EU disagrees with Russia that Syrian refugees can go back

Syrian refugees break their fast with iftar during Ramadan in Istanbul, Turkey 20 June 2017. [Erdem Sahin/EPA/EFE]

The European Union does not believe Syria is safe for refugees to go back, officials in Brussels said of a Russian push to have people return to the war-torn country and the international community to spend money on rebuilding it.

The bloc’s foreign ministers will discuss the matter in Austria later this week.

EU officials expect the bloc to stick to its line that it would not offer reconstruction money for as long as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – propped back to power by Russian and Iranian militaries – does not let the opposition share power.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said before talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this month that everything needed to be done for Syria refugees to return.

“But the conditions are just not there. Russia would want us to pay for it but Syria under Assad is not safe,” said one EU official.

The EU has backed Syrian opposition groups in the multi-faceted war that has raged for more than seven years, largely because global and regional powers disagree on how to end it.

Since last autumn, the Russian ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov has been calling to the EU to step in for post-conflict rehabilitation.

Chizhov: Syria is almost settled, time for EU to step in

In a wide-ranging interview on Wednesday (22 November), Russia’s ambassador to the EU discussed Syria and other conflicts, the upcoming Eastern Partnership Summit, his country’s relations with Turkey and Bulgaria’s Presidency of the Council of the EU.

Recently EU leaders decided to greenlight a second tranche of €3 billion to help Syrian refugees on Turkish territory.

EURACTIV asked the Commission if this money should not better be used for the return of refugees to their homeland. The answer received indicated clearly that the return of refugees was not yet on the Commission’s radar.

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