Nearly half a million Syrians return to own homes this year: UNHCR

VIDEO: REUTERS
Syrians, who fled areas under the Islamic State (IS) group control in Raqa, are seen gathered on June 27, 2017.
Syrians, who fled areas under the Islamic State (IS) group control in Raqa, are seen gathered on June 27, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (REUTERS) – Nearly half a million Syrians have returned to their homes so far this year, including 440,000 internally displaced people and more than 31,000 returning from neighbouring countries, the UN refugee agency said on Friday (June 30).

Most returned to Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Damascus, it said, on the view that security had improved in parts of the country.

“This is a significant trend and a significant number,” UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic told a Geneva news briefing.

“Most of these people are returning to check on properties, to find out about family members... They have their own perceptions about the security situation, real or perceived improvements in areas they are returning to.”

He said it was premature to say whether de-escalation zones set up via talks held by Russia, Iran and Turkey in Astana or UN-led peace talks in Geneva had accelerated the return trend.

An estimated 6.3 million people remain internally displaced across Syria after more than six years of war, Mahecic said.

A further five million are refugees in neighbouring countries.

A survey conducted by the UNHCR in recent weeks showed that more than 80 per cent of Syrian refugees expressed their wish to return home, he said.

“Of those, only about 6 per cent were considering that to be a possibility in the near future,” he said.

UNHCR believes that conditions for refugees to return in safety and dignity “are not yet in place in Syria”, he added.