In the summer of 2019, Syria was no longer living at the sustained rate of fighting, after the reconquest of two thirds of the country by the regime of Bashar Al-Assad. In Lebanon, life was already miserable and the climate harmful for the Syrian refugees. So Noor (the first name has been changed) decided to return to her country with her son and daughter, not thinking that she would again expose herself to the horrors of war. On his arrival at the Al-Baqi’a-Tal Kalakh border post, the Syrian officer nevertheless strikes him: “Why did you leave Syria? Because you don’t like Bashar Al-Assad and you don’t like Syria? You are a terrorist… Syria is not a hotel that you leave and come back to when you want to. ” After accusing her of sending weapons to Syria and prostituting herself, he raped her and her 5-year-old daughter and then took pictures of them, naked.
The Assad regime’s war, violence and repression have displaced 13.3 million Syrians since 2011, 6.6 million of whom have taken refuge in neighboring countries, and some in Europe. They caught up with those who, willingly or by force, took the way back. Arbitrary detentions, torture, rape and sexual violence, enforced disappearances: in a report published on Tuesday, September 7, Amnesty International documented 66 cases of serious human rights violations committed by the Syrian authorities between mid-2017 and spring 2021, including 13 children and 15 women, like Noor and his daughter.
“The cases concern different geographical areas and are part of a trend of abuses observed since the start of the conflict in Syria. It is concluded that there is a real risk of persecution of refugees returning to Syria, linked to the perception of this group by the authorities. This risk is the criterion which qualifies refugees for protection under the 1951 Geneva Convention, under the international obligation of non-refoulement ”, comments Marie Forestier, coordinator of the report. This finding corroborates repeated warnings from Syrian organizations about the continuing gross human rights violations by the authorities. According to the Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC), in 2020 and 2021, 82,013 civilians were detained, 3,363 abducted and 3,585 disappeared.
“Don’t come home”
The investigation carried out by Amnesty International reveals that the authorities in Damascus harbor a suspicion, even a desire for revenge, towards those who have left the country, seen as “terrorists”, just like members of the opposition. Torture and ill-treatment – including rape and sexual violence documented in 14 cases – is a means of humiliating and punishing. Arbitrary detentions take place immediately after return or upon summons, up to ten months later. More than 25 people were arrested for “terrorism”, either because they came from areas under opposition control, or because their relatives were suspected. Some were detained for several months without any legal procedure. Seventeen people have not reappeared since their enforced disappearance.
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