In Focus |Emerging Messages from the Refugee Conference in Damascus and Estimated Outcomes
On Wednesday, the refugee conference organized by Russia and the Syrian regime government, opened in Damascus. The conference began with several speech delivered online from the president of the Syrian regime, the Russian foreign minister, the Chinese ambassador in Damascus, the head of the joint Russian coordination body, the Iranian foreign affairs envoy and the Lebanese minister of social affairs among other figures.
The various figures delivered their speeches with their national flags behind them in addition to the flags of other countries, most notably Venezuela, Brazil, Iraq, Oman, India and the United Nations flag.
It appears the conference includes different messages for various parties; some general and others specific to certain countries to the exclusion of others.
The most prominent of these messages are the following:
The General Messages
- The displacement is caused by terrorism and sanctions against Syria and millions of persons were displaced and prevented from returning to their homes. This message reiterates the regime’s official narrative since the start of the displacement operations. The only amendment was the inclusion of the issue of economic sanctions.
- The solution for the Syrian file, including the refugee issue, starts in Syria based on a Russian initiative. A participant provided an example that the outcomes of the Sochi conference, which also involved the formation of a constitutional committee, are being implemented at this time rather than other agreement outcomes. The example serves to highlight that what Russia wants is what is being worked on.
- Based on UN reports, Syrian refugees want to return to Syria and Syria is ready to receive them; however, the country is missing is “benefactors” according to the Deputy Foreign Minister in reference to the aid needed for the reconstruction process and the lifting economic sanctions against the Syrian regime.
- The Syrian elections in 2021 will take place with the conference participants in attendance. Syrians living outside Syria will not have the right to participate in the elections or vote since they can return to Syria.
Special Messages for Certain Countries
1) European countries
Through the conference, actors wish to convey a message to European countries that the Syrian regime is ready to cooperate on the issue of returning refugees. The issue of Syrian refugees continues to preoccupy European states for security reasons and related to the integration refugees.
It also confirms that the Syrian refugee file is a means to put pressure on European governments as seen in the case of Turkey and other regional countries which used the refugee file to achieve financial resources or political interests in return for stemming the refugee flow to Europe.
In this regard, the Syrian regime government has issued a series of laws to help facilitate return procedures, from amnesty decrees to amending the mandatory military service law days before the conference whereby expanding the eligibility criteria for those seeking to pay rather than undergo their mandatory military service. The regime seeks to remove one of the justifications used by Syrian youth as a basis to stay in Europe. In return, European states are expected to lift the sanctions against the regime and contribute to rebuilding the destroyed infrastructure.
The conference communicates the message to the Turkish government and opposition that the person who does not wish to solve the Syrian refugee file is the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally on the basis he is using this file for his personal gain.
The conference directs messages to the various actors in Lebanon that cooperation between Syria and Lebanon created solutions for many issues in the past and can result in solutions to the situation Lebanon is currently facing, especially regarding the refugee issue.
The conference received extensive media coverage including coverage of the speeches, discussions in subsidiary sessions, and conference attendees and commentators. This coverage seeks to reiterate the official narrative and abovementioned messages.
The conference is expected to result in recommendations and results in line with the messages conveyed to various countries including the Arab countries, the United States of America and Turkey.
Unit of Analysis and Thinking - Jusoor for Studies
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