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Syrians should not be forced to return to an unsafe Syria | Syria



Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are facing increasingly difficult circumstances in camps inside Syria and a number of host countries. With many countries looking to cut funds for humanitarian aid due to economic difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, displaced Syrians are likely to face even worse prospects in the following months. 

At the same time, a political solution that would guarantee the rights of the displaced to a safe, voluntary and dignified return is not even on the horizon. It increasingly seems that the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies are solely focused on cementing the political and demographic changes achieved through violence.

Yet there seems to be growing support for the repatriation of large numbers of Syrians to regime-held areas without any real guarantees for their security or international presence to ensure their basic rights are respected. Such a scenario would almost certainly result in more violence and displacement.

A recent survey by the Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity (SACD) captures the increasing precarity and insecurity that displaced Syrians face.

Feeling unsettled

The majority of the seven million internally displaced Syrians are enduring the worst living conditions since the start of the war, especially the more than two million in Idlib and northern Aleppo provinces.

They are housed in squalid conditions in IDP camps on the Turkish border, without basic infrastructure and access to services like healthcare and education. Russia and China have recently used their veto power at the United Nations Security Council to further limit access to humanitarian aid by allowing the UN to use only one border crossing for humanitarian convoys to opposition-held areas in the northwest. On top of it all, COVID-19 cases have already been registered at the camps, fuelling fears of a major outbreak due to high population density and the absence of medical and sanitary infrastructure and supplies.

But Syrian refugees in some host countries are not faring much better in terms of security and living conditions. According to the SACD survey, displaced Syrians in countries like Lebanon and Turkey do not feel “settled”, meaning they do not feel safe and satisfied with their income level, basic services and housing, have problems with residency and do not feel they belong.

More than a million Syrians in Lebanon live in increasingly difficult circumstances, with only nine percent stating they feel safe and stable. Their situation is worsened by a range of bureaucratic hurdles, including a residency policy that makes it difficult for refugees to obtain a legal status, which in turn limits their access to education, work and healthcare and exposes them to the risk of arbitrary arrest. A 2019 Human Rights Watch report indicates that 74 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon do not have legal status.

The situation is compounded by increasingly hostile local political and media discourses on refugees, the government’s often discriminatory policies in combating the pandemic, the raging economic crisis in Lebanon and now the fallout from the Beirut blast.

Amid this uncertainty, Lebanon’s Ministry of Social Affairs has put together a paper outlining plans to organise a mass return of Syrian refugees in close coordination with the Syrian regime and without any consideration for their basic right of non-refoulement and the many dangers returnees face, including arbitrary arrest, torture, extortion and forced conscription. In July, the Council of Ministers gave the paper a preliminary approval, signalling the grave danger refugees in Lebanon may find themselves in.

In Turkey, which hosts the largest number of Syrians – close to four million – the situation is also getting worse. Whereas in previous years Syrian refugees felt welcome there, according to the SACD report, the percentage of refugees that feel settled has decreased to 34 percent. Syrians increasingly see their presence in Turkey as only a temporary, transitory phase.

This has been mainly due to the politicisation of the refugee issue, which has been central to tensions between the ruling party and the opposition and has led to the introduction of new procedures related to legal status. The increased hostility of the Turkish public towards the refugees and shrinking economic opportunities have also contributed to this situation.

Turkish officials have also floated the idea of resettling a large number of refugees in territories that have come under Turkish control after its offensive against Kurdish forces in northeast Syria last year.

What a return would look like

According to the SACD survey, some 73 percent of displaced Syrians would be willing to return to their homes if adequate conditions existed. Some 80 percent said that for that to happen, security had to improve.

While 87 percent of SACD’s respondents were confident that they were well-informed about the situation in Syria, the vast majority were not aware that currently the Syrian regime requires returnees to sign a “reconciliation agreement”.

The document, a signed copy of which any prospective returnee must submit to the Syrian embassy at the host country, speaks of refugees as “Syrians who left the country illegally”. Signing it amounts to a confession of having committed a legal violation.

About 80 percent of Syrians surveyed for the SACD report stated they did not have any meaningful information about the content of this document. Of the 20 percent who did have some information about it, most believed it was tantamount to an admission of committing crimes against the state. Some 98 of those who expressed a desire to return said that they would not sign such a document and it would be an obstacle to their return.

Encouraging or even forcing ill-informed displaced people to return to their homes where the situation is far from stable and secure is a recipe for disaster. International humanitarian agencies should not participate in initiatives by various governments that could result in the unsafe return of Syrian refugees and IDPs. They have the responsibility to make sure displaced people are properly informed of their rights and the conditions of any return.

