March 9, 2018 / 3:52 PM / 4 months ago

Syria still too insecure for refugee returns - U.N. refugee chief

BEIRUT (Reuters) - It is “very premature” to talk about returning refugees to Syria because the situation there remains insecure and dangerous, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said on Friday.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, attends a meeting of Latin America and Caribbean for the global pact on refugees, at the Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, Brazil February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

“Eighty-nine percent of the Syrian people we surveyed in Lebanon are saying we want to go back eventually to Syria, but almost all of them say not right now,” Filippo Grandi said at a conference in the Lebanese capital Beirut.

More than a million Syrians fled into neighbouring Lebanon after war broke out in 2011 and now account for about a quarter of Lebanon’s population.

As the Syrian government has regained control over more territory, and as fighting has ended in more parts of Syria, some Lebanese politicians have called for Syrian refugees to return.

While some parts of Syria are more stable than others, Grandi said, talk of them returning now is “very premature”.

“[Refugees] are watching what’s happening now and are thinking what’s next? What’s going to happen in Idlib? What’s going to happen in the south ... What’s going to happen in Afrin? What’s going to happen in the Kurdish areas?

“Its very uncertain, so people are waiting,” he said.

Grandi said the UNHCR is making preparations for eventual returns by working in Syria on housing, access to services and legal protections.

“Many people are afraid of being conscripted into the army and having to fight, so we need to negotiate amnesties and exceptions,” he said.

Syria’s neighbours Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon are hosting most of the around 5.6 million Syrians who have fled their country, which is approaching its eighth year of conflict.

Grandi said he was concerned that international help for host countries might begin to slip and urged ongoing support.

Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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