards reaching a comprehensive political solution. The necessary conditions to move forward with the political solution are also necessary to stop the Syrian bleeding, one of the manifestations of which is the migration of Syrians out of the country. This means, the Syrian refugees file today cannot be dealt with as a humanitarian, political, economic, social, or security file; rather, it is all of those, in addition to being an existential file linked to the continuance of the country and its unity.
What is “New” Regarding the Syrian Refugees File in Lebanon?
Nearly two weeks ago, the Lebanese president’s statement about his country’s determination to return Syrian refugees to their country topped the news. This led to a massive media wave, reactions, and different severe statements. These came particularly from some Syrian opposition sides and media outlets representing their supporters, met on the other side by statements from the regime’s media celebrating the supposed return of Syrians to their countries, alleging securing the necessary conditions and facilitations for their return.
Here, it would be useful to look at some information related to Syrians in Lebanon:
- The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is between 1-2 million Syrians, depending on the source of information, and that is because many of them are not registered whether by the authorities in Lebanon or local and international organizations.
- According to several sources, the number of those who returned on the day that was supposed the main day of the process, which was a few days ago, was between 450 and 750 people, most of them women and children.
- Majority of those who returned were living in formal and informal camps in the Arsal area in Lebanon in poor conditions, including not having basic services like clean water, sanitation, nearly nonexistence of health and education services. Not to mention that all of this comes as winter approaches, which means a lot of rain and snow, and low temperatures, in light of complete lack of heating, fuel, and even proper clothing for such conditions.
- There are six official land crossing points between Syria and Lebanon, and the daily movement from Lebanon to Syria greatly exceeds the declared number of returnees. It should be noted that the sixth crossing point was opened earlier this year to alleviate some of the pressure on the other crossing points.
What is clear, at least based on what stated, is that the media dramatization about the issue, whether Lebanese, Syrian, or international by some countries or organizations, has far exceeded the magnitude of the event itself. It is not difficult to conclude that the way all these sides are dealing with the issue is still part of a political media investment, much more than it is getting closer to a real solution thereto.
The Issue of Syrian Refugees Return in General
There is nothing new in what transpired last week in Lebanon about the issue of Syrian refugees’ return; it is a recurring issue with some details changing here and there, not only in the context of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, but in the neighboring countries and other countries where there are Syrian refugees. One can easily go back to many instances where the media put the issue in the spotlight in a similar manner, particularly regarding refugees in neighboring countries and the issue of returning them/their return.
If we look at the issue of refugees’ return, especially those in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, we can identify some common aspects and characteristics:
- Most, if not all, those who return were ones whose conditions were the worst; they are among those who live in neighboring countries in formal and informal camps, in conditions that do not rise to the minimum living conditions in terms of shelter and services.
- Most of those did not have stability in the countries in which they sought refuge; besides living in camps, they moved even within those countries looking for some security or condition less bad to continue living.
- Most of those who return to different parts of Syria, do not go back to their original areas of residence, at least not to their homes; many of them also go back to IDP camps inside Syria, which also lack the minimum level of services, though they are relatively less bad than the conditions they had reached in the areas from which they returned.
- These “return” waves, or at least the waves of media frenzy, are accompanied with some economic and/or political developments in the neighboring countries, like the deteriorating of economic conditions the effects of which are many times more on the refugees, or internal political conditions relating to the countries of refuse in which the Syrian refugees files is used as one of the cards in the election campaigns among the political sides in these countries or even in their foreign policy files.
Therefore, usually these “return” waves are not related to securing the real necessary conditions for a voluntary and dignified return to Syria – regardless of which part of Syria – and more to do with that their conditions where they are in the countries of refuse have become much worse economically, socially, and politically that they feel these would be less bad for them inside Syria, or at least could give them a chance to search for some safety in one aspect of their lives.
Questions that Should be Asked
Within all the above, and amid Syrians continuing to leave the country or trying to, could there actually be any real and serious talk about the return of refugees? Also, how could there be talk about any return, and the process of sweeping Syrians out of the country is ongoing? How could there be any discussion about the return of refugees, while stories of “death boats” (in Arabic) carrying Syrians fleeing death in journeys the most probable destiny of which is drowning and death, continue?