SACD has documented various forms of repression faced by the small number of returnees. In Damascus province, there have been hundreds of arrests and disappearances, including those of recently returned IDPs and refugees.

But perhaps the best illustration of what would happen if larger numbers of IDPs and refugees are forced to return is what has been happening in Deraa province since the local population sign a “reconciliation agreement” brokered by Russia in 2018.

As a result of the agreement, the bombardment by regime forces stopped and thousands of residents who were displaced to the desert near the border with Jordan were able to return to their homes. Many were relieved to be able to go back home and not have to worry about air strikes any more. But soon problems started.

The agreement had allowed the on-the-ground deployment of Syrian regime forces and Iranian militias, who started harassing the local population. Arbitrary arrests, forced conscription, torture and extortion became an everyday occurrence, while the regime did not do much to improve service provision or undertake reconstruction efforts.

In March 2019, the situation escalated when the local authorities tried to erect a statue of Hafez al-Assad, the father of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in Deraa city, triggering widespread protests. The regime responded with more repression, which provoked a violent response from civilians and former members of armed opposition groups who began attacking the regime’s checkpoints at night and assassinating members of its forces.

By early 2020, the confrontation resulted in deadly clashes and the deployment of more regime forces to the province. Several towns were besieged and in some, opposition youth were forced to leave under new reconciliation agreements. Those have since collapsed and the province has entered another cycle of violence. Thus, just two years after the return of IDPs, many have been forced from their homes either by fighting or by persistent harassment and repression by the regime.

Working towards a permanent peace

Despite much talk in the West about the end of the war in Syria approaching, the country is not a safe place and Syrian refugees and IDPs would not return willingly to it. In fact, many of the participants in the SACD survey, primarily those who do not feel settled in Lebanon and Turkey or are displaced inside Syria, expressed a desire to flee to Europe.

This is, of course, not surprising. Many Syrian refugees and IDPs form their perception of conditions in Europe based on conversations with friends and relatives who have made it there. And in the SACD survey, some 97 percent of respondents who were refugees in European countries said they felt “settled”, indicating that they felt safe and somewhat comfortable in their new homes.

While this testifies to the commendable manner in which most European countries have received and absorbed Syrian refugees, we must not forget the scenes from the Turkish-Greek border in February this year when the Greek and some European Union leaders did not hesitate to use military force to prevent several hundred refugees from crossing over. We can easily imagine the direction in which things would develop if tens or hundreds of thousands headed in the same direction as a result of being forced to return to Syria against their will. 

Those scenes can serve as a reminder of the urgent need for the UN itself – as well as various governments and entities that have a stake in the Syrian war, including the EU, United States, and Turkey – to start working now to redraw and accelerate the Syrian political process towards a political solution that will guarantee a safe, voluntary and dignified return to all displaced Syrians.

Failure to do so would be catastrophic. And not just for Syrians.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance. 

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Year of the Overcomer-Prophet Elvis Mbonye



The eagerly awaited first fellowship of controversial Prophet Elvis Mbonye left viewers shocked as he declined to issue his now famous prophecies citing a refusal to settle for the new normal. In an on online service watched by thousands, the Prophet said him prophesying would “ be a concession to gathering online, rather than physically” further stating that it is not the will of God that church should meet online!

The Covid-19 SOPs given by the government and Ministry of Health have heavily impacted gatherings and as a result, ministries with large congregations have resorted to online services. The prophet however insists that this is a ploy to diminish the influence of the Kingdom of God.

He however proceeded to give the Prophetic Word of the year , saying “This is the year of the Overcomers” amidst cheers from those present. He also stated that this would not be a “gloomy” year, probably meaning that this would be a good year. Given that many of his prophecies have actually come to pass, should we pay more attention to him? We eagerly await the prophecies this year.

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Kabuleta blasts Media over “COFIT” reporting in new rant.



Presidential hopeful Joseph Kiiza Kabuleta has expressed dissatisfaction with the media over what he says was”alarmist reporting” over the Covid-19 pandemic which he calls “COFIT” a term we believe is a wordplay between covid and profit, a view held by many that claims that the disease was exaggerated to maximize funding and corruption. Kabuleta has come to be known for his straight shooting style and admirable command of facts and policy, even being touted as the “smartest candidate” in the is the full statement:


By Joseph Kabuleta

“Don’t look at where you fell, but where you slipped”

We know where the media fell. They fell when they were caught in the crossfire between opposition politicians and trigger-happy security hitmen; when they were unfairly targeted as they went about their noble duty of covering this explosive elective season. Sadly, some journalists are nursing wounds; others weren’t so lucky.
But it’s important for us to understand where they slipped.

