Another meeting of the Joint Coordination Centre of the Defence Ministry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russian on repatriation of Syrian refugees took place in Moscow. It was chaired by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, the head of the National Centre for State Defence Control of the Russian Federation.
In order to develop joint, coordinated approaches, a lot of side concerned are cooperating to foster repatriation of Syrian refugees. Priority is given to guarantees to be provided to Syrian government for non-prosecution status of returning Syrians, as well as the possibility of granting them army respite.
The Joint Coordination Committee of the Syrian Arab Republic established by order of the President of the country Bashar Asad, is fully functioning.
It is composed of representatives of the Ministries of Foreign and Internal Affairs, Health, Social Affairs and Labour, National Reconciliation, and the State Security Bureau. The concrete results of the Syrian leadership’s work in this direction can be clearly seen today.
Over the past week 89 houses were reconstructed. One kindergarten, two schools and one water supply station was put into operation.
Currently, in 79 settlements, work is underway to overhaul 58 schools, 29 kindergartens, 37 bakeries, 34 water pump stations, 19 electric substations, 23 medical centres and 342 houses.
In the last week alone, infrastructure has been prepared to receive refugees in the forty-one settlements with a total capacity of over 161,000 places.
This work undoubtedly brings tangible results. Over the past two and half years, in total over 1,000,000 of IDPs have returned back to their homes in the Syrian Arab Republic (365,219 women, 620,873 children). An up to 300,000 people – from abroad. These processes are most effective in cooperation with Lebanon, where more than 6,500 people have left for Syria in a month.
Dear colleagues! Now we shall listen to the reports.
I invite Nikolay Burtsev, the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to report on implementation of Refugee Returning Plan in part related to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, and implementation of earlier received instructions at the sessions of the Joint Coordination Committee.
Over to you.
Report of Nikolay Burtsev, the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.
Russian diplomatic organizations including permanent missions of Russia to the UN and EU are working to consolidate international efforts aimed to enable refugees to return back to their former places of residence.
The Russian permanent mission to the United Nations Office in Geneva held a number of meetings of Ambassador Gennady Mikhailovich Gatilov with Kelly Clements, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees. According to the data received, there is 11 million Syrians “forcibly displaced” at the moment. With 6 mln of them are internally displaced persons. At the current stage, they are the priority of the Office of the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. The Office believes that their return to their former places of residence can serve as a key motivation for confidence-building, which could be a catalyst for the massive return of refugees from abroad. However, at the moment, according to the UN, organized repatriation (with the assistance of the authorities) happens actually only from Lebanon. In other countries, there is a largely spontaneous return process. For the UN it is difficult to trace such flows. The incoming information is not enough. Therefore, the information is usually updated once a month.
To facilitate the work with refugees, lawyers believe that Damascus should develop bilateral agreements with its neighbours on mutual recognition of documents (birth certificates, marriage certificates, school certificates, diplomas of universities), which is a common practice in post-conflict situations.
Damascus is ready to address all issues in bilateral manner and working in this direction.
Another irritant for refugees, according to the UN, remains the issue of ownership.
The Syrian leadership, in turn, is responding in a timely manner to such emerging issues. As it was pointed out by the Syrian government, all necessary legislative measures have been taken to amend the rules of property rights confirmation. Therefore, the claims of international organizations in this matter has lost its relevance.
During a meeting with representatives of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Russian diplomats commented on the actions taken by Russia and Syria to implement the initiative of returning Syrian refugees to their homeland, underlined the voluntary and non-discriminatory nature of the operation. They stated that Damascus is ready to address all issues in this area (security guarantees, restoration of lost documents, housing and employment, humanitarian, material and other assistance). At the same time, the Russian Defense Ministry’s military police units are actively contributing to normalizing situation in the liberated areas of Syria.
We intensify work in this sphere with Jordan.
At present, the Syrian side is eliminating artificial barricades at the Nasib checkpoint to ensure unimpeded passage of refugees.
The Russian permanent mission to Jordan visited a local office of the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency and informed the Office on Russian innitiative about repatriation proccess. At the same time they asked how the Office sees prospects of their return of refugees. The Office stressed that according to telephone surveys of refugees some 80% of Syrians are ready to return to their homeland only as the necessary living conditions are created there. The Syrian side is working to create such environment.
We continue working with Europe.
In the course of the meeting with the EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos, permanent representative of Russia in the European Union Vladimir Chizhov informed that the assistance to the Russian initiative on the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland would be in the interests of the European Union in terms of reducing political and financial burden caused by their stay not only in the territory of the EU Member States, but also in the neighboring countries with Syria (especially in Turkey). Among other things, it was pointed out that funds allocated by EU Commission for the deployment and maintenance of this vulnerable category of Syrian citizens could be more effective if they were redirected to facilitate voluntary repatriation.
