The New Arab

Syria says deal struck with Jordan to return refugees

Jordan closed its border with Syria in 2015 [AFP]

Date of publication: 14 August, 2018

Syrian media have reported that Damascus and Amman have struck a deal to return refugees back home to Syria.
Syrian media have reported that Bashar al-Assad's regime has struck a deal with Jordan, to return thousands of Syrian refugees back home, but with no confirmation from Amman.

Arrangements have been made at the al-Nassib border crossing between Jordan and Syria, with Russian military police reported at the crossing. But the border remains closed from the Jordanian side.

Pro-regime media reported that Syria has partially opened its side of the border crossing and expects "hundreds of Syrians" living in Jordan to return to their homes.

It added that the border crossing is expected to re-open next week, with Russia likely to play a role in the project, but this is yet to be confirmed by Amman.

"In a span of 24 hours, the checkpoint is capable of handling up to 4,000 people and 50 cars. Today, no one used it to cross the border, but the lists [of returning refugee] are being drafted. We are expecting people to come," said Russian Center for Reception, Allocation and Accommodation of Refugees in Syria, Mikhail Kilasyev

Jordan hosts between 700,000 and 1.3 million Syrians, most of them living in two large refugee camps in the north and east of the country.

Amman has complained about the cost of hosting so many refugees, while the conflict in Syria has also played a role in squeezing the kingdom's economy.

Jordan has been eager to re-open the the al-Nassib crossing to boost trade, with the kingdom losing around $800 million a year since the border was closed by Amman in 2015 due to security fears.

An attack on Jordanian police by Islamic State group sympathisers last week could slow the re-opening of the crossing.

Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on 2 August said the kingdom would only re-open the crossing when it was ready.

"We will deal with the request with all positiveness that serves our interests. Matters have to stabilise," he said, according to Reuters.

The news from Syrian and Russian media about the planned re-opening is likely to push the message that regime areas are now safe for the return of refugees.

Cash-strapped Damascus is eager to promote this idea to the world so that funding for re-construction and aid from the international community could flood into the regime's coffers.

In Syria's southern Daraa province - where many of Jordan's Syrian population are from - preparations are underway for the return of some refugees.

"We are ready to allocate transport vehicles to take people to their homes, to issue them documents and provide medical assistance. Those whose homes have not yet been restored can find shelter in temporary accommodations that have room for up to 10,000 people," said Daraa Governor Mohammed Khaled al-Hanous.

Returnees Minister Hussein Makhlouf also urged Syrians to re-enter the country. 

Russia has set up the Centre for Reception, Allocation and Accommodation of Refugees, to return Syrians to their homes and provide services.

It follows similar move in Lebanon, to pressure Syrian refugees back to the government-controlled areas of Syria.

But many Syrians would likely refuse to go back, fearing retaliation from the regime's notorious security services looking out for suspected opponents of Bashar al-Assad. 

As many as 100,000 Syrians are believed to have died in regime prisons, most believed to have been tortured to death or executed.

Half of Syria's population has been displaced since war broke out in 2011, most fleeing regime bombing and shelling of opposition areas.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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