The international conference on the return of Syrian refugees kicked off in Damascus on 11 November 2020. It was opened by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, speaking by video conference.

After thanking his Russian, Iranian and Chinese allies, he highlighted the artificial nature of the problem: never in its history has Syria experienced collective emigration driven by political reasons. Citizens who left the country did not flee from the authorities, but did so in order to shield their families from foreign assailants. The challenge that remains is immense since part of the country is still occupied and another largely destroyed. Despite the adversity, the government managed to restore a minimum of infrastructure, lines of communication  and public services.

Alexander Lavrentiev, the special envoy of Russian President Vladimir Putin, delivered a message from Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He raises the need to stop politicizing the refugee issue, in response to the European Union’s declaration denouncing the conference.

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, had issued a statement against the conference the day before [1], underlining that the EU stands firm on the principles of the United Nations administration formulated in February 2018. However, those principles are none other than those contained in Jeffrey Feltman’s secret memorandum prohibiting any aid for Syria’s reconstruction for as long as the Republic will not be defeated [2].

The Iranian delegation, led by Ali Asghar Khaji, proposed the creation of an International Fund for the reconstruction of Syria.

The Chinese delegation, chaired by Fiong Biao, stressed that the US and European sanctions against Syria, which are an obstacle to the reconstruction of the country, are illegal under international law.

[1] “UE Declaration on the refugee conference in Damascus”, by Josep Borrell, Voltaire Network, 10 November 2020.

[2] “Parameters and Principles of UN assistance in Syria”, by Jeffrey D. Feltman, Voltaire Network, 15 October 2017.