The Syrian government and affiliated militias tortured, killed and kidnapped Syrian refugees who returned home voluntarily from Lebanon and Jordan, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

Refugees who tried to return were killed and tortured in areas controlled by the regime, where most fighting has ceased after 10 years of war.

Shadi, a 31-year-old disabled man who returned home in 2020, said Syrian soldiers arrested and tortured him on his way from Jordan to a Syrian hospital.

Our neighbor came to our house and told me that it was military intelligence and that it was not only my son, but a lot of FSA men were killed by military intelligence

Souad, Deraa

“Two policemen kicked me and used my crutch to beat me. They forced me to crawl on the ground to their car and arrested me, ”he said.

Shadi said the police shocked him and then threw him to the side of the road after his interrogation.

The results indicate that Syria is not safe for refugees due to human rights violations by the government, HRW said, even as the UN and some host countries have encouraged returns.

The head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Filippo Grandi, during his visit to regime-controlled Syria on Monday, said he had discussed “ways to strengthen coordination” with the government Syrian to remove obstacles to the return of refugees.

HRW’s report, titled “Our Lives Are Like Death,” asked 65 Syrians about their trip home between 2017 and 2021. It found that Syrian government agents arbitrarily arrested 21 people, “disappeared” 17 others and tortured 13 people.

Government agents or affiliated militias killed five of 65 people interviewed, kidnapped three and the report found one case of suspected sexual violence.

The Syrian government has regained control of most of the country’s territory after 10 years of war that left half a million dead.

Those affiliated with President Bashar Al Assad’s regime have faced sanctions for human rights violations by the regime since Washington enforced the Caesar Law last year.

The sanctions law – officially Caesar’s Civil Protection Law in Syria – was named after a prison photographer who leaked thousands of images of torture victims and murdered prisoners.

“No one will be safe in Syria until they stop the security agencies from terrorizing people,” said Halim, 38, returnee.

The new findings are in line with reports from other human rights groups, including Amnesty International, which warned of abuses against returnees last month.

Interviewees from Daraa province said returning former combatants and rebel activists there are victims of targeted assassinations and harassment by unknown assailants who they say are linked to the Syrian regime.

Daraa is one of the last rebel-held strongholds in Syria. The province fell to regime forces last month.

Suad de Deraa said her son was killed by unknown gunmen on motorcycles upon his return from Jordan in 2020. She said he was murdered because he had worked with the Free Syrian Army for two months in 2013, before fleeing to Jordan.

“After the funeral, our neighbor came to our house and told me that it was military intelligence and that it was not only my son, but a lot of FSA men were killed by military intelligence. She said.

Refugees in Lebanon have returned home on trips facilitated by local authorities or Iran-backed Hezbollah since at least 2017.

The General Security of Lebanon began facilitating voluntary returns to Syria in 2018 and providing refugees with authorization documents to return home, in coordination with the Syrian authorities.

But documents do not always guarantee a safe return for refugees.

A Syrian lawyer told HRW he believes the Syrian general security and security agencies “behave the same way” and cannot be trusted.

Yasser from Homs said Syrian security forces arrested and tortured him for four months upon his return, despite his security clearance.

“The Lebanese GSO promised me that no one would be hurt when they returned,” said the 32-year-old.

“They said the security clearance had been done so it would be safe for me when I returned.”

The Lebanese government asked the UN to stop registering Syrians as refugees in 2015, and authorities have encouraged returns for years.

Some Syrians returned from Lebanon following an agreement between Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally the Syrian regime in 2017.

Zubeida, 20, returned as part of the deal. She said the Syrian Elite Fourth Armored Division kidnapped her husband two months after their return and that she had not heard from him since.

“For months we tried to find my husband. After nine months or maybe a year, we found out that he was in Saydnaya prison, but we are not sure, ”she said.

Returnees said the lack of job opportunities, poverty and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic were the main reasons for returning home despite poor security conditions and Syria’s economic collapse.

At least 282,283 Syrian refugees returned from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey between 2016 and May 2021.

Ten years of conflict have forced more than 13 million Syrians to relocate. About 6.7 million people are internally displaced while 5.5 million people have sought refuge abroad, according to the UN.

Update: October 20, 2021, 3:01 am