x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Syrians cannot be permanently exiled

The Syrian conflict has passed another grim milestone. But one day, the Syrians must go home

Syrian refugee children play soccer as others watch at the Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq near the Syrian border in Jordan. The number of Syrian refugees passed 3 million this month, according to the UN (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
Syrian refugee children play soccer as others watch at the Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq near the Syrian border in Jordan. The number of Syrian refugees passed 3 million this month, according to the UN (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

There are few superlatives left. Words can no longer convey the sheer scale of the Syrian disaster. When the United Nations says that Syria is the worst refugee crisis in its history, it is talking about a crisis that dwarfs human understanding.

Three million refugees have fled Syria. Three million men, women and children, now without homes, without jobs, with little money and less hope. A further 6.5 million people are on the move within Syria itself, squeezed between the brutality of the regime of Bashar Al Assad and the dangerous fanatics of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

When Barack Obama said the United States did not “have a strategy yet”, he was talking about ISIL in Syria. But there is no strategy for Syria itself. A year ago, after the Assad regime launched chemical weapons at a Damascus suburb, it looked like there could actually be mobilisation to finally end the war by removing Bashar Al Assad. But the regime remained steadfast, made concessions and the world looked away.

Yet the killing has continued. This newspaper has argued that the removal of Mr Al Assad is the best way to end the worst of this conflict. That remains the case, but there is clearly no will in the international community for such a war. Day by day, it becomes more complex.

Comparisons are naturally drawn between Syria’s conflict and that in Palestine. For more than 65 years, Palestine’s refugees and their descendants have lived in refugee camps or in cities far from home. The refugee status of Palestinians has become the status quo. That must not be allowed to happen to Syrian refugees. Unlike Palestinians, the homeland of Syrians is not under occupation by a foreign power, it is merely ruled by a brutal regime. Once that regime ends, Syrians can go home.

That has to be the goal of the international community. Nearly ten million Syrians – fully 40 per cent of the entire population of the country – is displaced, internally or externally. But theirs cannot be a permanent exile. Even if the US does not have a strategy, others – especially in the Middle East – must formulate one. Three years is too long to be without a home. The world must find a way for Syrians to go home.