Ankara, 11 February 2022 – A two-day conference held in Ankara, titled “ Safe environment and dignified return for Syrians” marked a significant starting point of a serious and open discussion which aims to build a common understanding of the situation in which displaced Syrians find themselves today in Turkey and everywhere.
The conference - organized by the Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity and Turkish NGO “Solaris” – gathered a significant number of Turkish, Syrian and international policy makers, diplomats, academics, journalists and activists.
Rudaina Alkhazam, SACD’s program director, summed up the conference’s key messages in her closing statement: “These conversations have shown us that there is so much common ground and understanding between Syrians and The Turkish people regarding some basic truths about what displaced Syrians are facing, the reality in Syria and how establishing a safe environment in Syria serves both the interests of displaced Syrians and Turkey.
These basic truths include the following:
It is not safe for Syrians to return. The silent and not so silent attempts to normalize the regime will only make the return even more impossible, as the Syrian regime, as the main cause of displacement, is still practicing repression and terrorism upon the Syrian people.
There cannot be talk about safe and dignified return without significant changes in the security, political and social reality in Syria.
Syria being safe for return is not limited to military activities on the front. Safe environment covers many details in the various political, security, social and economic aspects, and we are fully aware of them. For example, how can we even begin talking about the return without the release of thousands of detainees languishing in the Syrian regime’s prisons under torture?
Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity engaged with Syrian and international experts, gathered the opinions of the displaced Syrians over the last three years, long and deep discussions on many segments of the concept of safe environment were held to determine the roadmap for change that could achieve a safe environment and a dignified voluntary return. We presented the main points of this definition at this conference and will be engaging with all the relevant interlocutors in the coming weeks and months to ensure that the definition of safe environment by the displaced Syrians is elevated to the top of the political agenda.
The world must hear the conditions of return that the displaced Syrians themselves require. Our voice must be clear within any political process, and the changes we want must begin and be identified before talking about anything else.
Because, it is undeniable that there cannot talk about return without talking about eliminating the real causes of displacement.
Before the conditions for a safe and dignified return, including the significant changes I mentioned earlier are in place for all of Syria and the safe environment - as we, the displaced Syrians, understand and require it - is achieved, there will be no voluntary return to Syria. Premature or forced return will only result in more instability and further waves of displacement.
The United Nations and the UNHCR must involve the displaced Syrians themselves in discussions about the implementation of protection thresholds, the reality of Syria, and the definition of the safe environment before talking about the possibility of their return.
Talking about a political solution or any separate aspect of the solution, whether the constitution, elections, or other, is useless unless the political solution includes our conditions for a safe Syria and a dignified life. Without ensuring the rights of displaced Syrians, the majority of Syrian population, no stable and sustainable political solution will be possible.
This conference was, we believe, a successful attempt to discuss the reality in Syria and convey the voice of the displaced to the Turkish and global public opinion, politicians and academics by defining in detail what must be changed in Syria before talking about return.
It is upon all of us here to disseminate the content of the conversations held at this event, and engage a broader spectrum of the Turkish decision and policy makers in this conversation.
We also need to spread these ideas into the Turkish public opinion, and raise their awareness about the truth and reality of Syrians and their future.
Establishing a safe environment in all of Syria is a common strategic interest for Turkey's national security and Syria’s future, and we need to push for it together, and to constantly ensure that we listen to what Syrians really need in order to be able to return in safety and dignity.
We will always remain grateful to Turkey and to the Turkish people for receiving the largest number of Syrian refugees. Our message is that we do want to go home, and for that to happen we need a safe environment to be established in all of Syria. Let's work together to make it happen, to create the right conditions for our safe and dignified return, to understand the reality facing displaced Syrians and what needs to change for the return to become possible.”