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Saturday, July 1, 2017

U.N. Refugee Agency: More People Returning to Syria in 2017

By Doug G. Ware  

A Syrian man removes an injured boy from an attack site following an airstrike on the neighborhood of al-Kalasa in Aleppo in 2015. The U.N. Refugee Agency said Friday that data show that nearly 500,000 displaced Syrians returned to their homeland in the first six months of 2017.
File Photo by Ameer Alhalbi/ UPI | License Photo

UPI -- After a mass exodus in recent years, more people are returning to Syria this year, according to data cited Friday by the United Nations' refugee agency.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees issued a report Friday that said there has been a "notable trend of spontaneous returns to and within Syria" so far in 2017.

According to the data, more than 440,000 "internally displaced" Syrians have returned to their homes in the country between January and July.

"In parallel, UNHCR has monitored over 31,000 Syrian refugees returning from neighboring countries so far in 2017," the humanitarian agency added. "Since 2015, some 260,000 refugees have spontaneously returned to Syria, primarily from Turkey into northern Syria."

Tens of thousands of Syrians have fled their homeland in recent years for various reasons -- most prominently the spread of terrorism and the civil war, now in its seventh year.

The main reasons Syrians are returning, UNHCR said, are to check on family or property and perceived improvement of the security situation in the war-torn Middle Eastern nation.

To meet the growing returns, UNHCR said it will increase its operational capacities inside Syria to facilitate the change.

The U.N. refugee agency is tasked with guarding and supporting refugees worldwide and assist in their voluntary repatriation.

"UNHCR believes conditions for refugees to return in safety and dignity are not yet in place in Syria," the report stated. "Access to displaced population inside Syria remains a key challenge, with aid convoys still unable to access regularly even the recently newly accessible areas.

"There is a clear need to continue to fund and support programs in host countries."

The U.N. agency said, though, that it cannot promote or facilitate further returns of Syrians to their home country "at this stage."

"Ensuring access to asylum for Syrian refugees and preserving the ability and conditions for them to stay in the host countries remain critical," it said.

UNHCR has requested more than $300 million for operations to aid displaced persons in Syria this year. So far, it has received about a third of that amount. The agency said it will seek an additional $150 million this year for those operations.