Returning Syrian refugees face abduction, sexual abuse: UN

By Thomson Reuters Feb 13, 2024 | 7:39 AM

GENEVA (Reuters) – Syrian refugees who fled the war are facing gross human rights violations such as torture and abduction on their return home while women are subject to sexual harassment and violence, the U.N. human rights office said in a report on Tuesday.

More than 12 years after Syria’s conflict began there are still over 5 million refugees in neighbouring countries and pressure is growing from some host countries for them to return, with some forcibly deported back to Syria.

“The report paints an alarming picture of the suffering of returnees, in particular women amid the increasing number of deportations of Syrians from other countries,” said U.N. human rights spokesperson Elizabeth Throssell at a Geneva briefing.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that the overall conditions in Syria do not permit safe, dignified and sustainable returns of Syrian refugees to their home country,” she added.

The 35-page report said the violations it documented in Syria had been perpetrated by those affiliated with the government, rebel authorities and armed groups.

A Syrian government spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some women interviewed said they were subjected to harassment and pressured to perform sexual favours to security officials and authorities in order to obtain civil documents.

“Women are nowadays forced to do all sorts of things in order to go on with their lives. Especially if they have no money, they are often sexually exploited,” said a woman returnee in eastern Ghouta who was interviewed for the report.

The report highlighted the risk of detention for returnees, saying that women who had been detained were often stigmatised afterwards based on the assumption they had been raped or sexually abused, even if this had not occurred.

“In some cases, they are even divorced by their husbands and disowned by their own families,” the report said.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Ros Russell)