Over the past thirteen years, millions of Syrians have fled their homeland in search of safety outside the borders of their country, and have lived through the challenges of asylum and migration. As time passes, life becomes more difficult for Syrians who fled the war, and their hopes for a safe return and a decent life in Syria also fade.
With the continuation of hostilities, the marked deterioration of the humanitarian conditions inside Syria, and the lack of effective efforts for a political solution to the crisis, hope for return remains out of the question under the current circumstances. The crisis of displaced Syrians and refugees has become classified as one of the largest refugee crises in the world, as the number of Syrian refugees has reached 5.28 million people, while about 6.8 million internally displaced people are floundering in increasing suffering.
The Syrian regime and some international bodies are trying to market the idea of Syrians returning to their country, while reports indicate that the reality is completely different. The ongoing conflict, harsh conditions, and deteriorating economic conditions and infrastructure are all major obstacles to the safe and dignified return of Syrians to their country. Despite the increasing voices of the regime asserting that Syria has become safe and ready to receive returnees and that Syrians must return, the reality highlights an increase in the number of Syrians crossing the border towards countries of asylum.
Inside Syria, more than 15 million people – two-thirds of the population – have been in urgent need of humanitarian assistance for years before the devastating earthquake. With this natural disaster, the situation worsened further for the most vulnerable groups in Syrian society, which exacerbated the humanitarian crisis. The earthquake contributed to adding new burdens and additional challenges to the poor and displaced, turning obtaining aid and basic services into something more difficult.
All this pushed Syrians to face the challenges and risks of crossing the Mediterranean in search of a better life in Europe, which highlights the difficult conditions and lack of a safe environment in their country, as many rushed towards Lebanon and Turkey as an intermediate stop on their journey.
The journey across the Mediterranean is a difficult and risky stop for many Syrians. This journey carries many challenges, from drowning at sea to human smuggling to the risks of arrest and displacement in neighboring countries.
The shocking facts of Syrian migrants who find themselves vulnerable at sea show the failure of reconciliation agreements, as the vast majority of migrants had left the reconciliation areas, highlighting the failure of Russia and the regime to provide safety or stability for citizens. Those responsible for this failure must be held accountable, and a safe environment and decent living for Syrians wherever they are must be ensured.
A dangerous journey on the Syrian-Lebanese border:
In recent weeks, the Lebanese-Syrian border has witnessed increasing activity, as hundreds of Syrians cross the dangerous border areas in order to escape to Lebanon and from there to Europe and elsewhere. These operations take place through well-known corridors such as Al-Arida and Al-Abboudieh, and extend to Wadi Khaled, reaching Mount Akrum and the borders of Hermel in the Bekaa area.
Some Lebanese circles are witnessing an increase of racism towards Syrians, with calls to expel all refugees from Lebanon, which is suffering from stifling economic and living crises. According to daily data from the Lebanese Army, about 6,100 Syrians have been prevented from entering Lebanon illegally since mid-August.
The majority of Syrians who infiltrate into Lebanon through illegal crossings are young people, and smuggling gangs exploit rough roads that are difficult to monitor and control and make huge profits that sometimes reach $2,000 per day.
Escaping of thousands to Lebanon, and reduction of aid to refugees:
Lebanese Army statistics indicate a continuous increase in the number of Syrians arriving illegally, as the number of those arrested in 2022 reached more than 20 thousand, with this number exceeding 22 thousand in the period from the beginning of 2023 until September. These numbers show the peak of crossings in August 2023, when the number of detainees rose to more than eight thousand displaced Syrians.
In light of increasing calls in Lebanon for the early return of Syrians to their country, in parallel with increasing economic and social pressures on Lebanese resources, the United Nations announced a decision to reduce the number of refugee families who will receive cash assistance in Lebanon by about a third during the next year, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
In statements by UNHCR spokeswoman Lisa Abu Khaled on Thursday, she explained that the “significant reductions in funding” will lead to providing monthly cash assistance to about 88,000 less families in 2024 compared to the current year.
She indicated that approximately 190,000 families continue to receive monthly aid, with a monthly maximum of $125 per family. She added that the winter aid program, which provided additional support to cover heating fuel costs, will stop this year.
Abu Khaled explained that these reductions come in light of a severe financial crisis that Lebanon has been suffering since 2019, as the country hosts about 790,000 Syrian refugees, making it ranked first in the world in terms of the number of refugees compared to the population. She confirmed that 90% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live below the extreme poverty line, in light of the continuing Syrian crisis and ongoing conflicts.
