Saturday, 25 February 2017

For Syrian Refugees, There Is No Going Home

'As a new round of peace talks convened Thursday in Geneva, Syrians interviewed at a randomly selected camp in the Bekaa Valley this week offered a unanimous reality check. Their old homes are either destroyed or unsafe, they fear arrest by security forces and they know that despite recent victories by pro-government forces, the fighting and bombing are far from over. They are not going anywhere.

 Every family interviewed had at least one member who had disappeared after being arrested or forcibly drafted by the government. The refugees said they cared less about whether Mr. Assad stayed or went than about reforms of the security system. Without an end to torture, disappearances and arbitrary arrests, they said, they would remain wary of going back. Virtually all said that they dreamed of going back, but that it was increasingly a dream for the next generation.

 “If the Lebanese president would offer me the choice of staying in prison forever here and going back to Syria now, I would choose prison,” said Khaled Khodor, 23, who spent four days in a Lebanese jail for sneaking across the border. “They didn’t torture me or beat me,” he explained. “It was fine. In Syria, if you’re taken, you’re gone forever.”

 Mr. Khodor is wanted by the Syrian authorities because he defected from the Syrian Army in 2012. He had two reasons, he said: his own horror at taking part in shelling the rebellious neighborhood of Baba Amr in the city of Homs and threats from rebels in his hometown.

 Mr. Assad has promised amnesty to soldiers who defected. But Mr. Khodor said a cousin of his who believed the offer had been detained in Syria five months ago and had not been heard from since.

 The only way he would go back, he said, is if there were international guarantees of his safety. Asked how that would work, he smiled and said: “I don’t know. That’s why I lost hope.”

 Mustafa Selim, 19, fled Syria with his mother and siblings just last fall. Battles had erupted near their house, and one brother had been arrested and forcibly drafted as he was traveling to his university. They do not know if he is still alive.

 “The regime is lying when they say it’s safe and secure,” he said. “To survive in Syria, you have to be a soldier. It’s impossible to live as a civilian. And if you go to the army, it’s kill or be killed.” '

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