Are There “Safe Zones” in Syria? The Case of Return Migration for Syrian Refugees under International Law

According to recently published reports, Syrian security forces have subjected Syrians who returned home after seeking refuge abroad to various forms of arbitrary detention, forced disappearance and torture, including rape and other forms of sexual violence. And as the international community discusses the possibility of return for Syrians to what they are deeming “safe areas” inside Syria, these reports come at a time where the livelihoods of Syrians who wish to return are essentially framed under broader themes of International Refugee Law, International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law as well. This article aims to explore the pretenses upon which “safe zones” (or “safe areas”) are established under international legal frameworks, how safe they actually are, and whether or not these considerations apply to the Syrian case. Namely, the article will focus on some states’ various stances and decisions on the “safe” return of Syrian refugees despite the information that is out there about the threats on both their livelihoods and wellbeing should they return at this stage in the ongoing conflict.

+ posts

Dr. Jasmin Lilian Diab (she/her) is a Canadian-Lebanese writer, researcher, university professor, international consultant and editor in the areas of Migration, Gender and Conflict Studies. Presently, she is an Assistant Professor of Migration Studies at the Lebanese American University’s Department of Social Sciences. In previous roles, she served as the Refugee Health Program Coordinator at the American University of Beirut's Global Health Institute, and a Research Associate under GHI's Political Economy of Health in Conflict Workstream. She serves as an Adjunct Faculty Member of International Migration and Refugee Law at the Global Institute of Law, and has served as a Guest Lecturer at McGill University on Refugee and Migrant Health. Dr. Diab is a Research Affiliate at the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University, a Global Fellow at Brown University's Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies, a Scholar in Forced Displacement at University of Ottawa’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre, a Senior Consultant on Refugee and Gender Studies at Cambridge Consulting Services, a Peace Responsiveness Expert at Interpeace, and the Lead of the Global Research Network's 'Gender and Migration Research Group' at its 'War, Conflict and Global Migration' Think Tank. She has served as an International Consultant to UN Agencies, international humanitarian organizations and governments, and has assisted in evaluating humanitarian programming, conducting research in conflict settings, conducting gender analyses, and developing strategies for organizations' interventions in hard-to-reach areas across the MENA - particularly in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Yemen and the Palestinian Territories. She is a Country of Origin Information Expert to AMERA International's 'Rights in Exile Program,' a Reviewer at University of Oxford's Journal of Refugee Studies, and an Editorial Board Member at Act for Displaced, the Journal of Internal Displacement, Marywood University's Journal of Applied Professional Studies and PLOS Global Public Health as their Guest Editor on Humanitarian Aid, Conflict and Migration. Dr. Diab serves as an Advisory Board Member to People Beyond Borders and the Indian Society of Legal Research. She holds a PhD in International Relations and Diplomacy with an emphasis on Asylum, Refugees and Security from the esteemed Center for Diplomatic and Strategic Studies of the School of Advanced International and Political Studies at INSEEC U. in Paris, as well as graduate degrees in Feminist Writings, Human Rights and International Law.