For nearly ten years, Syria has been abusing its people in the worst ways possible. The regime, led by Bashar al Assad, has attacked peaceful protestors with tanks and guns. It dropped barrel bombs filled with gasoline and high explosives on its population and suffocated entire neighborhoods and villages with poison gas. Syrian citizens were maimed and tortured and killed by starvation and chemicals and fire. In Syria, civilians were not mere casualties of war, they were—and still are—targets.
As a result, out of a pre-war population of 23 million people, around 500,000 have been killed, 6.5 million are internally displaced while some 5.6 million are refugees in neighboring countries. But now Assad, the architect of these atrocities, is calling for the refugees to return to Syria. Echoing this demand is his supporter and enabler, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At a recent refugee conference co-hosted in Damascus by Syria and Russia, Assad and Putin insisted that civil war is over and that many areas of the largely shattered country are now at peace. At the same time, Russia insisted that reconstruction of the war-destroyed country must precede the return of Syrian refugees, claiming that refugees will only be able to go back home if the West is willing to pay to rebuild Syria. This is a blatant attempt by Russia to cash in by helping its companies snag lucrative reconstruction contracts.
The refugees do not trust Assad’s promises. Western countries are also not buying it and insist that reconstruction funds will be made available only when all political prisoners are released, the safety of all Syrians is guaranteed, and Syria’s political process is deemed to be legitimate.
“The Assad regime, with Russian backing, is seeking to use millions of vulnerable refugees as political pawns in an attempt to falsely claim that the Syrian conflict is over,” said State Department Deputy Spokesman Cale Brown in a written statement.
“The Assad regime is responsible for the deaths of over 500,000 of its own citizens, the bombing of numerous hospitals, and the denial of humanitarian support to millions of Syrian citizens. These are not the actions of a government that can be trusted to determine when refugees might safely return, nor should Assad hold power over directing international reconstruction funds,” he said.
“The United States remains committed to the Syrian people and to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254, which is the only path to a political solution to the Syrian conflict.”