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Returning IDPs internally should come before asking refugees to return: lawyers, politicians form Syria’s Afrin

ALEPPO, Syria (North Press) – Lawyers and politicians from the Turkish-occupied region of Afrin, northwest Syria, believe that the powers participating in a meeting in the Syrian capital Damascus to discuss the issue of the return of refugees should work first to find solutions for the internal displacement crisis and return the IDPs to their areas.

They added that the Syrian government and Russia are following their own interests regardless of the situation in the country, and that discussing the return of refugees aims at political investment and collecting money under the pretext of reconstruction.

On Monday, the Russian-Syrian joint meeting to follow up on the works of the international conference on the return of Syrian refugees in the Conference Palace in Damascus began.

The meeting, which will last three days, will discuss measures taken by the Syrian government to create conditions for the return of Syrian refugees and “secure decent living conditions and a comfortable environment in cooperation with Russia.”

In November 2020, the conference was held in Damascus with the participation of representatives of a number of countries to discuss the suffering of refugees and facilitate their return.

At the time, Syrians mocked the conference and sarcastically demanded a conference to help Syrians remaining in the country to leave.  

Meanwhile, IDPs in different Syrian regions criticized the follow-up on the works of the conference and doubted the seriousness of Russia in returning refugees, as it ignores millions of internally displaced.

Jamal Salih, a politician from Afrin residing in the northern countryside of Aleppo, expects that the meeting “will not be fruitful, as there some Syrian territories still under the Turkish occupation’s control.”

He wondered how conferences and meetings could be held to demand Syrian refugees to return to the country while millions of internally displaced people cannot return to their areas.

In 2020, the United Nations estimates that the number of internally displaced people in Syria has reached 6.7 million, in addition to 5.5 million refugees in neighboring countries alone.

“The Syrian government is supposed to expel the occupiers from its lands and work to return the IDPs in the camps to their areas, and then invite the refugees to return,” Salih added.

He also considers holding this conference as useless unless the military conflicts in Syria are ended and security and stability are established, in addition to the availability of livelihoods.

The living and economic difficulties that Syrians are experiencing due to increased unemployment, high prices, the spread of queues for fuel, bread, and other staples, and a decline in health and educational services prevent the return of refugees, according to Salih.

Syria is witnessing the continuation of military operations and displacement, especially in the de-escalation zone between the government forces and the Turkish-backed armed factions in the country’s northwest.

The meeting in Damascus appears to be a Russian endeavor rather than a Syrian one; the government carries out all its political activities under Russian auspices, to the extent that it celebrated the Russian Navy Day on July 26.

Jibrael Mustafa, a lawyer from Afrin living in the northern countryside of Aleppo, said that all that matters to Russia in the Syrian issue is protecting its interests.

“It is the one who gave the green light to Turkey and the pro-Turkish militia to occupy Afrin, and wants the Assad regime to return to before 2012,” he explained.

Mustafa pointed out that Afrin’s IDPs did not benefit from the presence of Russian bases and points in the areas that the IDPs of Afrin are distributed, as “the areas are exposed to shelling on a daily basis and in plain view of the Russian forces.”

On Sunday, five people, including three children, were wounded in the village of Ahras in the northern countryside of Aleppo in shelling by Turkey and its affiliated factions on the village, which is home to local residents and displaced people from Afrin.

Some of Afrin’s IDPs are distributed among five camps; Barkhwadan, al-Awdah, Afrin, al-Shahba, and Serdam, while others are distributed among 42 villages and towns in the northern countryside of Aleppo.

Hassan Othman, an administrator at Serdam Camp of Afrin IDPs in the northern countryside of Aleppo, said that Russia is an obstacle to the delivery of aid to Afrin IDPs camps.

He pointed out that Russia’s prevention of reopening the Tel Kocher (Yaroubiyah) humanitarian crossing, and restricting the entry of aid to the Bab al-Hawa crossing, prevented it from reaching the displaced people of Afrin.

He also wondered about Russia’s failure to respond to the demands of Afrin’s displaced, who had held several demonstrations in front of its headquarters demanding their return to their city while it invites the refugees to return.

Reporting by Dijla Khalil

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