Aid groups warn against forced refugee returns to Syria

International aid groups on Monday warned countries hosting Syrian refugees in the Middle East and the West against forcing them to return or discussing measures to that effect.

The report, entitled “Dangerous Ground”, by several leading humanitarian organisations —including the Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE International— spoke of an alarming trend advocating for deportations.

“Hundreds of thousands of refugees are at risk of being pushed to return to Syria in 2018, despite ongoing violence, bombing and shelling that are endangering the lives of civilians,” AFP quoted the report as saying.

The number of refugees who returned to Syria —which has been racked by a conflict that killed at least 340,000 people since 2011— rose from 560,000 in 2016 to 721,000 in 2017.

The report warned that three times as many Syrians were displaced last year, and that a further 1.5 million people were expected to be forced from their homes in 2018.

“Currently, even in certain so-called de-escalation areas, we’ve seen bloodshed, targeting of hospitals and schools, and death,” NRC Secretary General Jan Egeland was quoted by AFP as saying about the regions that were selected last year for truces meant to pave the way for an end to the war.

Only three percent of vulnerable Syrian refugees so far have been resettled in wealthy countries. Most remain in countries bordering Syria, including Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, but rhetoric on refugee return has also picked up there, AFP said.

“In Syria's neighbouring countries, the push to return refugees has manifested itself in closed borders, deportations and forced or involuntary returns,” the report said.
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