Here at Just Atonement, we’re interested the study of human migration across national borders, and we believe that the more we can learn about why, when, and how people migrate, the better prepared we will be for the migration trends that will occur as the planet changes.
War, internal conflict, drought, rising sea levels, unpredictable storms, and shifting growing seasons are all likely to follow on the heels of rising planetary temperature, and though some migratory paths will be unique to specific people and specific circumstances, most will be part of larger patterns. One example of such a pattern is emerging now in Syria.
Even though displacements still far outweigh returns in this country torn apart by ongoing violence, returns appear to be on the rise.
According to the International Organization for Migration, more than a half million Syrians who fled the country returned to their homes in 2017. (Syria’s population hovers around a total of 18 million). While the Syrian government has attempted to highlight this information in order to suggest that conflict is ebbing in the region, the UN migration agency emphasizes that these returns are by no means voluntary, safe or sustainable and these return migrations “cannot be considered within the context of a durable solutions framework.”
According to the IOM, about 97 percent of those returning to the country (the majority to Aleppo) have been able to return to their own homes, with the remaining 3 percent living with hosts, in abandoned structures or in temporary informal accommodations. Only 41 percent of returnees have access to water and 39 percent have access to health services.
So why are people re-crossing the border to return to areas they left under duress? Again, according to the IOM:
27 percent are returning to protect their assets and property
25 percent cite economic improvements in their home area
14 percent cite economic downturns in the areas to which they fled
11 percent cited “social or cultural issues” preventing integration in their destination areas, and
11 percent cited security improvements in the area they hope to return to.
It remains to be seen whether these resettlements will last. In Aleppo, government troops have recaptured some parts of the city once held by rebel forces, but several rebel strongholds still stand and conflict and instability in the area are far from resolved. All the same, many residents of the city feel compelled to return, even if only temporarily and in the face of significant risk and difficulty. By witnessing these returns and observing the outcomes, we can learn more about why people decide to leave or stay in place, and we can apply this information to similar decisions that will be made under circumstances we haven’t yet seen.