Lebanon minister says Syrian regime abuses slow return of refugees

The United Nations fear Syrian refugees would face persecution if they return to government-controlled areas.
Tuesday 27/11/2018
A Syrian child waits as refugees prepare to leave Beirut to return to their homes in Syria, on September 9. (AFP)
A Syrian child waits as refugees prepare to leave Beirut to return to their homes in Syria, on September 9. (AFP)

LONDON — A Lebanese Cabinet minister says some Syrian refugees who have returned home from Lebanon have been killed, detained or forced to join the military, leading to a slowdown in the return of Syrians residing in Lebanon.

Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Mouin Merhebi told The Associated Press on November 27 that so far about 12,000 Syrian refugees have returned home since June.

That is a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands who fled to Lebanon to escape the civil war, which began in 2011.

Merhebi said that at the height of the war the number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon reached 1.2 million, adding that the number now is about 940,000, after some returned to Syria or were resettled in other countries.

The Russian military said on November 16 that nearly 270,000 Syrian refugees have returned home in recent months, a fraction of the estimated 5.6 million Syrians who have fanned out across the world fleeing the seven-year conflict.

Moscow and the government in Damascus have been encouraging refugees to repatriate, arguing that the violence has subsided. Russia launched military operations to help Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2015, changing the tide of the war in his favour.

Western governments have, however, argued that it’s too early to encourage return. Rights groups and the UN fear refugees would face persecution returning to government-controlled areas in the absence of a comprehensive political agreement.

Lebanese Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Mouin Merhebi speaks during an interview with the Associated Press, at his office in Beirut, on November 27. (AP)
Lebanese Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Mouin Merhebi speaks during an interview with the Associated Press, at his office in Beirut, on November 27. (AP)

The conflict has caused nearly half of Syria’s population to be displaced, with an estimated 6 million internally displaced and 5.6 million fleeing to neighboring countries and Europe, and registering with the United Nations Refugee Agency.

The UN Children agency UNICEF said the first nine months of 2018 saw the highest number of children killed since the conflict began in 2011, putting it at 870 till September.

“These are only verified cases, with actual numbers likely to be much higher,” UNICEF said in a statement Friday.

(AW and agencies)