With President Bashar al-Assad claiming victory in Syria, and Islamic State on the verge of defeat, there is anticipation the nation’s eight-year war is coming to a close. US troops and Syrian refugees have begun heading home. In most cases, this is premature.
“We left for good reason,” said Syrian refugee Mohamed Aziz, now living in the UK. “That reason – Assad – is still there, but now our loved ones are dead, our houses are rubble and our heads are wanted. It is not the end, it is less than square one.”
Civil war broke out in 2011 when a violent crackdown on protesters triggered nationwide outrage. After years of setback, Assad’s regime steadily regained western Syria with pivotal support from Russia and Iran.
The global push for refugees to return home has steadily begun. In July 2018, Russia implemented a strategy to repatriate more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees. In regional host countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan – whose economies have struggled to support Syria’s mass exodus – the pressure to return is strong.
But a country in which 6.2 million people are internally displaced is ill-suited to repatriate refugees. Unexploded mines pepper ruined cities, where people must queue for gas and food. Significantly, the same regime rules— and it is a punitive one.
“Syria will have a crippled economy for the indefinite future,” said Professor Scott Lucas, a Middle East expert at the University of Birmingham. “With $400 billion damages and a 75% drop in GDP, the burden of reconstruction is greater than its allies – Iran and Russia – can shoulder.”