Lebanon proposes controversial 'refugee return' plan for Syrian refugees
Lebanon's Minister of Displaced Affairs, Issam Sharaf el-Din, said that it was "totally unacceptable that displaced Syrians do not return to Syria after the war ended and it became safe."
Yet, rights monitors, like Human Rights Watch (HRW), have consistently warned that Syria is not safe for refugee return. In a report released in October 2021, HRW found that refugees who returned faced arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, death, sexual violence and enforced disappearances.
Sharaf el-Din added that financial aid will be cut off for Syrian refugees in Lebanon because it is "an incentive for them to stay in Lebanon." He proposed coordinating with other countries who host high numbers of Syrian refugees like Turkey and Jordan, to facilitate 'refugee returns'.
Lebanon hosts around 1.5 million Syrian refugees, in a country with a total population of around six million.
Syrian refugees face severe restrictions in all facets of life, and often face discrimination at the hands of official bodies. Their presence in the country is a domestic hot topic, with much of the country's ills blamed on them. In one extreme example, Lebanese media claimed Syrian refugees were behind a rise in cancer cases in the country, a claim rejected by doctors.
Syrian refugees are among the most affected by Lebanon's economic crisis, dubbed "one of the world's worst" by the World Bank.
On 20 June, Lebanese caretaker PM Najib Mikati said that the country was ready to expel Syrian refugees unless the international community works to repatriate them. He added that Lebanon "no longer has the capacity to bear this burden in the present circumstances."
Lebanon joins several other countries who have recently began calling to send Syrian refugees back to Syria, pointing to the reduction in fighting as a sign that the country is safe.
In Denmark, a Danish far-right party put up billboards telling Syrians to "go home to sunny Syria," while the government stripped a number of them of their residency permits. The ad campaign was met with considerable controversy on social media.
Turkey has discussed the creation of a "safe zone" in northern Syria, where the country's 3.7 million Syrian refugees could be sent. The proposal has come after a sharp rise in xenophobic rhetoric directed at Syrian refugees, led in part by the Turkish political opposition.
About half of Syria's population have been displaced due to the 11-year long civil war in Syria, which began after a popular uprising erupted in the country in 2011.
Frontlines have been relatively quiet since March 2020, but everyday instances of insecurity and violence - frequently perpetrated by regime forces - has prevented Syrians from living in safety.