Czech Republic to lead 'fact-finding' mission to Syria to study refugee return

Czech Republic to lead 'fact-finding' mission to Syria to study refugee return
The Czech Republic is due to lead a mission to study the ‘safe’ return of refugees to Syria, amid continued EU divisions over the issue
2 min read
25 June, 2024
Syrian refugees are increasingly worried about their status in Europe [Getty]

The Czech Republic will lead a fact-finding mission to Syria to set up "safe zones" to which Syrians in Europe and the Middle East would be able to return, the UAE-based website The National reported on Monday.

Cyprus, an EU state which lies just across the Mediterranean from Syria is also reportedly taking part.

The mission comes amid increasing worry among Syrians in Europe and other parts of the world about their refugee status, with Denmark in particular implementing draconian policies claiming that parts of Syria are safe and sending Syrians on its territory to “return centres”.

Human rights groups have repeatedly said that Syria is not safe for refugees to return to, with returnees facing the possibility of arrest, torture, and execution at the hands of the Assad regime.

The Czech Interior Ministry told The National that the country was “actively involved” in implementing EU Council conclusions calling for the "safe, voluntary and dignified returns of Syrians, as defined by UNHCR [the United Nations High Commission for Refugees]".

The Czech stance, however, contrasts with other EU states such as France and Germany, who have stood against any coordination with the Assad regime in the absence of a political solution to the Syrian conflict, which broke out in 2011 following the brutal suppression of pro-democracy protests.

The Czech Republic is the only EU country to have maintained full diplomatic relations with the Assad regime throughout the Syrian conflict.

Cyprus’s position in support of Prague is believed to be because of the recent arrival of increasing numbers of Syrian refugees as the Syrian economy continues to deteriorate without any let-up in regime repression.

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There are now around 30,000 Syrians in the government-controlled area of Cyprus, which only has a population of 950,000.

Last month, the EU offered Lebanon a 1 billion euro package in exchange for helping to stop the tide of Syrian refugees going to Cyprus.

Lebanon currently hosts about 1.5 million Syrians who are suffering increasing hostility and discrimination and has ‘voluntarily’ returned some refugees to Syria amid condemnation by rights groups.

Last week the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) said it had documented the arrest of 4,714 refugees who had returned to Syria. About half of those were later released but more than 900 had forcibly disappeared, with no information about their fate.

Around 5 million Syrians have fled their country to the Syrian conflict, which has killed over half a million people, with around 7 million internally displaced.