Syrian and Russian officials gave conflicting reports about the actual number of refugees who have returned to Syria.
The officials announced the numbers at a joint committee meeting to follow up on the implementation of the results of the international conference on the return of Syrian refugees.
Director of the National Defense Management Center and Head of the Joint Ministerial Coordination Body in the Russian Federation, Mikhail Mezentsev announced that more than 2,200,000 refugees from inside and outside Syria have returned, most of them from neighboring countries.
Syrian Minister of Local Administration and Environment Hussein Makhlouf, however, put the figure at about five million, including 2.5 million internally displaced persons (IDP).
Assistant Syrian Foreign and Expatriates Minister Ayman Sousan stated that “tens of thousands of internally displaced persons have returned to their homes in their cities and villages.”
Thousands have returned from outside Syria since the international conference on the return of refugees was held in Damascus in November 2020, said Sousan.
The Russian Syrian Joint Committee kicked off its work in Damascus on Monday. A Russian delegation, headed by Mezentsev and the Russian president’s special envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev, had arrived in the capital on Saturday.
The delegation toured several governorates to provide humanitarian aid, conduct several joint medical experiments, sign several agreements and discuss mechanisms for developing bilateral work and media cooperation.
The joint committee is scheduled to discuss the measures taken by the Syrian regime, in coordination with Russia, to create conditions for the return of the refugees.
In his opening speech on Monday, Mezentsev criticized Western countries, saying they “continue to take a hostile position, when they should be helping the legitimate government to return Syrians to their areas.”
He indicated that Western sanctions are hampering reconstruction in Syria, and they have caused food prices to rise and increased poverty in the country.
Lavrentiev said: “The collective punishment of the Syrian people, for supporting the legitimate government, must end.”
Syrian caretaker Foreign Minister Faysal Mikdad said the refugee file is still being politicized in order to obstruct their return.
He said the latest “manifestation of such politicization was the convening of the so-called Brussels 5th conference to support the future of Syria and the region in March without the participation of Syria.”
He alleged that the meeting was aimed at using the refugee file to exert political pressure on Damascus.
Mikdad added that the government is continuing its mission, through the available means, to facilitate and support the return of its citizens to their homeland and prepare suitable living conditions in cooperation with friendly countries of Russia, Iran, and China, in addition to the UN.
The Russian delegation had arrived in Damascus on Saturday carrying 160 tons of aid, including 250,000 doses of the Sputnik Lite COVID-19 vaccine and medical supplies.