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One million Syrian refugees have returned to Syria

Roughly one million Syrian refugees have returned to Syria, a senior government official said Thursday.

According to a report by Al-Watan, Syrian Minister of Local Administration and Environment Hussein Makhlouf said that approximately one million refugees have returned home to Syria, mostly from neighboring Lebanon.

In a statement to Al-Watan, Makhlouf said that Syrian embassies around the world were offering assistance to any Syrian nationals looking to return home, offering them travel documents and even plane tickets, if necessary.

A source in Syria’s Department of Immigration and Passport Control said that there has been an elevated level of travel through Syria’s border crossings, due largely to the growing number of returning Syrian nationals.

Some six million Syrian refugees fled the country since the civil war broke out in 2011, with more than half currently residing in Turkey, and roughly one million listed in Lebanon and another 600,000 in Jordan.

The EU spent at least €55m to support Turkish immigration reception and detention centres between 2011 and 2015.

EU migration management support continued under its March 2016 $6bn [€5.3bn] deal with Turkey.

The deal essentially involved the EU funding refugee-related projects in exchange for Turkey stopping the flow of refugees to the EU, while the EU maintained that Turkey is a safe country to which to return Syrian asylum seekers.

In late 2017 and early 2018, Istanbul and nine provinces on the border with Syria suspended registration of newly-arriving asylum seekers.

The foreign aid to refugees in Lebanon had dropped off even before 2018. The percentage of aid required for UN agencies dropped from 54% and 46% in 2015 and 2016, respectively, to 43% in 2017. By mid-2018, reports began to surface highlighting assistance ‘gaps’ and suspension of aid to certain families; only 18-22% of required aid was received. In 2018, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) received just $887 million of the $2.68 million required to aid the refugees. Due to funding shortages, UNHCR support to refugees was limited “to the most vulnerable families that were unable to afford their basic needs of food, shelter and healthcare.”

Despite the importance of the Russian Initiative, it faces several obstacles. Firstly, the Russians are convinced that the Initiative cannot be implemented without international support from Europe, the Gulf states, and the United States. This is because these countries have significant influence in the conflict.