US, UN Must Push Back Against Arab League Plans for Premature Return of Refugees to Syria

Please see below statement from Refugees International Senior Advocate for the Middle East Jesse Marks:

“On Friday, a number of Arab states at the Arab League Summit in Saudi Arabia will push for coordinated efforts to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees to Syria. After 13 years of war, it is delusional to push thousands of Syrians back into the hands of the same regime whose widespread use of brutal tactics and violence against civilians forced millions to flee. The conditions in Syria are simply not safe nor viable for secure and dignified return.

The mass return of Syrian refugees, just three months since the February 6 earthquakes, would overburden the already fragile conditions across Syria, potentially worsening insecurity while exposing many to risks of regime retaliation.

Arab states must not use normalization as cover to push Syrian refugees to return prematurely. Indeed, Lebanon has already ramped up efforts to round up and deport unregistered refugees and those with expired permits in recent weeks. Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi announced on May 1 following regional talks with envoys from across the region that they ‘…agreed on a mechanism to start the organization of safe and voluntary returns in coordination with the United Nations.’ The extent to which these returns would be ‘voluntary’ remains a major concern.

The region already has a troubled track record of forcibly returning Syrian refugees, with previous cases reported in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon. It is imperative that UN agencies advocate to refugee-hosting countries that conditions in Syria are not suitable for a return. Moreover, UNHCR should take every effort to scrutinize each case to determine whether the conditions of return are linked to any sign of duress, coercion, and force. The United States, UK, EU, and others in the international community must keep steady pressure on Arab states to ensure that the pursuit of normalization with the Syrian regime does not trigger oppressive state policies designed to pressure Syrian refugees to leave.   

Donor countries cannot be silent in this process. They must speak up and offset the growing calls for widespread return of Syrian refugees. This also requires that donors step up and fulfil their financial commitments to refugee-hosting countries, like Jordan and Lebanon, whose sense of abandonment is now being translated into pressure on Syrian refugees to leave.”

Refugees International delivered a joint NGO Statement to the UNHCR Standing Committee in March 2023 calling Arab states and UN agencies to refrain from policies which could prematurely push Syrian to return. For more, read “NGO Statement on the Middle East and North Africa.”

To schedule an interview, please contact Refugees International’s Vice President for Strategic Outreach Sarah Sheffer at 

Featured Image: Syrian refugees wave through the windows of a bus as they prepare to leave Beirut on September 9, 2018. (ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images)