Syrian refugees who returned home were subjected to torture, detention and disappearance by security forces, Amnesty International has said, urging foreign governments to protect them from deportation and forcible return.
In a report, titled “You’re going to your death”, the London-based human rights group documented violations by intelligence officers against 66 returnees, including 13 children.
Among those were five cases in which detainees had died in custody after returning to the country torn by war, while the fate of 17 forcibly disappeared people remains unknown.
The report documented serious violations committed by the Syrian government against refugees who returned to Syria from Lebanon, Rukban (an informal settlement between the Jordanian and Syrian borders), France, Germany, Turkey, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates between mid-2017 and mid-2021.
The report cited testimony from a Syrian woman, Alaa, who was arrested along with her 25-year-old daughter at a border crossing as they came back from Lebanon. The two were detained for five days.
“They removed my daughter’s clothes. They handcuffed her and hung her on the wall. They beat her. She was totally naked. One put his penis inside her mouth,” the report quoted Alaa as saying.
Pressure to return
The report came as pressure piles on Syrian refugees in some Western countries such as Denmark to go home.
“Any government claiming Syria is now safe is willfully ignoring the horrific reality on the ground, leaving refugees once again fearing for their lives,” said Marie Forestier, a researcher on refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International.
She said while military hostilities may have subsided in most parts of Syria, the Syrian government’s “propensity for egregious human rights violations has not”.
The Syrian government and its chief international backer, Russia, have publicly called on refugees to return home and accused Western countries of discouraging it with claims that Syria is still unsafe.
Syria has denied refugees face indiscriminate torture and reprisals, and President Bashar al-Assad has said millions of refugees were being forced to stay in host countries by “pressure or intimidation” and that host states were enticing them financially while benefitting from international aid for them.
Al-Assad has all but crushed the armed rebellion against him, regaining control of 70 percent of the country.
He secured a fourth term in office in a May election that the West has said was marked by fraud, but the government says it showed the country was functioning normally despite its decade-long war.
Amnesty urged European governments and Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon to halt any practice that forces people to return.
The European Council and the European Parliament have issued declarations saying conditions are not favourable for the safe and voluntary return of Syrian refugees.
Similarly, the United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, has called on states not to forcibly return Syrian nationals to any part of Syria, even those areas controlled by the government, such as the capital region.
Syria’s conflict which started in 2011 as peaceful protests against al-Assad’s rule spiralled into a multisided conflict that killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.
It has fractured the Middle East country and drawn in foreign countries engaged in a proxy war.