Lebanon, France and Germany share the same will to help Syrians return home. To achieve this goal, we need to close the gap between the refugees’ willingness to return and their current inability to do so.Eighty-three and five: These numbers should focus our attention regarding the return of refugees from Lebanon to Syria.
The most recent intention surveys of Syrian refugees in Lebanon conducted by UNHCR show that 83 percent would like to eventually return, but only 5 percent within the next 12 months.
One point matters more than anything: Every refugee has the right to return home. We should unite in defending the right to return for all Syrians.
The future of Syrian refugees in Lebanon lies in Syria - on this we all agree, including the refugees themselves. So why do only 5 percent plan on returning within a year? Refugees know that they don’t have a bright economic future here in Lebanon and that governments such as ours already provide substantial humanitarian aid in Syria as well. Surveys clearly show that destroyed infrastructure is not the main barrier that keeps refugees from returning home.
The main barrier is the climate of fear and injustice in Syria. Since the conflict began, the regime arrested and disappeared around 70,000 Syrians. These arrests, torture and killings continue until this very day. Detention by the Syrian security agencies is so arbitrary that no refugee can ultimately be sure of a safe return. They know that structural injustices await them: from seized property to utility fees for years spent abroad, from punitive penalties for expired personal documents to a biased justice system that will not defend their rights.
We share a common interest to call for progress on removing these barriers to return with a united voice.
Damascus must respect the right to return as well as housing, land and property rights of refugees. Damascus must credibly end arbitrary arrests and prosecution. And Damascus must stop restricting the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees so that UNHCR can freely move within Syria to access and protect all returnees.
These steps are clear and they are nothing else but an international legal obligation. They are not tied to the political process in Geneva, they are fully in the hands of Damascus. France and Germany are convinced, however, that sustainable peace in Syria is only possible through a meaningful political process led by the United Nations.
We recognize the burden that Lebanon is bearing. Since 2011, the European Union and its member states have committed over $19 billion in assistance for refugees and their hosts alike - in Lebanon, other host countries and Syria itself. This week, as our governments met at the Third Brussels Conference Supporting the Future of Syria, we have renewed this commitment to the generous people of Lebanon as we jointly work on removing the real barriers to return.
Until the voluntary, safe and dignified return of more than a million refugees from Lebanon to Syria becomes a reality, we will remain by the side of Syrians and their generous host communities here in Lebanon and beyond.
Bruno Foucher is the ambassador of France and Georg Birgelen is the ambassador of Germany to Lebanon.