The survival struggle amid economic challenges and the increase in hatred speech in Türkiye:
As a continuation of this tragic situation, the conditions of Syrians in Turkey are worsening and they are subjected to endless suffering in light of the escalation of abuse and repeated illegal behavior. Recently, hatred speech and racism against refugees have escalated, leading to a wave of attacks and abuses of a racist, psychological, and physical nature against Syrians residing in Turkey.
Cases of harassment and attacks against Syrians have increased, whether in public places or through social media. This escalation in hate speech has greatly affected the lives of Syrians in Turkey, where they now live in a state of constant anxiety and fear of being exposed to potential attacks and threats.
Syrians in Turkey suffer from chronic hardship. The conditions of their country do not allow for a safe return, and attempts to migrate to other countries of asylum can only succeed through an arduous journey full of risks. Despite all of this, the Syrians prefer to take the risky adventure of illegal immigration rather than return to a destroyed Syria. They face major economic and legal challenges inside Turkey, in addition to racial discrimination against them.
Journey to the unknown:
The sea trip to Cyprus and fears of being returned to Lebanon:
In a move that raises concern and warns of danger to the fate of Syrians fleeing wars and conflicts in Syria, the Republic of Cyprus is moving towards measures that intend to return Syrian immigrants to Lebanon. This step raises increasing concerns about the fate of refugees in light of the crisis conditions in Lebanon. These measures demonstrate a new danger facing Syrians who forcibly return to Lebanon, as the political and economic conditions in this country continue to deteriorate.
The Republic of Cyprus also proposed to the Lebanese authorities a series of measures aimed at confronting the challenges related to the illegal immigrants coming from Lebanon, and the largest newspaper in Cyprus, “Phileleftheros”, revealed an official letter from the Ministry of Immigration in Cyprus to its Lebanese counterpart about an initiative to enhance security cooperation between the two countries to reduce the influx of illegal immigrants from Lebanon.
Returning these people to Lebanon is considered a great threat and danger to their lives and future, as they may be arrested in Lebanon by the Lebanese government or forced to return early to their country, which may lead to their arrest by Syrian regime forces.
This increases the difficulties and risks that illegal immigrants face on their migration journey to Europe, from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea to exposure to violence and exploitation by smugglers or authorities in the countries they pass through, which highlights the burden and increasing risks of this migration.
Violence accompanies refugees on the Bulgarian border and fears of impunity:
On the Bulgarian-Turkish border, the tragedy of migrants and asylum seekers continues. They accuse the Bulgarian authorities of violence and mistreatment without accountability, raising great concern among human rights activists and humanitarian organizations. Syrians seeking asylum in Bulgaria face a complex reality that varies between challenges and hopes.
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee reveals cases of migrants being attacked and abused by Bulgarian border police. The head of the committee, krassimir kanev, referred to cases of brutal attacks, stressing that some police officers use severe violence when arresting migrants, and some of them believe that they will not be held accountable for their actions.
The dense environmental conditions and isolated areas of Bulgaria’s forests make it easier for police to use force without supervision, allowing them to continue their practices without accountability. Kanev asserts that illegal practices are deliberately encouraged to implement a policy of intolerance and unwelcomeness towards immigrants.
Diana Dimova, head of “Mission Wings”, a Bulgarian human rights organization, says that the Balkan state has hidden crimes committed by its officials against people seeking international protection for years.
The issue of Syrian migrants in Bulgaria remains a sensitive issue that needs to be shed light on, to press for justice and guarantee human rights for all, and to interact effectively with them to ensure their rights and dignity during their difficult journey. The main challenge remains convincing them to register their complaints, despite their fears of retaliation and impact on their future opportunities.
“Doctors Without Borders” reveals Greece’s violations against migrants:
A report issued by “Doctors Without Borders” shows horrific details of human rights violations and exploitation of migrants at the hands of the Greek authorities, and documents that new arrivals to the Greek islands are subjected to horrific treatment that includes stripping, body searches, beatings, confiscation of their property, and even forced return of some to the sea, involving individuals wearing uniforms. Individuals wearing uniforms are involved in these violations.
The report focuses on 56 cases, which revealed the horrific conditions to which refugees are exposed, as they flee violence and persecution in their countries to another tragedy on the shores of Greece. The report reviewed tragic testimonies from refugees, where one of them said: “As soon as we entered Greek waters, a small gray boat headed towards us. A masked man jumped out and hit the person in front of him. Then he pulled the boat’s engine and threw it into the water. They left us at sea without a motor.”
“Doctors Without Borders” expressed its strong condemnation of these practices and called on the Greek government and European leaders to deal humanely and with dignity with individuals seeking protection and guarantee their rights and dignity. This report highlights the challenges facing migrants and asylum seekers on their way to Europe, and highlights an urgent need to conduct a thorough investigation into these violations to limit abuses and hold those involved accountable.
