About 750,000 internally displaced civilians and 15,000 refugees have returned to Syria in 2018, according to the latest IMPACT report. Yet many struggle to rebuild their lives and communities due to a lack of infrastructure, resources and aid.
The war in Syria has displaced 12 million people, nationally and internationally, since 2012. The governorate of Aleppo has the highest number of returnees (2241,747 people) followed by Deir ez-Zor (169,330) and Raqqa (136,188). IMPACT estimates that 152,360 people returned to Raqqa city between October 2017 and August 2018, despite “high levels of destruction and explosive hazard contamination.” The city remains vulnerable to alleged attacks by Islamic State.
“Our home is better than camps,” a woman refugee told researchers in Hasakah. “It would [also] be better for our psychological situation, at least we would return to the land, houses, and property that belong to us.”
A man who had returned to Raqqa was more blunt: “Whatever situation is bad in my country, [it] will be better than what I was suffering in the area of displacement.”
Reasons for returning vary between refugees abroad and those displaced within the country. For refugees, overcrowded camps, poor conditions and lack of economic opportunities and resources are factors for returning home. People displaced within Syria return home to claim property and assets and seek employment. Often the discussion to return to one’s home is not based on the availability of humanitarian aid.
According to the report, 39 percent of refugees left camps because of few economic opportunities compared to 21 percent of those internally displaced; among internally displaced people, 39 percent left camps due to safety concerns and 25 percent due to the lack of basic services, such food, water, and medicine.
Those who return must organize their own passage — paying for armed security, smugglers, transport, and checkpoint bribes, which means taking out savings or loans. The cost of travel alone means that some cannot make the journey and those who do arrive with fewer financial resources to rebuild.
According to the report, returnees rely on family, friends or Asayish, the Kurdish security force, to assess regional stability and mine-free travel routes.
But this information is not always accurate as a Raqqa man revealed: “the challenge was that the route was full of mines and we only came to know this when the mines exploded on some people that were with us.”
Why This Matters
Once home, returnees face the challenge of reintegrating and rebuilding their communities.
Some reported that neighborhoods started to revive once enough people returned and community networks formed to rebuild homes. Yet challenges remain when it comes to accessing resources and aid, especially food and medical care. A 2018 REACH study found that half of 50 communities surveyed in Raqqa and 72 communities in Hasakah had no health facilities and the majority lacked resources to buy food.
According to IMPACT, aid is administered in northeast Syria by Kurdish authorities and international non-governmental organizations (INGO), 10 of which are in Raqqa city and 25 in the northeast. Other locations, such as the Rukban camp in southeast Syria, have depended on the United Nations and the Syrian Arabic Red Crescent (SARC) for aid. The camp falls within a 55-kilometer “deconfliction line” around At Tanf, a U.S. military base. The pending U.S. withdrawal from Syria puts the future of the camp’s 50,000 people, and Syria in general, into question.
“U.N. continues to advocate for a second inter-agency convoy to the Rukban informal settlement in southern Syria to take place as soon as possible to provide critical winterization support and other life-saving assistance, including food and medical support, to more than 40,000 people,” Fadwa Baroud, a U.N. spokesperson in Syria, told The Globe Post. “The vast majority of people staying at the site are women and children in urgent need of support during the harsh winter months.”
The Regional Refugee & Resilience Plan (3RP) estimates that 5.6 million Syrian refugees now live in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq. The U.N. estimates there are 3.5 million people in Turkey alone and the Zaatari camp in Jordan holds 140,000 people. According to a 3RP progress report, governments had contributed $2.275 billion dollars in 2018, 41 percent of the $5.61 dollars required in 2018 — 2019 to provide relief to refugees in their host countries.
Yet strategies for refugee rehabilitation need to extend beyond humanitarian efforts, such as political settlement and resolving the conflict. The IMPACT report recommended such as de-mining, mine-risk education, housing, work opportunities and documenting property rights.
More on the Subject
The U.S. involvement in Syria arguably warrants responsibility to offer asylum and other forms of protection to Syrians fleeing the violence of the war – violence which the United States has actively shaped over the past several years, Alise Coen, Assistant Professor of Political Science at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Sheboygan Campus, says.