The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes clear the right of every human being to seek safety in another country. But eight years into the Syrian conflict, this most basic of human rights barely matters because there is so little leeway for people to leave Syrian territory in the first place. If the international community truly wants to help Syrians, it must insist that Syria’s neighbors open their borders, and it needs to offer financial, technical and humanitarian assistance to make that happen.
Over the past week, hundreds of Syrian refugees have left the Aarsal region of Lebanon for Idlib governorate in northern Syria, and thousands more are expected to follow. So far, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Committee of the Red Cross/Crescent have not been able to confirm the voluntary nature of the returns or monitor what has happened to the refugees upon arrival in Syria.
As President Trump welcomes Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to Washington, DC, the situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon must be a prominent and urgent point on their discussion agenda – and we urge that both leaders affirm a commitment to respect the rights of Syrian refugees.
Well into the fourth year of the conflict in Syria, it is clear that Syrian refugees in the neighboring countries will not be able to return home in the near future. In Lebanon, where one in four residents is a Syrian refugee, the demands of providing emergency assistance to refugees while trying to support disadvantaged host communities have become especially complex. Lebanon’s government has not been able to come to agreement on approving a range of support projects for both Syrian refugees and disadvantaged Lebanese nationals. And while this political debate goes on, tensions between hosts and guests continue to rise.