WED 16 - 1 - 2019
Aug 8, 2018
The Daily Star
New Syrians in the new Syria
As we witness the return of refugees to their home country after seven years of suffering from the Syrian crisis, vagueness is still the only description of their future.
The Lebanese government has commenced the process of facilitating the individual and voluntary return of refugees upon clearance from the Syrian regime. In addition, a joint Russian-American plan of action for the return of refugees to places of preconflict residence was announced few days ago.
On another front, the Palestinian issue is the center of global negotiations toward peace in the region. The Palestinians’ right of return to their homeland and their right to remedy are the main factors that will shape the near future of the area.
We are now in the dilemma of displacement and right of return.
Displacement is a historical phenomenon as old as humanity.
According to UNESCO, “the displacement of people refers to the forced movement of people from their locality or environment and occupational activities. It is a form of social change caused by certain factors such as armed conflict, natural disasters, famine, development and economic changes. Persons or group of persons who have left their homes without crossing an internationally recognized state border are considered ‘internally displaced persons.’ When displacement is beyond the state’s border, fleeing people are considered ‘refugees.’”
In contemporary terms, we have been witnessing decades of refugee crises all over the world.
Based on Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes the right to seek asylum from persecution in other countries, the 1951 Refugee Convention was drafted as a result of World War II. Those writing the accord were affected by the massive population movements during that war, and the convention clearly reflects what and whom they were taking into consideration to protect at that time and in the future.
The convention consolidates previous international instruments and tools related to refugees and the classification of the rights of refugees. The definition of “refugees” applies to “people who flee persecution because of what happened to them in their individual type of circumstances,” but it also applies to people who flee armed conflict and violence.
July 28 will commemorate the signing of the Refugee Convention, amid the ongoing crisis in Syria and other countries.
Unprecedented numbers of displaced people and refugees are being recorded globally. According to the UNHCR, there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, where 40 million are internally displaced, 25.4 million are refugees, and 3.1 million are asylum-seekers. Some 85 percent of the world’s displaced people are in developing countries and 57 percent of refugees come from South Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria.
Almost 70 years since its signing, the convention is still considered the centerpiece of international refugee protection and is still as relevant as it was in 1951.
Some 6.3 million refugees fleeing Syria is a devastating number for humanity and will have an impact for future generations.
Within the current discussions of refugee rights and their return process to Syria, we have to pause and ask: To what kind of Syria are they returning? What characterizes Syrian refugees who have been suffering for seven years and will return to their homeland?
These are core questions that will be tackled in any resettlement and reconstruction process, and must be integrated into any action plan. It is as essential as infrastructure and post-conflict reconstruction to focus on rebuilding human trust and relationships among citizens, as well as between them and their homeland, after what they have been through.
Personal and social support is what every refugee needs as a basic right to restore individual balance at all levels. Such complex issues need a large amount of research, diagnosis and coherent action plans. What we are sure of is that new Syrians are returning to a new land with different circumstances and characteristics.
This is worth our attention as it will be shaping the near- and long-term future.
Hiba Huneini is manager of the youth and civic engagement program at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email her at
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 25, 2018, on page 3.
The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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