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World News

Christian charity warns of bleak future for Syrian refugees as Covid-19 worsens conditions

by Tola Mbakwe

CAFOD has warned the coronavirus pandemic has worsened the plight of over 12 million Syrians driven from their homes during more than nine years of conflict. 

The Catholic humanitarian charity said more than 6 million Syrians are displaced within the country. Another 5 million are registered as refugees in neighbouring countries, and more than one million more have fled beyond, mainly to Europe.

Howard Mollett, CAFOD's head of humanitarian policy said: "They are stuck in limbo, and Covid-19, combined with economic collapse, has made things even worse.

"As an internally displaced man in north-east Syria told us, 'We live in the unknown and head towards the unknown'."

On 30th June, 80 delegates from neighbouring countries hosting Syrian refugees, partner countries, EU member states and international organisations will participate in a top-level virtual conference in Brussels on the future of Syria. 

The goal is to support UN-led efforts to create a lasting peace in Syria, and to pledge aid for Syrians.

The meeting comes as a new report by 12 international and Syrian charities is released called Into the unknown: Listening to Syria's Displaced in the Search for Durable Solutions.

It states that deportations of refugees to Syria, or pressure on them to return, should be resisted.  It adds that returns should only take place when international safety standards are met and can be monitored.

The report calls governments to reaffirm protection of civilians at the Brussels conference.  

But as the search for peace goes on, Mollett warned that research shows very few displaced Syrians see any chance of returning to their homes or their old way of life in the foreseeable future. 

Apart from the pandemic and economic decline, the factors which led them to flee in the first place - conflict and risk of persecution - remain.

"With the Syrian conflict in its tenth year, less than five per cent of the refugee population in the region have returned to Syria or been resettled in other countries," Mollett said. 

"And Covid-19 is making a very difficult life even harder for the other 95 per cent. They have suffered harsher restrictions than others during lockdown, and the crisis is adding to the stigma and discrimination they can face.

"The Brussels conference should strongly commit to providing greater flexibility and longer-term funding to local NGOs working at the front lines."

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