The appeal of the Russian Embassy in Oslo to the Norwegian authorities on the issue of the return of Syrian refugees received a response from the Minister of Justice, Emergency situations and migration of Norway T.M. Vara that, taking into account the Norwegian assessments of the situation in Syria, authorities concerned did not plan to make a decision on the return of the Syrians. Consultations with Norwegian diplomats are underway.
We continue to work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg on return of Syrian refugees. Our assessment of the current situation has been brought to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, as well as information on the joint activities of the Russian Federation and the Syrian authorities in this direction, focusing attention to the readiness of Damascus to act in full accordance with the basic principles and conditions for the return of refugees adopted with the United Nations and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Russian diplomats urged partners to support this initiative and to bring the relevant information to the Syrians who had been granted asylum in Luxembourg. The Russian side stressed that it is ready to cooperate to ensure early return of Syrian refugees to their homeland. The Luxembourg partners expressed interest in receiving further information on the details of the Russian initiative to return Syrian refugees.
We agreed on further contacts on the subject.
We continue to work on repatriation process with the Irish side. According to their information, the number of Syrian refugees in the country is 729,000 people. At the same time, the Foreign Ministry of Ireland confirmed that Dublin adheres to this topic of European vision. Russian and Irish diplomats are cooperating on rapprochement of positions on the issue of the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland continues.
According to the representatives of the Russian Embassy in the Netherlands, the Government of the country has not taken active measures to facilitate the repatriation of Syrian refugees, citing the lack of necessary conditions for security and decent living in Syria. At the same time, the spokesman of the Ministry of Security and Justice said that the authorities do not prevent the return to their homeland wishing and ready to pay them tickets. The Russian side sent a note was sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and the Immigration and Naturalization Service proposing cooperation in voluntary repatriation process of Syrian refugees, providing the necessary guarantees security focusing on readiness of the Syrian government to resolve issues related to the confirmation of property rights, restoration of lost documents and humanitarian assistance.
During the meeting with representatives of the Polish authorities, they confirmed that among the citizens of the Arab Republic, currently in Poland (up to one thousand 200 people), there are only some people willing to take advantage of new opportunities in their homeland. Russian diplomats are working on finding the points of contact with the Polish side in resolving this issue.
The report is over.
I would like once again to thank representatives of the Russian Ministry of Foreign affairs for their great contribution to the joint work on the return of Syrian citizens to their homeland.
Nikolai Leonidovich, according to the leadership of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, the joint operations HQs for the return of refugees have been established in these countries. Please tell us how the work on this matter is organized?
This work is being carried out at an active pace.
On August 12, there was a session of the Joint Operations HQ in Jordan. The main topic is the development of an algorithm of interaction in order to ensure the early repatriation of internally displaced persons from the Kingdom to permanent residence in Syria. The parties agreed to hold weekly meetings in the prescribed format and coordinated technical issues of the joint operations headquarters.
Work continues in other areas as well.
Report by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev.
At present, we see positive developments in relation to the European States on repatriation of Syrian refugees.
Nikolai Leonidovich, I would like to ask you to consider the possibility of establishing direct contacts with the International Information Centre of the United Nations in Copenhagen (with the assistance of the World Bank and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) on monitoring of refugee flows and the deployment of displaced persons.
Today, the head of the Syrian Joint Coordination Centre, the Local Administration Minister Hussein Makhlouf, attends our meeting.
Mr. Hussein Makhlouf, please inform us about the progress of repatriation plan to the places of pre-war residence and measures taken by the leadership of Syria to create conditions for their accommodation.
Report by Mr. Hussein Makhlouf.
On behalf of the Syrian leadership, I wish to thank the Russian Federation for the efforts it has made at the global level and in international organizations on recovery of Syria.
The Syrian government is working to simplify procedures for returning refugees, to rehabilitate housing and to create jobs and improve living standards through appropriate programmes.
The legislative plan is actively working to revise existing regulations and adopt new ones where the law creates obstacles to the return of our citizens.
In order to achieve it, there was a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Syrian Arab Republic, which decided to develop a plan to modernize the system of legislation governing the activities of State institutions.
The Law No 10 was discussed repeatedly. The period of three months reached one year for documents confirming the ownership of real estate to be submitted. It is important that not only citizens themselves, but also to their relatives and legal representatives can present these documents.
This has largely removed the fears of refugees, who think that their property will be confiscated if they returned.
Another important initiative of our government was to grant a yearlong reprieve from military service to the returnees.
And a few words about the amnesty. The procedure for settling this issue is individual. In order to restore peace in the country as soon as possible, the Syrian government is planning to hold a mass amnesty in the near future.
In 117 settlements, least affected by the hostilities, there are 497,650 places have been deployed to receive and accommodate returnees.
Besides, infrastructure is being prepared in Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor, Daraa, Latakia, Raqqa, Damascus, Tartous, Hama, Homs, and al-Suwayda to accommodate up to 1,000,000 refugees and internally displaced persons.
