Over 4,700 returning Syrian refugees ‘detained by Assad regime’

Syrian refugees face increasing hostility in Lebanon and Turkey, with many forcibly returned [Getty]

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has said that 4,714 Syrian refugees who have returned to their country since 2014 have been detained by Assad regime forces.

Of that number,2,149 were later released by the regime, while 1,383 remain detained and 969 have been forcibly disappeared, according to SNHR.

In a report released on Thursday to mark World Refugee Day 2024, the rights group said that the same human rights abuses and violations that caused the Syrian conflict and refugee crisis were continuing in Syria.

“We at SNHR have proven conclusively in dozens of reports that returning refugees are subjected to the same violations suffered by local residents in Syria, amid an absence of any credible legal environment,” the report said.

The report said that the detained individuals included 168 people, including nine women and six children, who had been forcibly been repatriated from Lebanon since the beginning of April 2023.

Most of these refugees were detained by the regime’s Military Security Intelligence branch near the Masna border crossing.

There are an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon and they have suffered increasing discrimination and hostility in the country.

The Lebanese government started a “voluntary” return campaign for refugees in 2022 which was bitterly criticised by Amnesty International, which accused Lebanese authorities of “knowingly putting Syrian refugees at risk of suffering from heinous abuse and persecution upon their return to Syria”.

Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have also been forcibly returned from Turkey, mostly to opposition-held areas in the north.

SNHR said that it had documented the deaths under torture of 39 returning refugees in regime prisons. It added that it had documented 93 cases of sexual violence against returning refugees.

The SNHR underlined that the “refoulment of refugees and the forced repatriation of Syrian refugees constitute blatant violations of customary international law”, saying that governments who forced Syrian refugees to return were legally responsible if they were tortured, killed, or forcibly disappeared by the Assad regime.

It also said that civilians were still being detained and tortured to death in Syria, mostly by regime forces but also by extremist groups like Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and that the European Union had in April 2024 said that no part of Syria was safe for refugees to return to.

More and more Syrians were fleeing Syria for other countries, SNHR said, due to the continued violence and oppression in the country. Over 90% of Syrians live below the poverty line.

An estimated 5.1 million refugees have fled from Syria since the conflict broke out in 2011, while over 7 million have been displaced within the country.

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