The internationally-boycotted conference on returns to Syria organized in Damascus was an insult to the suffering of Syrian refugees and displaced persons, Syrian civil society organizations said on Friday, stressing that the conference has failed to address the humanitarian conditions and the real obstacles that prevent refugees from returning to their home.
The 122 civil society organizations stressed that the conference was largely political, did not address the legitimate demands and concerns of civilians to safe returns, did not include any attempts to building peace nor attempted to hold perpetrators of war crimes and human rights violations to account over more than a decade of the armed conflict.
It is worth noting the role that the conference organizers have played as primary parties to the conflict, which has caused the displacement of more than 13 million Syrians since 2011, and are listed for killing and maiming, forced displacement, destroying infrastructure including schools and hospitals, sexual and gender based violence and other crimes against humanity and grave violations, according to United Nations figures and data.
Only seven states attended the international conference, including: China, Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Oman, and Lebanon. Most of the neighboring countries, the European Union and the United States boycotted the conference.
You can find below the full statement
This statement expresses the position of 122 Syrian civil society organizations within the Voices for Displaced Syrians Forum VDSF and the other NGOs and networks below. The statement is a reaction on Russia and the Syrian regime promoting the return of Syrian refugees given the current harsh conditions in Syria by holding a conference that hosts few countries only. The undersigned are the institutions and networks of the Syrian civil society that are founded and led by displaced Syrians and refugees, which arose from the womb of the suffering caused by displacement, who are defending their rights and making their voices heard for decision makers and officials.
The displaced Syrians inside and outside Syria monitored the activities of the held conference in the capital of their countries of asylum, which discussed their return without having a representative from the affected community, to speak about their rights, suffering and priorities. The conference is organized to discuss the forced removal of Syrians from neighboring countries while the real stakeholders; the displaced Syrian refugees are absent. Most countries in the world are also absent, and the attendance is limited to a few countries, some of which are deeply involved in the suffering and blood shedding of Syrians. UN agencies, the main donors and countries hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees boycotted attending the conference.
More than 6.5 million Syrian internally displaced persons continue to live in extremely harsh conditions in places of displacement, lack of conditions for a decent life, future opportunities and basic services. The main reason for the vast majority of displaced Syrians not returning to their original areas of residence inside Syria is the lacking of a safe environment for their return. This is confirmed by all the UN reports, research and studies.
The Comprehensive Protection and Solutions Strategy CPSS: Protection Thresholds and Parameters for Refugee Return to Syria is the most prominent international document on return to Syria issued by the UNHCR in February 2018. The document includes a series of important and basic measures before starting any process of promoting or facilitating the return of Syrian refugees to Syria. The document considers that encouraging Syrians to return now given the current circumstances contradicts the basic principles of protection.
The document remains the main reference for all international and local parties to date. The displaced Syrians and the Syrian civil society are aware that reaching the minimum components of protection in order to achieve the points stipulated in the document requires political change in Syria.
There is a terrible absence of justice and accountability in Syria. Individuals that are involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity enjoy absolute freedom in Syria, and many of them remain in senior leadership positions. The absence of basic freedoms, the power of the repressive state, and widespread institutional corruption still prevail in Syria. All these factors were the main cause of the popular movement in Syria ten years ago, which has transformed into a bloody conflict that has not ended yet, leading to the displacement of more than half of the Syrian people.
The basic legislation, related to the ownership preservation of lands, properties, and the recognition of civil documentation issued by parties other than the Syrian regime, are not available in Syria. UN agencies, local and international organizations are not allowed to safely reach the returnees and inquire about their living conditions. Hundreds of thousands of detainees are still held in the prisons of the Syrian regime, thousands more continue to be forcibly disappeared. The Syrian regime continues to forcibly recruit youth to engage them in fighting battles against other Syrians.
Urging the Syrians to return now is a suicide call. Pushing them towards it and applying pressure factors on them by the host countries, donors, or decision-makers is a practice that deserves legal accountability for the perpetrators in light of the numerous documentations of the loss of life and freedom of many Syrian returnees.
The Syrian civil society and the displaced Syrians urge donors and supportive countries of the Syrian people to continue applying the available pressure tools to achieve favorable conditions for return to Syria that guarantee basic rights and protection for the displaced, which will not be achieved before reaching a comprehensive political solution that addresses the roots causes of the conflict in Syria, secures justice for Syrians and accountability for the crimes perpetrators, after which a transparent and honest development and reconstruction process will start, in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 2254.