If someone is sitting by the roadside sipping on his brew and he sees a gang of people sprinting past him, as if for their lives, it’s understandable if he impulsively joins without asking questions. But if after nine months he is still sprinting, and has still not asked any questions, then there’s something terribly wrong with him.

When we first went into lockdown in March, it was probably the best course of action because we didn’t know the full extent of the Cofit threat. But in the first 90 days, it was clear to all and sundry that it was never going to rank among Uganda’s top health challenges. And that’s not my opinion.

The Daily Monitor on July 15th quoted Dr Baterana Byarugaba, the Mulago Hospital Executive Director, describing the Cofit strain in the country as a mild form of flu which does not require hospital admission since it can be treated at home or in lower health facilities.
“l told Ugandans right from the beginning that the type of coronavirus we expect in Uganda is the mild one. It can be treated at health centre II, III, IV or the district hospital,” the top Medic said.

I read the story with glorious delight supposing that finally common sense, (or should I say science sense) would inform our decisions as a nation. But it’s difficult to know where science stops and politics starts. It’s become clear over the months that Cofit is not just a virus that causes respiratory problems, it’s a lot more than that; it’s a weapon in the hands of politicians that gives them power beyond their wildest dreams. In America, for instance, Democrat Congressman Jim Clyburn said Cofit is a “tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our (leftist) vision” while actress and activist Jane Fonda said that Cofit was “God’s gift to the left.”

Our media could have taken the side of poor Ugandans by showing the immense suffering and death from preventable sicknesses that resulted from the harsh Cofit measures; they could have highlighted the plight of businesses permanently closed and workers rendered redundant and sent back to villages. They could have wondered why truck drivers were testing negative in Kenya and positive in Uganda, or wondered why Cofit deaths only started after Prophet Museveni showed us a macabre lineup of coffins in his address, or why every celebrity who dies since then is ruled as Cofit (no autopsy required)

They could have told us that according to Worldometer, Cofit has a 0.28% mortality rate (or a 99.72 survival rate) and that it doesn’t rank anywhere in the Top 10 of Uganda’s health challenges; they could have told us that a child dies of malaria every two minutes (and Uganda accounts for 3% of the world’s malaria fatalities), which means that more Ugandans die from mosquitoes in ten days than Cofit has (allegedly) killed in the nine months it’s been on our lips.

Ugandans (especially of my age) have lived through real pandemics. As a young man growing up in the early 90s, nobody had to remind me that AIDS was real. Goodness me, I knew it was! And I didn’t need police to force me to wear protection, I knew the consequences. The fact that we are constantly being reminded that ‘Cofit is real’ tells a story of its own.

The media could have asked why Uganda, with one of the lowest Cofit cases or deaths, still holds on to a 9:00pm curfew when Kenya moved to 11:00pm in September, as did South Africa and several countries. The media could have told us that Malawi, Burundi, Tanzania and, recently, Ghana all held successful elections with full blown campaigns in 2020, and we aren’t hearing people dropping dead from Cofit in any of those countries. May be they should have tried to find out if people are dropping dead in Tanzania which altogether ignored all Cofit measures and went on to acquire middle-income status while Ugandans were still in lockdown.

They could have told us about the asymptomatic Cofit patients who were filmed dancing the night away in hospital wards, or of people suffering from other diseases who dare not go to hospital because they fear to be given a fake Cofit label and held for two weeks against their will.

The media could have told us that Cofit deaths across the world have been grossly inflated. Minnesota lawmakers say Cofit deaths could have been inflated by 40% after examining death certificates (according to The Washington Examiner) while Fox News reported that in Colorado 45% of Cofit corpses “were also found to have bullet wounds”.

They could have told us that 22 European countries, all of which had tens of thousands of Cofit deaths, opened their schools in the fall, and there has not been any reported spikes in cases as a result. They could have told us that more people have been killed by security men enforcing Cofit measures than by the virus itself.

Well, they could have…but they didn’t. And that’s where they slipped.

Instead they chose to go down the path of alarmist reporting and in so doing became, inadvertently or otherwise, enablers of Uganda’s trillion-shilling Cofit enterprise. Like Squealer in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the media used flowery language to drum up fear by keeping people’s eyes transfixed on swelling numbers while the thieves carried their loot and stashed it away, and loan money was distributed among family members or used in regime prolongation.

The recent joint television news bulletin, and the adverts that followed, were the peak of hysterical reporting. “Zuukuka Tusaanawo” (wake up, we are perishing) screamed an advert featuring top media personalities. What a load of……(fill in appropriate word).

