The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has met with officials from the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, on a two-day visit and tour, which has caused outrage amongst many human rights activists.
Meeting Syrian Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, and Minister of Local Administration and Environment, Hussein Makhlouf, the UNHCR's High Commissioner, Filippo Grandi, discussed a myriad of issues pertaining to refugees and their return to the country, as well as how best to address their concerns and needs.
In a post on his Twitter account following the end of his trip, he stated that he discussed with the regime "ways to strengthen coordination as we address internal displacement, and to cooperate in removing obstacles to the return of refugees." He added that "Finding solutions for uprooted Syrians requires efforts by all—Syria, host countries and donors."
According to the Emirati newspaper, The National, Grandi also visited the city of Homs during his trip—a major site of the Syrian revolution before the regime recaptured it in 2017—and said that "Periods that follow conflicts are always extremely complex."
He recounted that "families spoke of years of suffering and they are exhausted," stressing the need for returnees to make a living as "a humanitarian imperative."
The paper quoted Grandi as saying that the refugees and returnees "are Syrian nationals and it's the government's responsibility to ensure their security." In that regard, he stated that the UN will continue to work with Damascus to "highlight refugees' concerns such as their safety, property rights and livelihoods. We also need the international community to help as well."
Grandi's visit to Syria and meetings with regime officials have caused controversy and outrage amongst many human rights groups and activists, however, who see the UN's cooperation with Damascus as complicity with its war crimes and numerous human rights abuses.
The return of Syrian refugees to their home country, while Assad remains in power has also become a major issue of concern, as it has been revealed over the years that refugees are routinely detained, disappeared, tortured, and often killed at the hands of regime authorities, upon their return.
Furthermore, concerns have grown regarding the UN's relationship with Assad and its stance on refugees' return, particularly in September when the UN was accused of attempting to forcibly return Syrian refugees in the Rukban camp to regime-held territory, which is vehemently denied.
Grandi's visit, however, occurred as the Syrian government and the opposition agreed to draft a new constitution over the weekend.