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Children in the rubble of damaged buildings in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria.  © Private

(Washington, DC, January 24, 2018) – The US should renew its grant of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to almost 7,000 Syrians living in the United States, Human Rights Watch said today. Anyone forced to return to Syria would face grave risks from the widespread conflict and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law there.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is expected to announce a decision by the end of January 2018 about whether to extend existing TPS for Syrians.

“The brutality and violence that originally motivated the US to provide Temporary Protected Status for Syrians have not abated,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “Multiple armed groups, including the Syrian government, are targeting and indiscriminately attacking civilians in Syria day after day, and it is not safe for people to return there.”

More than 400,000 people have died because of the Syrian conflict since 2011, according to the World Bank, with 5 million seeking refuge abroad and more than 6 million displaced internally, according to UN agencies. As of September 2017, the UN also estimated that 420,000 people were still living in besieged areas.

The Syrian government and non-state armed groups have committed a host of violations, including attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure, using prohibited chemical weapons, employing starvation as a war tactic, and using civilians as human shields. Many armed groups have long used arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, and ill-treatment against civilians in Syria.

The US first granted TPS to Syrians already in the US in 2012, finding that “extraordinary and temporary conditions” in Syria prevented “nationals from returning in safety.” The Homeland Security secretary revised the classification in 2016, making Syrians who had continually lived in the US since at least August 1 of that year eligible to register.

The US government should not only keep the program in place for Syrians who currently receive its protection, but it should expand protected status to include people who arrived after the current August 2016 cutoff date. This would make more people facing exactly the same dangers eligible for blanket protection from return to Syria. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has called on all governments not to forcibly return anyone to Syria.

“As a practical matter, Temporary Protected Status would ensure that no eligible Syrian is returned to face threats to their safety from the ongoing armed conflict in their country,” Margon said. “With mounting pressure on Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey to return, terminating the protection in the United States would send a dangerous signal that could affect far larger numbers of Syrians at serious risk of forced return.”

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