Remember, all the tyranny we have witnessed in this season has been done in the name of Cofit, and such sensationalist reporting justifies it; it gives dictators like Museveni the perfect pseudo-moralistic cover to unleash their most despotic fantasies while actually pretending that it’s for the good of the people. Unfortunately, the terror has now spread to the very media people whose hyperbole enabled it in the first place. There is such a thing as the law of cause and consequence, after all.

Instead of the media walking out of pressers and threatening to boycott government functions, let them threaten to stop all Cofit reporting. Museveni himself would come running with chocolate in hand.

If the president extended curfew by just two hours, for instance, he will have put as many as 200,000 Ugandans back to work especially in the hotel, restaurant and entertainment industries; but he doesn’t care, and sadly neither do many middleclass Ugandans who suppose that it’s their moral obligation as responsible citizens of the Global Village to fret over Cofit just because their ‘fellow citizens’ in Europe and America are doing so. Of course they can afford to do that because their corporate jobs have, for the most part, insulated them from the devastation of the government-instituted Cofit measures. They can enjoy working at home, beer in hand, as they listen to CNN and BBC and still expect the full complement of their salaries at the month end, and that makes them feel every bit like ‘their brothers’ overseas.

Such aspirational conformists are more likely to be offended by my stance on Cofit because they haven’t traversed crook and creek of this country and seen the damage reigned on this fragile society; not by the virus, but by the measures supposedly instituted to mitigate it.

You see, perhaps the most enduring damage this regime has done to our society is creating a three-part hierarchy of class and needs. At the zenith are a handful of connected ‘1986 generation’ and their families who feel entitled to all power and wealth. Beneath is a small (and shrinking) middleclass, and at the bottom of the pyramid is a mass of peasants. Every society, to various degrees, is ordered in the same fashion, but what makes Uganda unique is that the megalomaniacs at the top don’t give a nickel about the plight of the middleclass and the middleclass in turn don’t care a bit about the quandary of the peasant. The charlatans at the top will impose punitive taxes on the middleclass, then dip into NSSF coffers at a whim to share out their savings, and no one can stop them.

And the middleclass Ugandan, armed with his medical insurance, and safe in the knowledge that his wife is unlikely to die in child birth (20 Ugandans do EVERY DAY), and his children are very unlikely to die of malaria (20 do EVERY DAY), or from malnutrition (thousands do every year), will go around trumpeting Cofit because it’s more relevant to his status than malnutrition or malaria.

I could just as easily go down that path. I could also close my eyes to mothers failing to get breast milk because they can only afford half a meal a day (black tea with a piece of cassava), and the malnourished babies that emerge as a result; I could close my eyes to the teenage girls that were given out in marriage because schools closed, or those given out to meet family needs; I could ignore the fact that our president is opening 5-star markets in cities which have 1-star referral hospitals; I could also choose to look the other way and enjoy my middleclass lifestyle, but as an aspiring leader, I cannot.

As a leader, my aspiration is to remove the privileged/entitled class, to expand the middleclass (and their income), and to shrink the peasantry; but mostly to blur the lines that separate each category.
It doesn’t bode well for our country if the average Corporate Ugandan knows more about racism in America than about extreme poverty in Teso or Busoga because that disqualifies him/her from the solution to those local problems.

And finally, I have come to the realization that the biggest pandemic afflicting our country is poverty and the virus that causes it is called M7-1986. Vaccination against it is January 14

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Muntu Blocked in Kamwenge



Alliance for National Transformation presidential candidate Gen. Mugisha Muntu has been blocked from campaigning in Kamwenge according to a statement he released earlier today.Below is the full statement:

Today in Kamwenge, as we have done since the start of the campaign season, we headed out to speak with the people. We had earlier in the week agreed on the venue with security agencies. No one had anticipated that it would rain as much as it did, making it impossible for us or the people to access.

After identifying an alternative place only 100m away from the original venue, negotiating with the owner and communicating the same to the public, we headed to the second venue only to be stopped by police.

Our policy has always been to do all we can to be reasonable, even in the face of unreasonable action on the part of the state. We engaged the police leadership in a civilized, respectable manner well knowing that they intended to not only frustrate us, but cause us to act in ways that would give them an excuse to cause chaos. This was on top of their intimidating the radio we had booked and duly paid to appear on.

While we are confident that we are on the right side of both the law and reason, we have chosen not to endanger the lives of our supporters or the general public by escalating the situation. We will do everything humanly possible to avoid a single life being lost or blood being shed on account of our campaign.

And yet this truth remains: the regime’s days are numbered.



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