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Austrian FM supports 'unconditional' return of Syrian refugees Open in fullscreen

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Austrian FM supports 'unconditional' return of Syrian refugees

Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl was visiting Lebanon [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 October, 2018

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Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil says Lebanon, which hosts more than a million Syrian refugees, is working to ensure their “fast, secure, honorable and sustainable” return

Austria’s foreign minister has said the return of refugees, stabilisation and reconstruction in Syria must not be rigidly conditioned upon a political process.

Karin Kneissl says Monday during a visit to neighbouring Lebanon that the world should seize on “a new dynamic” developing in Syria, which has been mired in civil war for more than seven years.

Kneissl says no Syrian refugee will be forced to return, but that Austria will help those willing to return like it did with Bosnian refugees after the end of the conflict there.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil says Lebanon, which hosts more than a million Syrian refugees, is working to ensure their “fast, secure, honourable and sustainable” return.

He says “security now prevails” in most of Syria, making it possible for refugees to return.

Since April, more than 2,000 Syrians have headed home from Lebanon in such returns coordinated by the authorities in Beirut and Damascus, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

Human rights groups have warned that Syrians returning to their homeland should do so voluntarily and with full knowledge of the risks.

According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, around 13,000 Syrians went home from Lebanon during the first six months of this year.

While many refugees have said that their return was voluntarily, others have been quoted as saying living conditions have become so bad that they had no choice but to leave the country. 

Other reasons also include a new property law that will be enacted shortly, which looks to confiscate homes evacuated during the war.

Many are also sceptical of the "guarantee" that those returning will not be detained. Bashar al-Assad's regime is well-known for its brutal persecution of those who have, or believed to have, voiced opposition to the government.

In August, Russia presented the US with plans for the coordinated return of refugees to Syria, aiming to repatriate some 890,000 Syrians from Lebanon, despite alarm from refugees who fear detention and even death on arrival.

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