Here, it would be useful to go back to the reasons that continue to push large numbers of Syrians to leave the country, and many more than the few hundred who return. We had touched on these reasons, their manifestations, and results in many past Kassioun articles. One of the most important reasons that many Syrians leave, especially qualified and young people, are the catastrophic living conditions and the collapsing economy – or what remains of it – and the accompanying obscene high prices, which make securing the minimum life necessities like bread, fuel, and services like electricity, water, and transportation extremely difficult. This is in addition to the persistence of all the reasons for this, including the blockade, sanctions, corruption, brutal liberal policies, and dominance of the warlords. Not to mention that the continued deterioration of security conditions, dominance of weapons and militias, and the control they have over daily life, all of these are pushing more people out of the country.
All of this should be taken into consideration when talking about any return of refugees, especially that all these not only continue, but they are getting worse rapidly and all over the country.
Conflicting Rhetoric, Same Goal
While today there is focus on the issue of Syrian refugees’ “return” from Lebanon, like any opportunity they have, the extremists in the Syrian sides exploit matters to use it as a tool in their media dueling, whether aimed directly or indirectly at the other side. However, in the end, the outcome remains the same and goes in the same direction, which is continuing to obstruct making any progress in the political process and reaching a political solution that gets Syria and Syrians out of the catastrophe they are living. This is because reaching a political solution necessarily means ending their ability to benefit, reap gains, and fulfill narrow and personal interests due to the continuation of the crisis.
As we previously noted, every time there is a discussion of the refugees’ issue and other issues, especially humanitarian ones, the extremists in the regime and opposition politicize it and try to work it into the narratives they have been using since the beginning of the crisis, in a manner that aims to push things away from the political solution and stop any attempts to effectuate change.
On the side of the regime’s extremists, a story like that of the return of refugees from Lebanon gets used to disseminate that the door is open for returning and the regime is securing the conditions necessary therefor. Thus, the regime implicitly signals that the “crisis is over” and the political solution is fundamentally unnecessary. Meanwhile, in reality and as noted above, the policies of the regime’s extremists today are not focused only on not securing the appropriate condition for a real return of Syrian refugees from Lebanon or elsewhere, but they push more Syrians of those remaining in the country to search for any way to leave, even if the chances of them arriving to any of the destinations are very low and the chances of their death along the way are high. Nevertheless, the regime’s extremists do not miss an opportunity to advertise that the crisis is over and the conditions of the country are well – and look, the refugees are returning – and therefore, since the refugees are returning without making any real change, there is no justification for engaging in a political process and there no longer is a need for a political solution.
On the other side, the opposition’s extremists insist on linking the return of refugees and the only way to secure the necessary conditions for their return with toppling the regime, which in essence contradicts the idea of a political solution. Furthermore, they, just like the other side, deal with the issue in a way that aims to perpetuate the current situation, where they promote the conditions in the “opposition areas” as being better than those in the regime areas and suitable for receiving refugees who want to return. In other words, just like the regime’s extremists, their goal is that the current situation continues as is, as long as they are benefiting therefrom.
Most importantly, the approach of the regime’s and the opposition’s extremists to the refugee file and other files all contribute to the same goals, which necessarily require the deepening and perpetuating of the current situation, even legitimizing it, including the de facto partition of Syria. This require using all the methods and tools at their disposal to obstruct the political process and reaching a comprehensive political solution through the full implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254. Reaching a comprehensive political solution means achieving several things, the most important of which in the context of the issue at hand, is achieving what the minimum level of economic, social, political, and security needed to stop the migration of Syrians abroad from all parts of Syria, and securing the proper conditions for a real return of refugees, starting with the neighboring countries. All of this means that with each passing day, there is more need for patriotic Syrians from all sides to push towards a comprehensive political solution, not only to secure the appropriate conditions for Syrians to return to their country, but all to ensure putting a stop to the process of sweeping them out of it, and to ensure that Syria reunite and continues to exist, so there is a place to which Syrians can return.