Analysis

On the Return of Syrian Refugees

Nearly 5.6 million Syrians have been forcibly displaced from Syria to neighboring countries in the Middle Eastern region, and millions more are considered internally displaced within Syria or have sought refuge in other countries across the globe. This has resulted in a major regional and international humanitarian emergency, affecting the lives of millions of Syrians and their respective host communities. Turkey is host to over 3.6 million Syrians, the largest number of registered Syrian refugees in the region. Lebanon is host to over 879,000, Jordan to nearly 662,000, followed by over 241,000 in Iraq and 130,000 in Egypt. Despite ongoing security challenges in particular parts of Syria, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has recorded a total number of 250,555 voluntary refugee returns since 2016 from the aforementioned host countries, with a peak number of 94,971 self-organized returns to Syria in 2019. As of 2020, the number of voluntary returns has dwindled to a record-low of 21,618 in 2020, likely due to increasingly harsh conditions in host countries, and movement restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Refugee return continues to be at the top of the global and regional refugee response agenda; however, refugees continue to require humanitarian and protection support. In addition to providing an update to TIMEP’s previous brief on the implications of Syrian refugee return, this series further unpacks the context for Syrian refugees in their respective host countries, the push and pull factors to and from Syria for refugees who may be considering or are faced with return, and the role of the policy community in moderating the conversation on refugee return. 

  • The first explainer focuses on the conditions of Syrians in three neighboring countries that host the largest number of Syrian refugees in the region: Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. In doing so, this piece outlines some of the challenges faced by refugees and looks at trends in attitudes and policies toward refugees in host country contexts.  
  • The second explainer examines current conditions inside Syria for refugees considering or forced to return. Despite recent international efforts to return refugees to Syria, rapidly deteriorating socioeconomic conditions inside the country and an unsafe climate for returnees present serious concerns for large-scale returns.
  • This series then concludes with a list of policy recommendations in light of the context presented in the first two explainers, as it relates to host governments in the region, international stakeholders, and the United Nations. 

Special thanks to TIMEP Legal and Policy Intern Sana Sekkarie for her research support.