Grandi stresses 'voluntary' right of return of Syrian refugees

Grandi told Annahar that "most of the Syrian refugees want to return to their home country; however this is difficult right now."
9 February 2017 | 14:30
  • By Diana Skaini
  • Last update: 9 February 2017 | 14:30

BEIRUT: Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said he welcomed that Lebanon does not intend to ask refugees to return home unless they want to do so voluntarily.

While President Michel Aoun has called for the return of refugees to safe zones in their homeland, Grandi says this is not feasible for the time being.

In an interview with Annahar during his visit to Beirut earlier this week, Grandi added: "Most of the Syrian refugees want to return to their home country; however this is difficult right now."

Lebanese officials have been noting the growing presence of areas in Damascus and Aleppo where reconciliations or compromises have taken place between the regime and the opposition, making these areas safer.

These areas, Grandi notes, are still in upheaval.

"I visited Aleppo and saw firsthand the massive destruction, in addition to the lack of a functioning political agreement between the warring parties. That's why it is too early to talk now about the return of the refugees."

Asked if it would be possible to consider the return of refugees to these areas in coordination with the warring parties, Grandi said: "A refugee would certainly want to return to his home country if he feels that the situation there is secure. But the issue of safe zones is more complicated. "

He added, "The situation in Syria is volatile, and it is hard to determine the security level of the different zones, and to assert that this area or that area is safe. Some areas might be safe today, but the situation there might deteriorate overnight."

Grandi praised the Lebanese for their endurance in dealing with the refugees' crisis, adding: "We have to be patient. Further support and investment in the infrastructure of Lebanon will be discussed during the upcoming conference on refugees in Brussels."

Regarding the possibility of a demographic change in Syria as a result of the war, he said: "I hope this will not happen. Nevertheless, with huge waves of exodus during wars, these risks exist."

Trump's executive order

For those who cannot return home, the UNHCR program to transfer refugees to countries such as the US, Australia, and Canada, plays an important role in providing support to refugees. And questions remain about the ultimate impact of the US President's executive order banning the entry of Syrian refugees to the US, on such a program?

Currently, the order has been stayed by the US courts, with a fight over the executive action expected to possibly reach the US Supreme Court for consideration later this year. In the meanwhile, the executive order is not in effect, though all previous visa restrictions remain.

Grandi says that, "Trump's decision is not good. Last year, we were able to transfer 20,000 refugees from Lebanon (to the United States), and this represents a small percentage of the refugees. If the number decreases as a result of Trump's executive order, the program's essence would be undermined. "

"The program is very important because it targets the most vulnerable refugees and those who need special protection or medical care. We must not forget that other countries such as Australia, the EU countries and Canada have not shut their doors on refugees. We need to discuss this issue with the new US administration."

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