UNHCR’s dangerous mirage of safe return to Syria: Debunking a false narrative and irrelevant numbers

The UNHCR has claimed that at least 1.4M of displaced Syrians have returned last year, using it to push forward the narrative that Syria is safe, and that the conditions inside the country are now fit for the voluntary return of refugees and IDPs to their areas of origin. It is not clear what the UNHCR’s motive for promoting this narrative, best debunked by the refusal of people displaced in Rukban camp to return to Assad-held areas despite the terrible conditions. The recent social media posts showing senior UNHCR officials walking through the rubble of Homs and other Syrian cities, supposedly to illustrate how conditions are harsh but improving, are deeply misleading and dangerous for the Syrian displaced who are likely to face forcible recruitment into Assad’s army, detention, and in some cases enforced disappearance if they try to return home. Even after the outcry of other humanitarian groups and UNHCR’s head Filippo Grandi openly admitting that UNHCR has no access to all areas of the country to ensure that returnees are safe, the agency narrative has not changed.