In total, in the Syrian Arab Republic:
89 medical and 220 educational organizations have been recovered;
282km of roads have been repaired;
210.5 power lines laid;
86 power substations, 72 water supply facilities and two fuel-energy complexes have been put into operation.
The Ministry of Oil and Mineral Resources has developed a strategy to provide the country with energy resources for the period up to the year 2033.
Much is done for the early start of the industry. This will not only ensure the population’s needs for consumer goods, but also create new employment. For example, the industrial zone in the Al-Qalljasa district of Aleppo plays an important role in the textile industry.
After eradication of terrorism, the work of about a thousand three hundred shops were recovered. In order to increase the employment rate of the population, including returning refugees and internally displaced persons, the state has allocated subsidies to many textile
All the mentioned rehabilitation requires not only building materials, but also labor resources. Repair and construction of roads in the province of Daraa require about 300,000 working engineering specialties.
Similar state of affairs is seen in other industries. Therefore, the fears of our citizens who found themselves in forced immigration about unemployment in Syria are baseless. To the contrary, we are waiting for specialists.
The government of the Syrian Arab Republic does not ignore the problem of education and the issue of preparation for the new school year. As I said, 220 educational institutions have already been rehabilitated throughout the country, freed from militants.
This work continues. It is possible that in order to prepare for the academic year, the study will start on October 1st.
First of all, it is caused by extensive works on reconstruction of another 450 schools which are to be reconstructed by late September.
However, the humanitarian initiatives of international organizations are not fully capable of resolving many problems. Our citizens need a stable future, not short-term solutions.
Western sanctions imposed on Syria limit development of the country’s economy, hinder the rapid recovery of infrastructure.
As they are lifted, it would have positive impact on the return of Syrian citizens to their homes, and the allocation of United Nations financial resources, particularly for the construction of schools, hospitals and other infrastructure, would be a source of hope for refugees and a powerful tool to prevent conflicts in the future.
Report by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev.
Thank you, Mr. Hussein Makhlouf for your extensive and detailed report.
According to our information, despite the positive trends in the return of Syrian refugees from Lebanon and Jordan, political forces opposing this process have emerged.
In the case of refugees in Jordanian territory, SMS-messages with recommendations “to refrain from returning to their homeland because of the lack of security assurances” were distributed.
In addition, some Lebanese politicians have made statements about alleged unwarranted arrests of Syrian citizens who returned to Syria.
Various sources report on allegedly tens and hundreds of detainees.
I know that you have repeatedly applied on every such application to the countries where the information comes from. But do not get any answers. This suggests deliberate provocative actions aimed at delaying repatriation process.
Please tell us what do you
think on this point?
Report by Mr. Hussein Makhlouf.
Unfortunately, we do experience obstruction of our initiative for the voluntary return of Syrian nationals to their homeland. These communications and alleged arrests are nothing more than propaganda.
This has already been about the Law No 10. We initiated its adoption in 2013, when no one spoke about the mass return of the refugees. But when our citizens began to return, the law was introduced as a violation of the rights of Syrians.
Our task is to actively counteract such information propaganda. The Syrian government has done a great job of explaining to the refugees and the world community the peculiarities of the law’s application. These explanations have been translated into English and communicated to the general public.
Now, when the arguments of the opponents of peace in Syria have been exhausted, new reasons have been invented based on speculation and unreliable information.
There is no specifics and facts about the alleged arrests and security of refugees.
All of this has nothing to do with reality. We once again appeal to all countries to provide information to the iJoint Coordination Committee. Syria is open for cooperation and is ready to respond to any violations of refugee rights. I would like to assure you that we are taking all necessary measures to ensure their voluntary and safe return to their homeland.
In conclusion, the motherland opens its doors to all of its children, so that they can participate in the reconstruction of their country and ensure its stability and prosperity.
Report by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev.
Thank you, Mr. Hussein Makhlouf. This activity is very important for the early return of Syrian citizens. I ask the Russian Joint Coordination Committee to inform about further developments in this direction. I ask representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the Russian Centre for the Reception, Allocation and Accommodation of Refugees to provide all necessary assistance to our Syrian colleagues.
On August 21, Muslims all over the world celebrate one of the most important religious holidays – Kurban Bajram. Thousands of Syrian citizens who are currently on the territory of neighboring states have already expressed their desire to visit relatives in Syria.
The leaders of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and a number of other countries are ready to assist and facilitate transportation to the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic.
A significant increase of inflow of Syrian citizens should be expected at checkpoints in the coming days. Given the difficult situation, we expect provocations by some political forces seeking to discredit the initiative of returning Syrian refugees to their homeland.
I ask the representatives of the Syrian Joint Coordination Committee, local authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic, the Russian Centre for the Reception, Allocation and Accommodation of Refugees to pay close attention to this and take all measures to avoid any possible provocations.