By Stefan J. Bos
Russia, a key backer of hardline Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, wants refugees to go home, though an ongoing conflict in Syria has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced millions.
The Russian special presidential envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, told reporters he had discussed the repatriation of refugees with government officials during his visits Thursday to Jordan and Lebanon.
He asked the international community to support the Russian initiative. "We all understand that the Syrian government is not capable of rendering much of financial assistance because of the situation. And we appeal to the international community to of course contribute to this, all countries."
The proposal includes the establishment of working groups in both Lebanon and Jordan, involving US and Russian officials.
Envoy Lavrentiev claims hundreds of Syrian refugees are already returning daily to Syria even from countries such as Italy and
Russian state-run media cite a successful crackdown on terrorists by Russian-backed Syrian forces as the main reason why people
return to Syria.
Lavrentiev pledged that innocent refugees would not face repercussions from Syria's feared government forces and the diplomat urged
Syrians to rebuild their war-ravaged nation. “People are returning,” the envoy said.
“It is a good sign, and it is a good signal for all those refugees who are still in Lebanon, in Jordan, in Turkey, that it is time to think it over and to decide to return to their home,” he added. "Because only them the Syrians can rebuild the country and can reconstruct it."
But several Syrian refugees have expressed their doubts. Among these people are women of the Mabrouk family seeking shelter in Lebanon who spoke to Aljazeera Television. "We have nothing to return to. Our house has been looted and destroyed. Nobody is there to help us," said Sakina Mabrouk.
"We are afraid of the regime. If we return, my husband will be forcefully conscripted into the army. Who will work to feed my kids?", Aisha Mabrouk, now also a mother, added.
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR shares their concerns. It said it has "not been involved in the repatriation discussions" and
warned against forced and quick returns amid security concerns.
Lebanon says it hosts some 1.5 million Syrian refugees, of whom fewer than one million are registered with the UN.
In Jordan, there are 650,000 UN-registered Syrian refugees, but the government says it hosts some 1.3 million and has repeatedly called for more international support.
The war in Syria began in 2011 with a government crackdown on protesters before turning into a massive complex conflict involving regional forces,
foreign powers and jihadist groups.