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Refugees resist pressure to go home

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(26 Jul 2018) LEADIN
As Russia pushes to repatriate Syrian refugees, many insist they will not return home until the civil war ends.
UNHCR says it supports their voluntary return – but that certain safety conditions must be in place.
STORYLINE
Here at this UNHCR registration centre in Amman, Jordan, many Syrian refugees insist they will not return to their country before the civil war ends and safety assurances are provided.
It comes as Russia stepped up efforts to encourage regional host countries, including Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees.
Ibrahim al-Khalaf, a Syrian refugee from Hasakah, says he doesn’t feel safe to return:
“Safety doesn’t exist in my country. As a young man I’m wanted for conscription. If I go back to my country, they will call me for (military service) and I have nothing there to support my family and my children,” he says.
“Nothing is clear, there is no protection programme for the Syrian people inside the Syrian lands, my wife and my children will be at risk, so personally I don’t prefer to return back.”
Syrian refugees living in Jordan say they don’t trust Russia as a mediator because they believe it killed Syrian children and civilians and helped President Bashar Assad of Syria retake large swaths of territory from fighters who revolted against him.
The move is seen as a Russian attempt to assert the successes it made by helping Assad retake most of the country from rebels after seven years of unrest.
“I consider Russia as an occupation country,” says 40 year old Abdel-Nasser Abu Naboot, who was at the UN’s refugee agency registration centre to update his information among dozens of other Syrians.
To return to his home in Daraa, Abu Naboot says he wants the goals of the Syrian “revolution,” which began in 2011 to be achieved, including “ending the oppression”.
He insists that he “will not go to pre-2011 Syria.”
On Thursday, the Russian special envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, discussed the repatriation plans in Amman with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.
“Jordan encourages the voluntary return of Syrians to their homeland,” Safadi said in a statement after the meeting, stressing the need to provide “security, political, social and economic grounds” to urge the Syrians go back by themselves.
Jordan hosts 667,000 registered Syrian refugees, but the kingdom says the real number, including those undocumented, is almost double.
The UN Refugee Agency insists, although it supports the voluntary return of refugees it will not allow Syrians to return forcibly. Moreover, it has put 21 conditions before it deals positively with the Russian moves.
“21 conditions that must be made available, including safety and stability, exemption from conscription, and other things that may make them accountable due to the last incidents. What is important to us here is that the return be voluntarily with dignity and safety,” says the UNHCR spokesperson in Jordan Mohmmad al-Hawari.
“About 15,000 Syrian refugees returned home from Jordan in the last three years. The numbers are normal, but so far the border is not open for full return.”

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