Minister Sajjan considers the return of refugees to Syria premature | Syria: the spiral of war

Minister Sajjan considers premature the return of refugees to Syria | Syria: the spiral of war

According to Minister Sajjan, it is still too early for Syrian refugees to all return home.

Syria is not yet safe enough for millions of refugees to start returning home, a Canadian minister warned during a visit to Lebanon on Wednesday. Canadian Minister for International Development Harjit Sajjan made the remarks days after Lebanese authorities announced a plan to begin returning 15,000 Syrian refugees each month to their war-torn country.

Mr. Sajjan's remarks followed his tour of the region which also took him to Jordan, where he visited Syrian refugees living in tent camps.

More than five million Syrians fled their country when the conflict broke out 11 years ago, most of them now living in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Lebanon, which has taken in one million Syrians, is grappling with an unprecedented economic collapse and financial crisis and is eager to see refugees return to Syria.

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On Monday, Syrian Local Government Minister Hussein Makhlouf said Syrian refugees in Lebanon could start returning home, pledging to get all the help they need from the authorities.

However, the UN refugee agency and rights groups oppose involuntary repatriation to Syria, saying the practice risks putting returning refugees at risk. Human rights groups have said some Syrian refugees who have returned home have been detained.

Mr. Sajjan echoed those concerns on Wednesday.

It's very important to make sure there's an absolutely safe environment they can go back to, Sajjan said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“Obviously, at this time, according to our estimates, Syria is not a safe place for people to return.

— Harjit Sajjan, Canadian Minister for International Development

They are very proud people, who want to go home. They do not want to live in these conditions, said the Canadian minister, adding that any return must be voluntary.

Over the past few years, Canada has resettled dozens thousands of Syrian refugees, including some from Lebanon and Jordan. Mr. Sajjan, a former defense minister and ex-serviceman who served in Afghanistan, said he saw firsthand the effects and horrors of war, which drives people to leave.

He affirmed that Canada will continue to seek ways, with multinational partners, to provide appropriate direct support to the Lebanese people and vulnerable Syrian refugees.

Calls for the return of refugees Syrians have multiplied in Lebanon since the start of the economic recession at the end of 2019, which plunged three quarters of Lebanese into poverty. For the Syrians, living conditions have greatly deteriorated.

Sajjan said in his talks with Lebanese leaders he urged them to move as quickly as possible to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a bailout package. /p>

He pointed out that the IMF's demands on Lebanon are all legitimate things, given the way the economic crisis has unfolded.

Before any agreement with the IMF, Lebanon still needs to draft anti-money laundering legislation and a capital control law.

The Lebanese crisis was further exacerbated by the August 2020 massive explosion in the port of Beirut, which killed more than 200 people, injured thousands more and caused billions of dollars of damage.

Mr. Sajjan expressed hope that the investigation into the explosion will resume soon. The national inquiry has stalled since December due to legal challenges raised by some politicians against the judge leading the inquiry.

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