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Syrian and Iraqi refugees like the Palestinians: will they ever return to their home Countries?

Are today’s Syrian and Iraqi refugees like the Palestinians refugees that fled on the wake of the Arab-Israeli wars? Are we facing the inception of a new Palestinian question transferred to the “Syrian and Iraqi scenario”? Before the humanitarian emergencies of millions of refugees, caused by the present armed conflicts in Syria and Iraq, it’s ever more difficult to refer to territorial integrity in terms of clear human and geographic boundaries. There are serious security and stability issues, in the awareness that such high numbers of refugees, forced to live in desperate situations, represent a potential source of recruitment for terrorist organizations. Syrian and Iraqi refugees like the Palestinians. Will they ever return to their homelands? “There is need for regional peace that will ensure a gradual return of the local populations to their homelands, avoiding permanent settlements in unbearable conditions, in the lands where they sought refuge", claimed Paolo Maggiolini, Institute for International Policy Studies (ISPI).

Are today’s Syrian and Iraqi refugees like the Palestinians refugees that fled on the wake of the Arab-Israeli wars? Are we facing the inception of a new Palestinian question transferred to the “Syrian and Iraqi scenario”? The figures seem to confirm it, notwithstanding due distinctions. The war in Syria and Iraq, like the long-lasting Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is an item of major concern for the International community, owing to the severe consequences at local level, notably the crisis of refugees and displaced persons in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey in particular. This situation is undermining the increasingly blurred and weak geographical boundaries of the countries in question, upsetting national identities and raising serious internal security issues. It is known that the multitude of refugees, forced to live in desperate conditions, represent a potential source of recruitment for terrorist organizations.

Syrians and Iraqis, the new Palestinians. According to available data, released by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum during a recent meeting, the civil war in Syria has killed some 400 thousand people since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011 with 2 million seriously wounded.

Over 12 million people in Syria, over 8 million in Iraq, need humanitarian assistance;

there are over 6 million internally displaced persons in Syria and over 3 million in Iraq, while at least 4 million Syrian refugees took refuge throughout the Middle East: notably, 1.9 million in Turkey, 1.1 million in Lebanon, over 600 thousand in Jordan.

Portions of a people without a homeland, just as the 600 thousand Palestinians that over the last decades have settled down in Syria, 550 thousand in Lebanon, 2.2 million in Jordan, in addition to 942 registered residents in the West Bank and 350 thousand in the Gaza Strip.

UN figures don’t include all the Palestinians living in the Territories (who are not officially registered as refugees) and those who have emigrated to world Countries over the past years, notably to South America. The Palestinian one is a far-dated” crisis, for years it has been one of the main themes of Islamic radical movements, now replaced with a more effective – at least at media level – global Jihad.

Which future? “Comparing the situation of Syria and Iraq with the Palestinian one can be effective provided it is contextualized and explained in detail”, Paolo Maggiolini, expert at the Institute for International Policy Studies – ISPI – told SIR.

The Palestinian question is marked by specific features while the refugee issue cannot be faced without addressing the question of the future of a Palestinian State and the Israeli perspective

Conversely, the situation involving Syrian and Iraqi refugees remains a hanging question, notwithstanding its geopolitical complexities. Unquestionably, this analogy helps us focus attention on the future that could await these masses of people who fled from their historical homeland. In the past, the Palestinians had been forced to leave their lands as a result of Arab-Israeli conflicts, and they are still without a State. Today, Syrians and Iraqis are suffering a similar situation. Time goes by and the latter risk experiencing the same standstill.

Rebuilding trust will be a critical factor to enable the refugees’ return to a normal life, also because they tend not to consider their future in the Countries of arrival.

This is true especially for ethnic and religious minority groups”, the expert pointed out. Another aspect that deserves due consideration is that “every large inflow of refugees carries a part of the history of their country of departure. This means – Maggiolini explained – that the movement of large masses of people influences the human and geographic boundaries of the host Countries thereby making them unstable, weighing upon their identity and territorial integrity.” This is all the more true today before the threat represented by the Caliph Al Baghdadi.

Rebuilding trust. It will be fundamental “to rebuild the States and the trust of the population at local level, fighting against non-State actors like Daesh that exert control over it.” In this case, Maggiolini went on,

we need to envisage the outcome of the ongoing conflict and make sure that it won’t drag on much longer and extend the death toll.

We need to understand if Baghdad will be able to defeat internal threats and if Damascus will manage to recover its territories and provide the much-needed guarantees of safety and stability to all those who fled the Country. The number of internally displaced persons and refugees in Syria and Iraq is enormous, as is that of those who, like the Christian minority, have definitively abandoned their homeland to start a new life elsewhere.”

“Rebuilding the tradition of coexistence that used to be Syria’s distinctive trait – the expert remarked – will be extremely complicated, especially for those who have been forced to live in the hosting Country for years.

This is what is happening in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, where the majority of Syrian and Iraqi refugees fled to. The only solution – he concluded – is long-lasting, sustainable regional peace.

Military peace is not enough.

There is need for a peace that will ensure the gradual return of the population to the land they fled from, avoiding permanent settlements in desperate conditions in the Countries where they found refuge.” The Palestinian question should serve as a lesson.


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