Refugees who returned to Syria were tortured, disappeared: Amnesty

Refugees who returned to Syria were tortured, disappeared: Amnesty
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Syrian refugees who were pressured to return home by host countries in Europe and Asia have been subjected to detention, disappearance and torture, including sexual violence, at the hands of Syrian security forces, Amnesty International said in a report released Tuesday.

Amnesty detailed the abuses by Syrian intelligence officers against 66 former refugees, including 13 children, between mid-2017 and spring 2021 in its new report titled "You’re going to your death." 

“Military hostilities may have subsided, but the Syrian government’s propensity for egregious human rights violations has not," Marie Forestier, an Amnesty researcher on refugee and migrant rights, said in a news release.

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"The torture, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary or unlawful detention which forced many Syrians to seek asylum abroad are as rife as ever in Syria today. What’s more, the very fact of having fled Syria is enough to put returnees at risk of being targeted by authorities," she added.

The report specifically criticizes Denmark, Sweden and Turkey for stripping protections from refugees and pressuring them to return home.

It also calls out Lebanon and Jordan for subjecting refugees living there to squalid living conditions, discrimination and increased pressure to return home. Both countries have some of the highest numbers of Syrian refugees per capita, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

The report urged world leaders to halt any programs directly or indirectly pressuring Syrian refugees out of their countries.  

“Any government claiming Syria is now safe is willfully ignoring the horrific reality on the ground, leaving refugees once again fearing for their lives," Forestier said. 

Amnesty detailed five cases where the former refugees had died in custody after returning to Syria, while the fate of 17 forcibly disappeared people remains unknown. The report is based on interviews with 41 Syrians, including returnees, their relatives and friends, lawyers, humanitarian workers and Syria experts. 

“After I was released, I couldn’t see anyone who visited me for five months," one refugee told the organization. "I was too scared to speak to anyone. I had nightmares, hallucinations. I was talking during my sleep. I used to wake up crying and scared. I’m disabled because the nerves of my right hand are damaged due to [torture]."

The 10-year war in Syria has forced over 6 million refugees to flee the country, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. A U.K.-based monitoring group reported more than 400,000 deaths from the war as of December 2020, including more than 100,000 civilians.