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UN cooperates with Russia, Syria on safe return of refugees — regional coordinator

UNHCR's regional coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Mohamed Amin Awad Abubakir said that UN "is working with all parties to remove obstacles to return" of refugees to Syria

MOSCOW, July 1. /TASS/. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) facilitates safe return of Syrian refugees in cooperation with Moscow and Damascus, UNHCR's regional coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Mohamed Amin Awad Abubakir told TASS in an interview.

"UNHCR is continuing its engagement with the Government of Syria, the Russian Federation and all other stakeholders to ensure that everyone is aware of, and applies, international standards to return planning," Abubakir said.

"Even though UNHCR is not organizing the return of refugees at this point, UNHCR is working with all parties to remove obstacles to return, including through discussing a legal framework with the Government of Syria, addressing gaps in civil documentation and legal status, while expanding operations and humanitarian programs in places of return. UNHCR advocates for the application of international standards to ensure that returns are safe and dignified, and that no one is forced to return prematurely," he added.

"UNHCR still does not have full access to all areas in Syria. As returns are happening spontaneously, it is difficult to have access to all those who are returning. Where UNHCR does have offices and access, UNHCR meets with the returnees to assess their urgent needs. Assistance and protection services are provided on a needs basis, and returnees benefit if they meet the established eligibility criteria as returnees are supported through UNHCR's regular programming," the coordinator explained.

"It is important to remove physical, legal and material obstacles to voluntary, safe, and dignified returns. As the situation improves, more refugees will opt to return. When refugees make a free informed decision to return, UNHCR respects their decision and tries to support them so that their return is dignified and sustainable," he conlcuded.

"UNHCR welcomes ideas and initiatives to garner support for Syrian refugees and seek solutions," Abubakir said. "It is important to ensure that any international efforts have tangible outcomes for, and impact Syrian refugees themselves," he added.

"UNHCR continues to have dialogue with the governments of Russia and Syria, as well as asylum countries and other member states, to enhance international cooperation towards solutions for Syrian refugees," he noted.

"So far in 2019 (up to the first half of April), UNHCR has verified return of 25,476 Syrian refugees from Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt," Abubakir said adding that "56,066 refugees returned in 2018, and 50,896 returned in 2017." "These numbers are only those verified or monitored by UNHCR and do not reflect the entire number of returns, which may be significantly higher," he noted.

The coordinator added that "1.4 million Syrians who were displaced inside their country returned to their homes in 2018." "But there are still 6.2 million people who remain displaced inside Syria. There are 5,6 Syrian refugees in the countries neighboring Syria: Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon,Turkey and Egypt," Abubakir said.

"However, less than 10% of these refugees live in official refugee camps. The rest are living in urban areas and unofficial settlements," he added.

Abubakir also noted that "most neighboring countries now have strict measures in place that effectively render their borders closed in the face of new refugees from Syria.".