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On World Refugee Day: At least 4,714 Returning Refugees & IDPs Have been Arbitrarily Arrested by Syrian Regime Forces

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At least 367 Civilians Have Been Killed in Syria in 2024 to Date, including 56 Children, 34 Women, and 43 Who Died due to Torture

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Press release: (Download the full report below)

The Hague – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today released a report to mark World Refugee Day 2024, in which the group notes that it has documented the arrest by Syrian regime forces of at least 4,714 refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) returning to Syria. SNHR has also documented the killing of 367 civilians, including 56 children, 34 women, and 43 who died due to torture, to date in Syria in the year 2024.

The report notes that the violations, which caused the displacement of millions of Syrians from their country in the first place, are still taking place across Syria. Indeed, the report stresses, even more Syrians than previously are now seeking asylum abroad. As a result of these violations that threaten fundamental human rights and human dignity, and to which there is no apparent prospect of any end in the foreseeable future or of the perpetrators being held to account, hundreds more Syrians are now trying to sell their properties and flee their homeland. The Syrian refugee population, currently estimated at 6.7 million, is today the largest single refugee population worldwide.

The report notes that SNHR has documented the killing of 367 civilians, including 56 children and 34 women, at the hands of the parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria since January 2024 up until June 2024. Of these, 53 civilians, including eight children and four women, were killed by Syrian regime forces, while five, including three children and one woman, were killed by Russian forces. Moreover, four of these civilians, including one child, were killed by ISIS, while another 16, including one child and one woman, were killed by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Furthermore, 10 of the civilians, including one child, were killed by all armed opposition factions/Syrian National Army (SNA), while another 33, including eight children, were killed by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Lastly, 246 of the 367 civilians, including 34 children and 28 women, were killed by other parties.

The report also notes that SNHR documented 43 deaths due to torture, including that of one child, in the detention centers operated by the various parties to the conflict and controlling forces in Syria since January 2024 up until June 2024. Of these, 22 died at the hands of regime forces, while 13 died at the hands of HTS. Moreover, four each died at the hands of both all armed opposition factions/SNA, and the SDF.

As the report further reveals, SNHR has documented that no fewer than 828 of those arrested between January and June 2024, including 44 children and 17 women, are still under arrest/forcibly disappeared. Of this total, 398 individuals, including five children and six women, were arrested by Syrian regime forces, while 59 others were arrested by the HTS. Another 140 of the detainees, including one child and six women, were arrested by all armed opposition factions/SNA, while the remaining 231 people detained, including 38 children and five women, were arrested by the SDF.

The report stresses that the responsibility for assessing the situation in Syria falls on the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (COI), international human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, and active and specialist domestic groups such as SNHR. All these bodies have confirmed that Syria is unsafe.

To that end, SNHR has proven conclusively in dozens of reports that returning refugees are subjected to the same violations suffered by local residents in Syria, amid an absence of any credible legal environment and the predominance of oppression, despotism, and the centralization of authority. There can be no free and dignified return to Syria for refugees without first realizing a political transition in the country towards a democratic government that respects human rights.

Since the start of 2014 up until June 2024, SNHR has documented no fewer than 4,714 cases of arbitrary arrest/detention by Syrian regime forces of returning IDPs and refugees. Of these, 2,402 have been released, while 2,312 remain under arrest, including 1,521 who have been subsequently categorized as forcibly disappeared persons. Of the 4,714 arrested or detained, 3,532, including 251 children and 214 women (adult female), were refugees returning from countries of asylum or residence to their original places of residence in Syria. The Syrian regime has released 2,149 of the 3,532 arrested, while continuing to detain the remaining 1,383, 969 of whom have been subsequently categorized as forcibly disappeared persons. Additionally, 168 individuals, including six children and nine women, were forcibly repatriated from Lebanon since the start of April 2023 up until June 2024. Most of these were arrested by the Syrian regime’s Military Security Intelligence branch in al-Masna area on the Syrian-Lebanese border. Lastly, 1,014 of those arrested, including 22 children and 19 women, were IDPs returning from their areas of forced displacement to regime-held areas. Of those detained, the Syrian regime has released 253, while 761 remain under arrest, including 549 who have been subsequently categorized as forcibly disappeared persons.

SNHR has also documented the deaths of 39 of the returning refugees and IDPs due to torture in regime detention centers during the same period: 31 of these victims were refugees returning from their countries of asylum and eight were returning IDPs, six of whom had previously been forcibly deported from regime-controlled areas to northern Syria under the forced displacement agreements struck with the Syrian regime. SNHR has also documented no fewer than 93 cases of sexual violence against returning refugees in the same period.

The refoulment of refugees and the forced repatriation of Syrian refugees constitute blatant violations of customary international law. Any governments carrying out such practices bear legal responsibility for any torture, killing, enforced disappearance, and other violations potentially perpetrated by the Syrian regime against those forced to return, in addition, of course, to the Syrian regime’s direct responsibility for such violations.

The report stresses that seeking asylum is the right of every Syrian. Every state in which Syrians have requested asylum must grant them that right. The Syrian regime has committed and is committing numerous violations against the Syrian people that amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes. Meanwhile, the other parties to the conflict have committed a multitude of violations against the Syrian people, some of which amount to war crimes.

The report calls on the governments of states hosting Syrian refugees, especially neighboring countries which house the largest proportion of refugees, to stop their constant threats to deport these refugees back to Syria, which only causes further distress and anxiety amongst already traumatized refugees, threatens their material stability, and hinders the processes of social integration.

The report adds that the world’s states should uphold their responsibilities regarding the refugee crisis by taking in more refugees, instead of leaving neighboring countries to be overwhelmed by their refugee populations even as financial pledges of assistance keep declining. Democratic states must continue to take in refugees from neighboring countries, while raising their financial support for these states.

The report also makes a number of additional recommendations.

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