Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 May 2019

Most young Syrians not planning to return home after peace, survey shows

The results of the Arab Youth Survey showed that they would prefer to live in Canada, the US, the UAE and Germany.

The  UN-run Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees, north east of the Jordanian capital Amman. Khalil Mazraawi / AFP
The UN-run Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees, north east of the Jordanian capital Amman. Khalil Mazraawi / AFP

Most young Syrians do not plan to return to their home permanently even when the war ends, according to a survey of refugees in Jordan and Lebanon that attempts to gauge the emotion of a generation that has been displaced.

Face-to-face interviews in refugee camps and settlements formed the framework of ‘A Voice for Young Syrian Refugees,’ released on Thursday that vocalizes the sentiment of the youth after the conflict began in 2011.

The Syrian conflict is now in its sixth year with an ever-fragmenting opposition fighting President Bashar Al Assad for control of the country.

The UNHCR estimates that more than five million families have fled Syria in search of peace and stability with Lebanon and Jordan being two of the countries that continue to witness a massive influx of refugees.

More than half of Syrian refugees aged 18 to 24 in camps in both countries said they were unlikely to permanently return to Syria in the future, compared to 42 per cent who said they were likely to return.

Alvaro Sanmarti / The National
Alvaro Sanmarti / The National

The sample size was 400 refugees equally divided between the camps in Jordan and Lebanon with a 50:50 male to female ratio.

“That is a surprising and a worrying statistic for a number of people because when the war ends you know how they feel. That is our top finding,” said Sunil John, chief executive of Asda’a Burson-Marsteller, which commissioned the survey.

“We want to bring these numbers to policy makers and multilateral institutions like the United Nations and the UNHCR who are trying to find a solution and trying to resettle the refugees.”

The interviews were conducted by research group PSB between February and March this year.

An overwhelming sense of distress and frustration emerged from the statistics, underlying young people’s feeling that the world has failed them.

“The tone of the answers shows a deep sense of disappointment almost as if the world has forsaken them. Unlike youth who by nature are optimistic in that age group, here they are living in cramped conditions in camps or settlements in severe poverty,” Mr John said.

“For an entire generation that has been adrift for the last six years all they want is for the war to end. There is need for a multi-national effort to find a tangible and lasting solution to restore some of the optimism that has been lost, to do something dramatically different to build confidence in these young people to go back.”

The end of the war was the most important requirement that 47 per cent chose over President Bashar Al Assad leaving (7 per cent) or the economic situation improving (8 per cent).

A majority of 43 per cent picked a combined political and military solution to resolve the Syrian conflict compared with a smaller 27 per cent who backed a military response.

The UAE figured third in the list of countries that they would like to live in, tied with Germany at 22 per cent. Canada topped the charts at 27 per cent and the US at 23 per cent, followed by France and the UK.

The Syria survey is part of the ninth edition of the Arab Youth Survey covering 3,500 Arab nationals in 16 countries that was released in May.

Launched in 2008, the annual Arab Youth Survey delves into the aspirations and concerns of the young ranging from unemployment, extremist threats to the state of the education system.

The survey did not include Syria for the past six years due to the violence that has ravaged the country. Once it was decided to undertake a supplementary survey this year of Syrian youth in the camps and settlements, the questions put to the Syrians refugees had to be different from those asked of Arab nationals in their own countries.

“Since 2011 we could not go into Syria because of the security situation and every year when we announced the findings, there is always the question of what about Syria,” Mr John said.

“In the Arab Youth Survey we ask questions that are different because we are talking to youth in the UAE, Saudi, Egypt or Morocco who are nationals there. You can’t go into a Syrian settlement and ask the same kinds of questions like, ‘What are your aspirations?’ Their situation is completely changed, they have no livelihood, there is no education, although the age group is the same. This had to be a different questionnaire related to their situation.”

The study’s results aim to aid institutions in planning for the crisis.

Alvaro Sanmarti / The National
Alvaro Sanmarti / The National

“Through this there is an appeal to policy makers to give these young people a future they can look forward to. If these fundamental issues are not addressed and they are not given a future, schooling and education, then it can harm us in the future,” said Roy Haddad, director of WPP Middle East and North Africa that PSB research is a member of.

“It is a tragedy with half the population displaced. And it has had an effect on the social fibre across the Arab world where not only lives but futures are being disrupted. When you listen to their voices in the survey it is very clear they say that they have no country and the majority say they don’t want to go back. But they cannot be left as a lost generation.”

While the refugees were divided on whether the Russian or Iranian involvement in the war was positive or negative, they clearly believed that Donald Trump’s presidency would have little impact.

The numbers showed that most young Syrian refugees, some 66 per cent said they did not believe Donald Trump’s presidency would change the course of the conflict with one in four or 23 per cent expecting it to get worse.

The civil war has has so far cost the nation’s economy $226 billion, according to World Bank figures.

More than 320,000 Syrians have lost their lives in the conflict, as per the United Nations.

More than 6 million Syrians are internally displaced and just over 5 million are registered as refugees outside of Syria in camps and settlements in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Updated: August 3, 2017 11:00 AM