Far-right German politicians are to travel to Syria in an attempt to prove that it is a “safe country of origin” to which Syrian refugees can return, Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) and Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) have reported. Four representatives of the extremist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party are reported to be heading for Damascus on Monday, where they will meet with representatives and officials from the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad.
This trip will be the second that members of Germany’s main opposition party have made this year; the first was in March. In 2018, AfD representatives also visited the war-torn country, pushing for the “voluntary repatriation of Syrians” rather than deportation, which gained support from some members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party but was rejected by Germany’s left-wing parties.
The move by the AfD is the latest example of its firm support for the Assad regime in the Syrian conflict and its desire to cement Germany’s ties and normalise relations between the two governments. A key factor in its support is the concept of a “remigration” policy, in which they hope to return Syrian refugees to their country of origin by pushing the narrative that Syria is a safe country under Assad. The revolution, they believe, has been crushed and the war largely won by the regime.
The AfD plans to begin a campaign in the German parliament upon their members’ return, in which they will present Assad as being the “sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people”.
The party’s visit to Syria comes amid a continued surge of support for the Assad regime by far-right parties, figures and media outlets across Europe and the US. In August this year, a delegation of French Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) also visited Syria to meet with regime officials in defiance of EU sanctions.
The return of refugees to Syria has long been a contentious issue, particularly with the Assad regime’s ongoing arrest, interrogation and even torture of Syrians who return to the areas that it controls, despite the guarantees of safety and reconciliation which persuaded people to return to their country. Such treatment of returnees undermines the narrative put forward by the Syrian regime and its allies that its recaptured territory is secure from the effects of the eight-year long civil war that has ravaged Syria, and that Assad is open to reconciliation and granting pardons.