“Official Statement on the Sixth International Conference on the Return of Syrian Refugees and Migrants

The Free Syrian Lawyers Association (FSLA) shares its reflections on the Sixth International Conference that took place on June 5th, 2023, in Damascus, primarily focusing on the return of Syrian refugees and displaced individuals. This yearly conference, coordinated by Syrian and Russian authorities since its inception, has not yielded any concrete outcomes nor has it gained substantial international recognition or participation.

Our prior human rights report titled, “The Return of Syrian Refugees to Damascus: Back to Hell, We Are Watching,” confirmed that these conferences are mere strategic manipulations of public opinion by the Syrian regime and Russia. Their aim is to obscure the true nature of the Syrian crisis and to disrupt the political process by disregarding the provisions of Security Council Resolution 2254 from 2015, while continuing to perpetrate gross human rights violations against returning and displaced refugees.

Our allegations were corroborated by the International Commission of Inquiry’s latest report No. A/HRC/52/69, covering the period from July to December 2022. It revealed the Syrian regime’s persistence in committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and executing unfair trials.

Despite these irrefutable facts, the Syrian regime continually calls for Syrians to return to their homeland, manipulating them with promises, threats, and incentives. The regime attempts to reclaim international legitimacy by enticing those Syrians initially displaced with the deceitful promise of reconstruction and safety, only to impose compliance and servitude on them later.

The FSLA believes that such dreams of international rehabilitation will not be realized without substantial systemic change. The recent statement of Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, at a press conference held in Vienna, Austria, aligns with our position. He underscored the dire human rights situation in Syria and asserted that migrants cannot be forcibly sent back to these perilous conditions.

Based on these findings, we, the FSLA, reaffirm the following:

  • Since 2015, Russia’s involvement in the Syrian crisis has been characterized by grave human rights violations and a conspicuous effort to shield its ally, the Syrian regime. The Russian strategy to the Syrian crisis, manifested in Astana, Sochi, and other similar conferences, proved ineffectual, serving only to cement a narrative of destruction, death, and displacement deeply ingrained in the memory of Syrians.
  •  The Syrian regime and its security apparatus continue to commit severe human rights violations against returning and displaced refugees. A safe return of refugees and displaced persons remains impossible as long as this regime and its security apparatus persist.
  • Refugees’ and displaced persons’ properties are seized and constrained by illegitimate legislation and laws. These regulations target the property and housing rights of Syrians, imposing legal restrictions to control or seize their property.
  • Under the Syrian regime, the economic, social, and security conditions are deteriorating significantly. The sway of warlords and militias has increased, paralleled by the government’s absence and the decay of basic services. This reality engenders a state of security chaos and rampant kidnappings and killings, preventing a safe return for displaced individuals and refugees.
  • The international community has been ineffective in upholding the rights of Syrian refugees and displaced individuals. Despite the rhetoric, no substantial measures have been taken to protect the rights of Syrian refugees and displaced persons. The principle of non-refoulement is being breached, with some host countries forcibly returning refugees to Syria. The Syrian regime and its allies should be held accountable for their human rights violations and infringements of international humanitarian law by the international community, especially the United Nations.
  • We, at the FSLA, insist on the safe, voluntary, and dignified return of all Syrian refugees and displaced persons. It’s worth mentioning that the absence of war does not equate to safety or security. All returnees should be guaranteed their rights and fundamental freedoms without fear of reprisal or persecution.
  • We demand the establishment of a transitional justice mechanism to ensure those who committed human rights abuses and violated international humanitarian law are held accountable. This is a crucial step towards achieving reconciliation, peace, and stability in Syria.

In conclusion, the conditions conducive to the safe return of refugees, as stipulated in international agreements, are not currently met. We caution that these conferences may set a dangerous precedent for anti-refugee sentiment and forced deportation in host countries.

Therefore, we urge the countries engaged with the Syrian dossier to implement Security Council Resolution No. 2254 from 2015 to facilitate a political transition. The solution in Syria must encompass an agreement on a constitution that represents all Syrians, respects and safeguards the freedom and dignity of the Syrian citizen, and nullifies all clauses that regulate the state’s executive authority, issued by the legislative and judicial authorities.”