Civil society organizations and relief agencies work to provide assistance to vulnerable individuals on the islands of the Aegean Sea, but they face difficulties in the form of the authorities preventing their efforts, which exposes them to prosecution. In a decisive call to the Greek government and European leaders, Dr. Christos Christou, International President of Doctors Without Borders, said: “We urge the Greek government and European leaders to take immediate action to ensure that individuals seeking protection in Greece are treated with humanity and dignity.”
A sharp rise in the number of immigrants, with Syrians at the forefront:
The report “Detections of Illegal Border-crossings to the EU by Syrians (2009-2023)” issued by the “Syria Report” website on November 14, 2023, revealed that 75,255 Syrians were arrested this year, while trying to illegally cross into the European Union. These figures indicate an increase of 9% compared to the same period last year (68,476) and 38% compared to 2021 (46,395). If these trends continue, the number of Syrians being illegally arrested could exceed 100,000 by the end of 2023, which is the highest number since 2015, the number of Syrians who have arrived in European territory has reached approximately 600,000 people, which reflects the continued flow of refugees from Syria to Europe, fleeing their homes and searching for a safe haven. These statistics highlight ongoing immigration challenges.
Between the hammer of return and the anvil of survival:
In a dramatic turn to the Syrian tragedy, a bitter reality has begun to emerge on the ground, as many Syrian refugees in the countries neighboring Syria are forced to return to their homeland despite the complex and tragic circumstances from which they fled as a forced option due to their inability to go to Europe or any other country due to the risks or cost of the trip, or even other reasons mentioned above. Only few can hardly believe that these people are preparing to return to a country whose lands have turned into battlefields and fields of blood and destruction.
The reason behind this forced return is due to several aspects, the most important of which is the enormous living pressure that the Syrians in neighboring countries suffer, where living conditions have greatly worsened as a result of the reduction in international aid, the high cost of living, and the prevailing economic conditions in these countries.
Legal matters also greatly influenced the decision to return, as many of them face legal restrictions and challenges, which exposes them to the risk of arrest and deportation. The lack of a breadwinner for the family and the social status of some families also played a role in this complex context, as many Syrians find themselves far from their families are in countries of asylum, which makes returning to their homeland an urgent matter in order to maintain family and social ties despite the harsh conditions there.
Violence and bombing escalation, Russia admits to 230 air strikes:
The developments in the hostilities in Syria open a new record of violence and destruction in the northern regions of the country, specifically after the recent campaign launched by the Syrian regime forces and Russia on the fifth of last October. Russia admitted through the head of the Russian Coordination Center in Damascus and the central region, Major General “Vadim Collet,” by launching more than 230 air strikes and carrying out more than 900 artillery fire missions, which led to the destruction of 1,125 sites and the injury of hundreds, in a bloody military escalation that left behind deaths, injuries, and the displacement of more than 120,000 people. The latest United Nations report also indicated that more than 70 people were killed – more than a third of them are children, and 14 women – and 349 others were injured, 43 health facilities, 24 schools, and 20 water systems were destroyed.
Also in northeastern Syria, the continuation of conflicts and mutual bombings forced residents to choose forced displacement and refuge as the only option to seek safety, amid intensification of conflicts, major destruction of infrastructure, and shortages of basic supplies.
A safe environment: the key to a safe, voluntary and dignified return for Syrians:
In light of this harsh reality in Syria, the importance of finding a comprehensive political solution to the Syrian crisis that achieves a safe environment for the return of Syrians according to their conditions and needs is highlighted. It is not just a political issue, but rather represents the vital gateway for the return of Syrians to their country in a safe, voluntary and dignified manner.
A political solution has become necessary to provide a safe and appropriate environment for the return of Syrians, as the economic situation inside Syria is suffering from rapid deterioration, the continuation of the conflict, and the destruction of infrastructure. This makes their return difficult and risky without a safe and stable environment.
The harsh reality of the ongoing clashes and human rights violations committed by the Syrian regime cannot be overlooked. This reality makes returning to Syria an extremely difficult option for Syrian refugees who are eager to return to their country.
Therefore, we call on the international community to intensify efforts and coordination in order to work to find a comprehensive political solution. This solution is not just a political settlement, but rather the only safe way to provide a safe and stable environment that enables Syrians to return in dignity and security.
Joint work to find a political solution represents the real hope for achieving a better future for Syrians. If the international community can stand united and work resolutely to achieve this goal, it will be a radical step towards providing a safe and stable environment for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of Syrians to their country.