Over the first seven months of 2017, over 600,000 displaced Syrians returned home, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Friday, citing its own figures as well as those of the UN Migration Agency and partners on the ground. The returnees are overwhelmingly internally-displaced people, but 16 percent returned to Syria from other nations, primarily Turkey. The number almost matched that recorded in the whole of 2016.
An estimated 67 percent of returnees went to government-controlled Aleppo Governorate, with the provincial capital itself being the primary destination. Among other places where refugees went in significant numbers, according to ICO, is Al-Hasakah Governorate, the north-eastern province dominated by Kurds.
The city of Aleppo – the largest in Syria prior to the conflict – was retaken by the government army last year, aided by Russia, with hostilities ending in mid-December. For years before that, it was divided between two parts, held respectively by government forces and by a disjointed collection of militant groups, including hardcore jihadists. The battle for the city ended with a ceasefire deal, which allowed remaining rebel forces and their families leave Aleppo and go to Idlib governorate, which currently remains a rebel stronghold.
Earlier an increasing number of refugees returning to their homes in Syria was reported by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which said more than 440,000 internally-displaced persons and 31,000 refugees in other countries had done so over the first six months of 2016. Aleppo and other government-controlled governorates like Hama, Homs and Damascus were mentioned as destinations for the returnees.
“Given the returns witnessed so far this year and in light of a progressively-increased number of returns of internally displaced people and, in time, refugees, UNHCR has started scaling up its operational capacity inside Syria,” the agency said.
De-escalation strategy working
The situation is far from rosy of course, according to IOM. The number of people forced to leave their homes in 2017 still outweighs that of returnees, with over 808,000 people estimated to be displaced. Around 10 percent of those who returned in 2016 and 2017 have ended up fleeing their homes again.
Almost 20 percent of the returnees have no secure supply of food and access to water and health services is a problem for some 60 percent, a testament to the damage the Syrian war has taken on its civilian infrastructure.
For some people going back is arguably the best of bad choices. Refugees may prefer the uncertainty of their homeland to staying in refugee camps, where they face a shortage of aid, unemployment, mistreatment by host nations and a general lack of prospects for change for the better. This may be true even for those, who managed to get to richer and more secure places like Europe.
Some have no choice at all, being forced to leave as part of deal sealed by warring factions in Syria.
Still, observers believe that the general trend signals hope for the strategy of de-escalation taken by the Syrian government with the backing of Russia, Turkey and Iran.
“Russia has played a leading part in this by getting everyone at the table regionally despite serious differences between Iran and Turkey,”believes Kamal Alam, analyst on Syrian affairs.
“Moscow has successfully convinced the two to coordinate the de-escalation and bring stability in Syria. Russian military police and diplomacy combined have also given confidence to the Syrian Kurds and various elements of the opposition to play a positive role.”
The strategy focuses on curbing hostilities by establishing clear lines between parts of Syria under control of different parties, which would ultimately seek a political solution to the six-year-long conflict. And apparently for many Syrians, an absence of a shooting war in their neighborhood is more important than whatever political differences the rebels have with Damascus, Alam believes.
“After six years of war and uncertainty many Syrian refugees crave the stability they once had under President [Bashar] Assad and are returning home,” he told RT.
Trump wants to destabilize Latin America by threatening Caracas with force – Venezuelan FM
“Venezuela rejects in the most categorical and convincing manner the unfriendly and hostile statements by US President Donald Trump… in which he threatens a military invasion against our homeland,” Arreaza told broadcaster Venezuelana de Televisión.
According to the minister, Trump’s real aim is not Venezuela, but the whole Latin American continent, which he wants to see in turmoil.
“The reckless threats of President Donald Trump are designed to draw Latin America and the Caribbean into a conflict that will irrevocably violate stability, peace and security in our region,” he said.
Despite its complicated relations with Caracas, the South American trade bloc Mercosur also said that it rejects the use of force against Venezuela, Reuters reported.
Mercosur members regard dialogue and diplomacy as the only possible option for achieving democracy in Venezuela, a statement by Argentina’s Foreign Ministry said.
The bloc’s founding members – Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay – opted to indefinitely suspend Venezuela’s participation last week, saying that Caracas had failed to include essential Mercosur’s trade and human rights norms into domestic legislation.
On Friday, Trump blasted Venezuela’s leader, President Nicolas Maduro, as a “dictator,” saying that the crisis in the country could prompt a US military response.
“The people are suffering and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary,” Trump said.
However, the US Department of Defense said that “the Pentagon has received no orders” from the president regarding a Venezuela operation.
The White House also claimed that it had declined Maduro’s request to have a phone call with Trump, saying the US leader “will gladly speak” with his Venezuelan counterpart “as soon as democracy is restored.”
Earlier this week, Washington imposed sanctions on eight Venezuelan officials, including President Maduro and the brother of late ex-President Hugo Chavez.
The restrictions were introduced after the US labeled as “illegitimate”the Constituent Assembly elections, which took place in Venezuela in June.
The opposition in the country also refused to recognize the vote, with the move adding even more tension to the unstable situation in the country.
Venezuela has been gripped by violent protests since April, which have already led to around 120 deaths, according to Reuters.