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Syrian refugees are returning, but it is not time for us to disengage

Dec 12,2018 - Last updated at Dec 12,2018

Since the reopening of the Jaber Border Crossing with Syria on October 15, there has been much speculation about Syrian refugees returning home. Although the number of Syrian refugees returning to their country has increased, they are definitely not as high as some figures suggested.

The UNHCR, in close cooperation with the Jordanian authorities, has managed to confirm and verify, through its database, 3,852 refugees who have returned to Syria between October 15 and December 1 through the Jaber crossing. This is in addition to the 17,000 who have returned since January 2016.

At the moment, returns are spontaneous. We are extremely grateful for the Jordanian government’s continued commitment and approach towards refugees’ return, clearly stating that refugees need only to return on a voluntarily basis; it is their choice.

Despite this, and as the numbers show, some refugees are choosing to go home. As the international community, we have a responsibility to support them through this process. However, challenges remain.

At the  UNHCR, we regularly consult refugee communities about their intentions to return to Syria. In our latest survey in November, we saw an increased desire among refugees to return home. However, out of the over 670,000 registered Syrian refugees, only 8 per cent said that they were ready to go back in the coming year. While the majority, 66 per cent, still express a more distant hope to return in the future, they continue to quote safety and security concerns, worries over lack of housing and lack of work opportunities as the main reasons not to go back.

For those refugees who will not go back home anytime soon, we need to continue to be able to support them here in Jordan, but there is a worry that, if funding decreases, then there will be more pressure placed on them to return. Yes, support for Syria itself needs to be stepped up as it begins to rebuild, but this should not be at the expense of host countries, such as Jordan. It is not time for us to disengage.

Although international support has been steady over the last few years, for 2019 we continue to worry. With issues such as rising health costs, continued flexible funding is more important than ever.  We can only encourage donors to keep supporting us as we continue our work for refugees here in Jordan.

All of us hope for a stable Syria, to where refugees can return safely, securely and start to rebuild their lives. But this will take time. Many of the refugees here in Jordan come from areas where their homes have been completely destroyed. They need the appropriate time to prepare for their return, to make the decision on their own terms. Our aim is to support them to be able to do this.

 

The writer is the UNHCR Jordan representative. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times

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