Hundreds of Syrians ‘Voluntarily’ Return Home from Lebanon

Hundreds of Syrian refugees started their return journey from Lebanon “voluntarily” on Tuesday morning, following previous rounds of these controversial returns. 

The returns are being organised by Lebanon’s General Security agency in cooperation with the Syrian regime.

The refugees gathered at pick up points across Lebanon on Tuesday morning to return to their home country, the state-run National News Agency reported.

Around 200 refugees boarded buses in the northern city of Tripoli, heading to the border which they are set to cross at 5pm, according to the NNA.

The agency said the Syrian government would then provide buses to take the returnees back to several villages, but did not specify their exact location.

Dozens of refugees also gathered in Shebaa and Nabatieh in southern Lebanon, and in Burj Hammoud east of Beirut, heading to the Masnaa border crossing.

According to Lebanese daily The Daily Star on Tuesday, more than a thousand Syrian refugees have registered with Hizballah to return home in coordination with the powerful Shia group’s ally the Syrian regime.

Former Hizballah MP Nawar Saheli, who oversees refugee registration centers set up by the party, told The Daily Star that all of those returning had been “vetted” by the Syrian regime.

Since April, more than 2,000 Syrians have headed home from Lebanon in such returns coordinated by the authorities in Beirut and Damascus, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

Human rights groups have warned that Syrians returning to their homeland should do so voluntarily and with full knowledge of the risks.

According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, around 13,000 Syrians went home from Lebanon during the first six months of this year.

While many refugees have said that their return was voluntarily, others have been quoted as saying living conditions have become so bad that they had no choice but to leave the country.

Other reasons also include a new property law that will be enacted shortly, which looks to confiscate homes evacuated during the war.

Many are also sceptical of the “guarantee” that those returning will not be detained. Bashar al-Assad’s regime is well-known for its brutal persecution of those who have, or believed to have, voiced opposition to the government.

Turkey announced on Sunday that 250,000 people had already returned to Syria and is set to create more safe zones to allow refugees who fled the civil war – around half of them to Turkey – to return home.

The announcement comes amid a Russian-led push for the return to refugees to areas of Syria now under regime control, although most Syrians would fear repercussions returning to these districts.

Last month, Russia presented the US with plans for the coordinated return of refugees to Syria, aiming to repatriate some 890,000 Syrians from Lebanon, despite alarm from refugees who fear detention and even death on arrival.