Syria’s Spontaneous Returns

Samuel Hall, 2018


More than 440,000 IDPs returned to their homes in Syria in 2017, and 31,000 refugees returned to Syria in the first half of 2017. This study analyzes spontaneous returns to Syria, based on surveys in Homs, Idlib and Azaz governates, and Aleppo City. The researchers find that those who were more recently displaced are more likely to return, and the large majority return to their governorate of origin. The most common push factor for leaving places of displacement was lack of income/livelihoods. Secondary push factors differed between IDPs (lack of cash/savings, and insecurity in places of displacement) and refugees (difficult socio-cultural environment, racism and discrimination in places of displacement). The most common pull factors for return included homesickness, family reunification, a desire to search for work or to check on land and property, and the belief that security had improved. Split and temporary returns were a key component of spontaneous refugee returns. In order to return, refugees required information, money and transportation; the main sources of information were family and friends, mass media, and social media.

Top needs cited by returnees were: (a) livelihoods, income, cash; (b) healthcare; (c) safety; (d) basic infrastructure; and (e) education. Half of returned households were not satisfied with employment opportunities, one third of households rated housing conditions as sub-standard, 15 percent of households had children out of school, and 49 percent of households had health needs. The study assessed reintegration challenges across four dimensions of a ‘resilience index’: documentation, livelihoods, basic services and safety. Variations in reintegration outcomes appear to be determined by location rather than by displacement profile (with the exception that returned IDPs score lower on the livelihoods dimension of resilience). Common challenges relate to family separation, access to documentation, access to food, ability to borrow, social engagement, and psychosocial wellbeing. Overall, host communities share similar needs with returnee households. 73 percent of returned households wished to stay in their current location, 7 percent wished to move abroad, 4 percent wished to move within Syria, and 16 percent were uncertain of their plans.