Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity: Message to Delegates of Refugee Forum

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On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the UNHCR are holding the first Global Refugees Forum. As a civil society organization that represents the views of displaced Syrians, SACD is disappointed not to receive an invitation to this event in order to represent the displaced people of Syria. SACD calls for refugees and IDPs to be an integral part of all discussions about their future.

We are a civil-rights grassroot popular movement established by citizens from different regions of Syria. It works to promote, protect and secure the rights of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs)through advocacy, mobilization of necessary support, and influencing key policy and decision-makers. As the vocie of the displaced Syrians, we adress the delegates of the Global Refugee Forum with the following messages and recommendations:

Key Messages for the Global Refugee Forum

SACD calls on host countries and donors to continue and increase support for refugees in host countries to ensure hosting and protection continues for as long as needed. This includes creating conditions for adequate access to employment and education to the refugee population and adequate support to host communities to alleviate any resulting inequalities.

SACD calls for long-term solutions and increased resettlement for refugees who cannot go home.

Any political solution to end the conflict, and to achieve a lasting and stable peace in Syria and the region, must include mechanisms to protect the rights of displaced Syrians. The voices of displaced Syrians should be included in constitution drafting and all work-­streams within the UN-led Geneva process.

The international community (including European states, neighbouring countries, and humanitarian agencies) must increase and adapt their efforts to protect Syria’s displaced from refoulement or increased pressure to return until the conditions for their volun­tary, safe and dignified return are guaranteed.

The international community must address the crisis caused by the Syrian regime’s re­fusal to allow UNHCR unfettered access to monitor the return conditions. A strong in­ternational mechanism should also be considered to ensure and monitor conditions of return inside Syria that protect the rights of displaced persons and refugees — including those who had to return to areas under regime control before the conditions of safe, voluntary and dignified return were in place and a secure environment is achieved — and prioritizes protection concerns.

The resolving of the issue of detainees and forcibly disappeared people must be adopted as a pre-condition for the creation of minimum conditions for a safe, voluntary and dig­nified return. This includes unrestricted and immediate access to all detainees by inter­national agencies lead by the ICRC, handing over of the bodies of those who died under torture in detention to their relatives, and the abolishment of sentences and criminal charges, as well as full rehabilitation for all those arrested for opposing the regime.

Given the high reported levels of arrest, detention, harassment, discrimination, con­scription and violations of housing, land and property rights, the international commu­nity must halt discussion of return or preparation for return until an effective monitoring mechanism is in place. It must also provide reassurance that facilitated or supported return will not take place until the conditions for voluntary, safe, and dignified return have been met and independently verified via the international mechanism.

Timely and granular information about the security conditions and conditions for return in each of Syria’s towns and cities must be urgently made available to Syria’s displaced. Until this information is available, no returns can be considered safe or voluntary.

SACD agrees that burden-sharing is essential in the Syrian context and all actors must support host countries and refugees alike with resettlement options, funding, and political action to resolve the crisis and create the conditions that would support safe, dignified, and voluntary return.

Our research shows that providing services inside Syria isn’t the appropriate response to the concerns of Syria refugees, but these should be offered in neighbouring countries and areas of displacement as conditions for a safe, dignified and voluntary return simply do not exist (www.syacd.org).

Protection is a major concerns for displaced Syrians and SACD has a number of concerns about the refugee and IDP returns response and the role of UNHCR within it.

First and foremost, SACD maintains that displacement in Syria is a political issue. Over half of the pre-war population are displaced and some of the most pernicious reasons for displacement and barriers to return involve political and structural changes within Syria that only a successful peace process, political agreement and transition can deliver. Simply treating refugee return as a humanitarian issue to be managed by UNCHR is a recipe for disaster.

The SACD maintains that UNHCR’s failing in its responsibility to displaced Syrians. Failure to act to change the course of work and information around Syria’s vast displacement crisis now, will have a devastating impact on the region and may have deadly consequences for individuals.

Key concerns about UNHCR’s returns work

We have detailed the argumentation for our concerns in a briefing paper and accompanying analysis of degradation of UNHCR’s protection thresholds for displaced Syrians (https://syacd.org/reports/unhcrs-failure-to-uphold-its-responsibility-to-the-displaced-syrians/) which includes the following recommendations:

SACD calls on key states participating in the political process to act to ensure that IDP and refugee return is addressed as part of any peace process of political agreement; including the need to address political and structural barriers to return at the political level.

As major donors of UNHCR and the UN response in Syria, we call on donor states to hold UNHCR to account for humanitarian-level aspects of the refugee and IDP returns response.

SACD calls for the immediate reinstatement of the February 2018 thresholds, clarity around the drafting of thresholds, and significant and meaningful consultation with displaced Syrians in any future changes to the thresholds through a transparent process.

UNHCR must be clear about the limits of their access and monitoring capabilities and highlight the gaps in knowledge and risks inherent in this lack of access and monitoring. UNHCR must call for access and make it a pre-condition of any future returns discussion or work. UNHCR must only use contextually relevant information to monitor conditions and should monitor implementation of legislation and announcements in addition to the announcements themselves. UNHCR must work with organizations like SACD to produce and distribute research and monitoring information about security concerns and conditions until such time as they are able to do so themselves.

Timely and granular information on the protection thresholds, conditions in areas of return, and the experience of returning refugees and IDPs must be made available to CSOs and refugees through publicly-facing platforms that they can access in their own time when considering returns decisions. Until such time as this can be provided returns cannot be considered to be informed or voluntary.

Immediately revert to the 2018 language under Phase 1 of the strategy, highlighting that returns should not be encouraged and that facilitation should not occur until the conditions exist under which safe, dignified and voluntary returns can take place and cease programming that could encourage or facilitate premature and unsafe returns.

UNHCR must recognize the impact its social media have on the decision-making by the displaced Syrians and curate the conditions in Assad-held areas accurately and responsibly. It must account for misleading narrative curated through its social media which omits any information on security threats facing returnees in Assad-held areas and complete omission to report through its social media on the suffering of more than 400 000 Syrians displaced from Idlib since the start of the assault by Russian and regime forces in February.

Key recommendations on Syria for the Global Refugee Forum

Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity embodies the diversity of the citizens of Syria, regardless of their social, religious or gender background. The Association is fighting to ensure the right of a voluntary, safe and dignified return of all Syrian refugees and IDPs. We are against forced or premature return of refugees and IDPs. The Association believes that a popular movement for a dignified return, based on the recognition of the rights of refugees and IDPs as Syrian citizens, is central to any future solution in Syria.