Syria's Foreign Minister has claimed that the doors are open for refugees to return, even as warnings emerge about the dangers that returnees face in regime-controlled territory. Faisal Mekdad made his claim in his address to the UN General Assembly in New York yesterday.
Mekdad gave assurances that the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad is implementing the necessary procedures to facilitate the refugees' return. Such procedures, however, have long been an issue of concern for human rights groups. It has been revealed over the years that refugees are detained, disappeared, tortured, and sometimes killed upon their return as a matter of routine by the regime authorities.
Following the eruption of the Syrian revolution in 2011 and the Assad regime's brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors, roughly half of the country's pre-war population of 23 million have fled the country or become internally displaced.
Mekdad also called for the withdrawal of US and Turkish troops from Syria. The foreign forces have backed various opposition groups throughout the conflict, and the minister appeared to threaten them with a physical confrontation if they do not leave voluntarily.
"Just as we managed to wipe out terrorists from most of Syria, we will work to end the occupation with the same resolve and determination, using all possible means under international law," he explained. He referred to all opposition groups as "terrorists", as the regime usually does.
The return of refugees to Syria has long been a controversial issue as fighting in the country has largely died down over the past few years, but the UN and most of the international community – aside from exceptions like Denmark – continue to regard Syria as unsafe.
Earlier this month, the UN was accused of trying to return Syrian refugees in the Rukban camp by force to regime-held territory, an allegation that it denied vehemently.