Dis­placed Syr­i­ans fear re­turn, mark­ing a de­mo­graphic shift

Jamaica Gleaner - - INTERNATIONAL NEWS -

BEIRUT (AP): SYRIA’S GOVERN­MENT says peo­ple who fled rebel zones that have since been re­taken by the mil­i­tary are now wel­come to re­turn. But that’s not how it worked out for one refugee fam­ily that came to check out the state of their home: They found another fam­ily had moved in.

That’s just one of many hur­dles keep­ing away those dis­placed in Syria’s war.

Many who fled say they fear ar­rest if they re­turn to homes now un­der govern­ment con­trol, or that their sons will be con­scripted into the same mil­i­tary that once bom­barded their towns. In other former op­po­si­tion strongholds, the state is car­ry­ing out re­de­vel­op­ment projects that have razed thou­sands of homes.

The op­po­si­tion ac­cuses the govern­ment of Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad of us­ing un­der-the-radar meth­ods to dis­cour­age pop­u­la­tions it sees as dis­loyal from re­turn­ing, chang­ing the de­mo­graph­ics to help con­sol­i­date con­trol over a cor­ri­dor run­ning from Da­m­as­cus to the Mediter­ranean coast.

The govern­ment says it is do­ing all it can to bring peo­ple back.

“The main goal of the Syr­ian govern­ment is to re­turn all dis­placed Syr­i­ans to their homes,” Na­tional Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Min­is­ter Ali Haidar told The As­so­ci­ated Press last month.

More than 11 mil­lion peo­ple, nearly half Syria’s pop­u­la­tion, have been driven from their homes by the war since 2011, in­clud­ing five mil­lion who fled abroad as refugees.

The war still rages in many parts of the coun­try, and there is heavy de­struc­tion. In those con­di­tions, a mass re­turn is un­likely. So it is dif­fi­cult to mea­sure how much govern­ment mea­sures are keep­ing op­po­si­tion-minded Syr­i­ans from re­turn­ing.

WHO CAN COME BACK

But the fall of a num­ber of op­po­si­tion strongholds in re­cent months has brought to im­me­di­ate rel­e­vance the is­sue of who can come back.

For ex­am­ple, a string of rebel, mainly Sunni Mus­lim sub­urbs around Da­m­as­cus have come un­der mil­i­tary con­trol. They were drained of much of their pop­u­la­tion as hun­dreds of thou­sands fled siege and bom­bard­ment in re­cent years. Now, thou­sands more are leav­ing be­cause of govern­ment con­trol. It is an open ques­tion whether they will ever re­turn.

In Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, govern­ment forces are be­sieg­ing the rebel east­ern dis­tricts, and the es­ti­mated 275,000 res­i­dents have re­fused calls to evac­u­ate, in part be­cause many are con­vinced they’ll never be al­lowed back.

AP

In this pic­ture taken on Fri­day, Oc­to­ber 3, 2016, Hoda, a dis­placed Syr­ian woman shows through her mo­bile phone the empty street of her house at Baba Tad­mor neigh­bour­hood in Homs prov­ince, dur­ing an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press in Tripoli, north Le­banon.

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