The right not to return


Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Mary Kawar stated the obvious on Sunday, when she told the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides that Jordan cannot, and will not, force the repatriation of Syrian refugees living in Jordan to their country.

Kawar rested her case on international law in general, and humanitarian principles in particular. It is inconceivable that Jordan would be asked to force, or even encourage, the Syrian refugees it is hosting to go back to their country, from which they fled in search for safety and security.

What exacerbates the challenge for Syrian refugees is the near absence of the necessary and basic infrastructure in Syria that would provide them with the minimum standards of living, safety and security. Under the current conditions in Syria, no Syrian refugee in their right mind would rush to go back home, until there are visible signs that their country is, indeed, returning to at least a semblance of normalcy.

Moscow and Damascus have been spearheading a campaign to rebuild Syria by calling on nations to invest in its rehabilitation. Yet, the international community remains reluctant to lend support until the rule of law returns to Syria.

Syrian refugees still fear the prevailing conditions in their homeland and seek assurances that they will not only be free of oppression and a denial of human rights, but also have access to infrastructure that has been restored to the level that would assure them safe living conditions, under which they can find employment, healthcare and a roof over their heads.

Damascus also needs to introduce a pluralistic and functional democracy, free detainees from its jails, account for all those who have disappeared since 2011 and turn over a new leaf in its relations with its people. In other words, Damascus needs to genuinely reckon with the very reasons that drove millions of Syrians, in the first place, from their homes to neighbouring countries and beyond.

Damascus needs to heal itself from its self-inflicted wounds before its people can feel safe and secure when they return home. Until that is done, many Syrian refugees would probably choose to remain where they are, pending the right moment of return. In the meantime, countries, like Jordan, still giving Syrian refugees refuge deserve solidarity and support from the international community.


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