UNHCR appeals for safe passage for civilians in southern Syria, says international standards on refugee returns essential
UNHCR protection and field teams are on the ground accompanying a United Nations/Syrian Arab Red Crescent inter-agency convoy that delivered humanitarian assistance for 19,500 people in need to Beit Jan and surrounding areas, in southwest of the Rural Damascus governorate. The team conducted a needs assessment during the delivery in order to better inform future response.
© UNHCR/Ghaida Abou Sikkeh
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, urges all parties in Syria to protect and provide safe passage to civilians displaced by the recent fighting in the south of the country. An estimated 140,000 people remain displaced across the south-west and need safe passage out of the area, plus immediate humanitarian assistance, protection and shelter. We have also been witnessing the return of tens of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) following local agreements and in areas coming under the control of the Government of Syria.
Together with UN and other humanitarian partners we have mobilized a robust aid response within Syria, reaching tens of thousands of people. A new scaling-up of assistance is needed and UNHCR continues to advocate for sustained access for humanitarian actors.
Amid continued fighting and new displacements during the first six months of 2018, nearly 13,000 refugees from neighbouring countries and another 750,000 IDPs are estimated to have returned to their homes in Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Rural Damascus, Damascus, south-west and north-eastern Syria. In anticipation and recognition of this dynamic, UNHCR ramped up its capacity inside Syria already in 2017 to support refugees and internally displaced people who return spontaneously. We continue to work on enhancing the response to the humanitarian and protection needs of IDPs, returnees and other crisis-affected population.
UNHCR has taken note of Wednesday’s announcement by the Syrian and Russian authorities concerning the setting up of a centre in Syria to help refugees who return home. UNHCR has not yet seen the details of this plan, but we are ready to engage in discussions about these plans with the Government of Syria and the Russian Federation.
Refugees always have a right to return. UNHCR stresses that any plan that aims to enable refugees to exercise this right must be aligned with international standards – meaning that returns must be voluntary, they need to take place in safe and dignified conditions, and need to be sustainable.
It is critical that returns of refugees and IDPs are not pressured, rushed or premature. Refugees need to be able to make a free and informed choice about their future and basic elements to anchor voluntary returns and make them sustainable must be in place.
UNHCR is prepared to work with both the Syrian and Russian governments towards solutions for Syrian refugees and internally displaced that meet international refugee and human rights standards.
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