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Karim Traboulsi

Eventually, everyone wants to get rid of Syrian refugees

Syrian refugees fleeing war could be forced to return even decades later [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 1 February, 2016

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Tired of having to provide for hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing Assad's atrocities, Europe and regional host countries appear to be planning to eventually deport refugees back to Syria.

A February 4 refugee donors' conference on Syria is convening almost simultaneously with the Geneva peace talks between the Syrian regime and Syrian opposition representatives.

Officially, the conference will address issues like further aid to refugees in countries neighbouring Syria and their host communities.

But unofficially, the conferees are more than likely to address one of the most important yet often ignored questions when it comes to the Syrian refugee crisis: What will happen to Syrian refugees after the conflict is over or once it is downgraded to a manageable level? 

A combination of weariness, wariness and outright racism has replaced the erstwhile hospitality, solidarity and support shown towards the Syrian refugees, from Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, to the most "progressive" and "humane" nations of northern Europe.

Almost every country hosting Syrian refugees today is drawing up plans to deport them. Some are not even waiting for the war to stop to do so.

Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have over the past year imposed tough restrictions on the entry of Syrian nationals. All or some of these countries have also exploited loopholes to dodge their commitments to refugees, finding ways to prevent them from re-entering once they left.

Germany, Sweden, Finland and Denmark are tightening their asylum rules and/or planning mass deportations.

These were once the hospitable nations, so this is not to mention the inhospitable nations that gave Syrian refugees a cold shoulder from the outset, from eastern and central Europe to the UK.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said most refugees from Syria and Iraq would go home once the conflicts there had ended

Ultimate fate

In local newspapers in some host countries, such as Lebanon, there is talk of negotiations regarding the ultimate fate of Syria's refugees, particularly those in Europe.

The negotiations allegedly centre on a European-sponsored bid (or pressures) to convince countries neighbouring Syria to permanently or semi-permanently resettle Syrian refugees and allow them to enter their labour markets.

In fact, none of this is secret.

Europe, the US, Canada and other nations have long panicked at the prospect of permanently resettling hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, most of whom are Muslim, anathema to right-wing parties and their supporters in these countries.

On Saturday, finally caving in to pressure from the right, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said most refugees from Syria and Iraq would go home once the conflicts there had ended.

Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who has often been accused of racism towards Syrian refugees, revealed last week how exactly Europe and regional governments could intend to go about returning Syrian refugees home.

Bassil said that his ministry has prepared a plan that would return Syrian refugees to their homes when the conflict is over.

The programme, he claimed, "merely" suggests "activating the Lebanese economy by supporting its production sectors, such as agriculture, by attracting the Lebanese and Syrian workforce and encouraging the latter to return to their country" when the crisis is over.

The programme is called (European-?) Subsidised Temporary Employment Program.

“European countries now agree that the refugee crisis isn’t only humanitarian but should also include development projects,” Bassil said, urging thorough discussions to facilitate the return of refugees. “Lebanon understands the EU measures against immigrants...They should also understand our situation.”

Already, Europe has struck a deal with Turkey to curb the flow of refugees across its borders to Europe

Refugee 'hot potato'

In other words, European nations could apply further pressure on countries like Lebanon and Jordan to resettle Syrian refugees, possibly including returnees from Europe, including by linking aid to giving Syrians the right to work and more.

Already, Europe has struck a deal with Turkey to curb the flow of refugees across its borders to Europe.

However, the corrupt regional governments, who are known for embezzling aid, mistreating refugees, and mismanaging their own countries, cannot be entrusted with improving conditions for refugees.

These countries themselves, despite their pledges, and possibly including through deals with the Syrian regime, could be planning to repatriate refugees to their war-torn countries whether safety conditions are satisfied or not, to get rid of their economic, social and political burden.

In the end, once thing is clear: The whole world today sees Syrian refugees as the human equivalent of a "hot potato", seeking to get rid of it at any cost and at the closest opportunity, with a combination of throwing money at the problem, legal restrictions, propaganda and deception, blackmail and cutting deals with corrupt and autocratic regimes.

Anything but the right thing to do: to treat migrants and refugees as human beings who are more valuable than articifial borders and polities.


Follow Karim Traboulsi on Twitter: @kareemios

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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