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The Delusion, Once Again, of a ‘Safe Zone’ in Syria

Dumping Grounds for Refugees, Where Safety is a Masquerade

Syrian refugee trucks and cars prepare to leave Lebanon back to Syria, May 14, 2024. © 2024 Marwan Naamani/picture alliance via Getty Images

Here we go again. Since shortly after the beginning of Syria’s civil war, countries faced with the prospect of hosting Syrian refugees have touted the idea of “safe areas” within Syria to which refugees could be returned, despite the fact that such zones historically have frequently been unsafe, even treacherous. Turkey has tried to carve out such an area, which is demonstrably among the most dangerous places in the country. Not to be deterred, some European Union countries are at it again.

The Czech Republic is reportedly organizing a fact-finding mission to establish a safe zone in Syria that would enable EU countries to deport Syrian refugees to a supposed safe spot there where they won’t be harmed. They have their eyes on Damascus and Tartous, both in government-held areas. The article reporting on it says the mission “may also involve Cyprus, which has pushed to establish so-called safe zones in Syria for those returning.”

Cyprus is not waiting for the results of any fact-finding mission but has already been pushing back boats of Syrian refugees to Lebanon, whose armed forces have a record of summarily deporting Syrians to Syria. Cyprus has also suspended asylum processing for all Syrians in Cyprus. Cyprus has simply closed its eyes to the reality that the very same Syrian government that caused more than half a million deaths and 12 million people to be forcibly displaced since 2011 is still in power.

Let’s be clear: in a country with a purely localized threat, in which the central government is not implicated, it might be reasonable to expect an internally displaced person to seek refuge within government-controlled areas of their own country before seeking asylum outside the country.

That is not the case in Syria.

Syria’s central government of President Bashar al-Assad is the persecutor, and while it may not exercise effective control across all the country, there is not a safe zone anywhere within it – government controlled or not.

If the Czech, Cypriot, and other European officials prepping for this mission recognized that basic reality, they could save European taxpayers the cost of their airfare and cancel this ill-advised trip.

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