Syrian refugees are not responsible for the world's problems

Populist leaders are responsible for encouraging xenophobia, but they are not the only ones to blame for this trend

(FILES) In this file photo a displaced Syrian boy sits next to humanitarian aid, consisting of heating material and drinking water, at a camp in the town of Mehmediye, near the town of Deir al-Ballut along the border with Turkey, on February 21, 2020. Germany and Belgium have asked the UN Security Council to vote to extend authorization for cross-border humanitarian aid in Syria despite a likely Russian veto, diplomatic sources said on July 7, 2020. The German-Belgian draft resolution would extend for a year an authorization for aid to move into Syria, free from the control of the Damascus government, across two points on the Turkish border, while Russia wants one of the border crossings eliminated and only a six-month extension.
 / AFP / Rami al SAYED
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As many people in the northern hemisphere return home for their summer holidays – or prepare for a staycation with friends and family – millions of refugees and internally displaced people are stuck in limbo, unable to go home or to plant roots elsewhere. With international travel disrupted and the global recession fuelling further xenophobia, it has become all the more difficult for refugees to find a safe haven and to be able to remain there.

In a report released on Tuesday, the Syrian Association for Citizens' Dignity, a national civil rights-based popular movement, found that displaced Syrians long to return home, but safety concerns prevent them from doing so. Meanwhile, host countries increasingly struggle in welcoming refugees, leaving Syrians abroad with few options. Out of more than 1,000 displaced Syrians surveyed, 73 per cent say they would return to their homeland if conditions improved but 80 per cent of respondents believe it is still unsafe for them to do so.

Since regaining control of 70 per cent of the country’s territory, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and his supporters have been pushing the line that war is over. Their allies in Lebanon, home to the largest refugee population per capita in the world, have taken Mr Al Assad at his word and promised to send Syrians back. Beirut has been hit by an economic and political crisis of unprecedented proportions, but it is all too easy to blame vulnerable refugees for the country’s woes. Returning to Syria remains dangerous. Conflict is ongoing in the country's north-east, and even the relatively stable regime-held areas are unsafe. Syrians who returned there have faced arbitrary detentions and beatings, as well as forced conscription.

At the onset of the Syrian civil war, Turkey led by example. Under the guise of solidarity, Ankara took in millions of Syrians looking to escape violence and misery. But over the years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed the cynical purpose of his policy: to blackmail the European Union into giving in to his every whim, lest Turkey open its borders, the gates to the continent, allowing refugees to seek refuge there. Mr Erdogan has also  used refugees to deflect responsibility for Turkey's financial crisis. Last October, Ankara launched an offensive into northern Syria, where it plans to relocate millions of refugees, forcibly changing the ethnic make-up of the country's Kurdish areas.

Under the guise of solidarity, Ankara took in millions of Syrians looking to escape violence and misery

Only 9 per cent of Syrians feel settled in Lebanon. The number of those who feel at home in Turkey has decreased by 34 per cent in the past year. Jordan is facing its own hardships and continues to host Syrians in cities and camps.This trend is set to increase over the coming years, as countries continue to suffer from the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. The prospect of peace continued to elude Syria.

While populist leaders are responsible for encouraging xenophobia, they are not the only ones to blame for this trend. Regular people are afraid as the current health crisis fosters uncertainty, and many may feel unable to sympathise with strangers. However, each of these strangers has a story, a family and home they had to leave behind. Refugees are among the world’s most vulnerable people. They need support and a safe haven, especially in times of increased economic hardship. Governments, international organisations and communities must commit to helping them.