This unprecedented report is the result of several months of in-depth research by the Data Collection and Analysis Team of the SACD and it documents widespread and systematic violations suffered by Syrian who were forced to return to Assad-held areas of Syria. The researchers worked in extremely challenging conditions to interview 165 people in Homs, Damascus countryside, Dara’a and Aleppo to obtain a valid, reliable and comprehensive picture of the situation facing returnees in Assad-held areas of Syria. The report has a unique at this particular time when the fate of some 13 million displaced Syrians forms one of the key questions for the future of Syria, with implications for the stability of the region and beyond. The report’s importance is made more significant by the fact that no international organization, including the UNHCR, has real, uncensored access to all areas under Assad’s control.
Assad’s regime is intensively implementing a policy of demographic change aimed at stripping a huge portion of the displaced Syrians of their homes and properties through discriminatory laws, demolitions and false “reconstruction” activities. The regime and its Russian allies are desperate for international funds, especially from the European Union, to finance their “reconstruction” and create new realities on the ground with a multi-pronged effort to Syria’s demographic picture before the organized return of the displaced takes place. To achieve this objective, they are actively promoting a false narrative that the displaced are free to return to Assad-held areas, that the returnees will be safe from persecution and harassment, and allowed to reclaim their properties and enjoy a peaceful life. As this report reveals, nothing could be further from the truth.
This report and its underlying research com¬prise an unprecedented effort to gather tes-timonies from people who have returned to Assad-held areas (mostly due to dire living conditions in the displacement locations or because they believed the regime’s promis¬es of safe return) and those who remained in formerly opposition-controlled areas after they were retaken by regime forces under so-called reconciliation agreements.