About 8,000 refugees who fled the war in Syria have returned to the country since the beginning of 2019, according to a report released by the United Nations food program on Thursday.
Relying on interviews and government departure records, the agency verified that 7,889 Syrian refugees have returned on their power this year. As of March, some 5.6 million Syrians remain refugees in the neighboring countries of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.
In December, the U.N.’s refugee agency projected that as many as 250,000 refugees could return to Syria in 2019.
“That figure can go up and down according to the pace with which we are … removing the obstacles to return,” Amin Awad, head of UNHCR’s Middle East and North Africa operations, said at the time.
The agency said that 117,000 refugees had returned to Syria since 2015, including 37,000 last year.
While the country’s devastating conflict continues to wind down, Awad warned returnees can face a whole host of obstacles, such as a dire lack of education, healthcare, and sanitation in the places to which they return.
There are also obstacles related to physical security even in places where the fighting has stopped, including large amounts of unexploded ordinance.
The war in Syria has killed more than 360,000 people since 2011.
Outside of the country, the U.N.’s world food program said it has reached about 3.4 million refugees from Syria through food and nutrition assistance programs as of March. In some cases, WFP provides food directly to those in need, while in others, the agency provides cash assistance.
Jeffrey: Finding a solution in #Syria will not only bring a close to this bloody chapter in the country’s history & allow for refugees & IDPs to finally choose to return home voluntarily, safely, and with dignity, but is part of the Administration’s broader Middle East strategy.
— U.S. Embassy Syria (@USEmbassySyria) May 23, 2019
The greatest food assistance need is in Turkey, where WFP estimates that it will need more than $950 million this year to provide the country’s 3.6 million Syrian refugees with adequate food and nutrition.
The agency said it “urgently” needs an additional $603 million in funding to ensure it can maintain its programs for the next six months.
Since 2012, WFP said it has put nearly $5 billion into the local economies of host countries through cash-based transfers, food procurement, and other expenditures.