Russia sends Syria refugee proposal to US after Putin-Trump agreement

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A prisoner released by the regime embraces an opposition fighter upon his arrival at Al-Eis crossing point, south of Aleppo, on Friday. (AFP)
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In this July 16, 20198, photo, US President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland. (AP)
Updated 21 July 2018

Russia sends Syria refugee proposal to US after Putin-Trump agreement

  • 750,000 internally displaced Syrians returned home through first half of 2018, says UN
  • Some 890,000 refugees could return to Syria from Lebanon in the near future, plus 300,000 from Turkey and 200,000 from EU countries

MOSCOW/JEDDAH:  Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday it had sent a proposal to Washington to jointly organize the return home of Syrian refugees after agreements reached by President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump, Russian agencies said.

Trump and Putin met at a summit in Helsinki, Finland on Monday.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had sent Washington a proposal for drawing up a joint action plan to bring Syrian refugees back to the places they lived before the war broke out in 2011.

“The active advancement in this direction has been helped by the agreements reached by the presidents of Russia and the United States during the summit in Helsinki ...,” Mikhail Mizintsev, a ministry official, was quoted as saying by TASS.

The US and Russia’s militaries have a communications link in Syria to avoid accidental clashes and joint work on refugees would represent greater cooperation.

“The proposals presented by Russia are currently being worked out by the US side,” the ministry said.

It said the proposals include setting up a Russian-US-Jordanian monitoring group in Amman and a similar group in Lebanon. It said over 1.7 million Syrian refugees would be able to return to Syria in the near future.

Mizintsev said preliminary assessments indicated 890,000 refugees could return to Syria from Lebanon in the near future, 300,000 from Turkey and 200,000 from EU countries.

Separately, the UN said that an estimated 750,000 internally displaced Syrians returned to their homes through the first half of 2018, nearly equal the amount for all of last year.

The returns have largely occurred in areas that regime forces have clawed back from opposition groups including Aleppo, Homs and Rural Damascus, the UN refugee agency said in a statement.

The rate of returns this year has clearly outpaced that of 2017, when an estimated 760,000 people went back to homes they had been forced to flee.

UNHCR said that in 2017 it had “ramped up its capacity inside Syria” in anticipation that larger numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) would head home to certain areas as the dynamics of the Syrian conflict changed.

The spike in returns came as record numbers were displaced elsewhere.

Opposition fighters laid down their weapons and started evacuating their positions near the Golan Heights on Friday, paving the way for President Bashar Assad’s forces to retake their positions along the Israeli frontier for the first time since 2011.


(With Agencies)

Survivors: Up to 117 migrants missing in capsizing off Libya

Updated 19 January 2019

Survivors: Up to 117 migrants missing in capsizing off Libya

  • The migrants came mainly from west Africa
  • The Italian navy said it had alerted Libyan authorities who coordinated rescue operations

MILAN: A rescue official says survivors have told rescuers that up to 117 migrants might have died when a rubber dinghy capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya.
Flavio Di Giacomo of International Organization for Migration says three survivors were plucked to safety by an Italian navy helicopter on Friday, and they say 120 were aboard when the dinghy left Libya.

He said the people came mainly from west Africa, adding: “Ten women including a pregnant girl were aboard and two children, one of whom was only two months old.”
The navy says its airplane launched life rafts after it spotted the sinking dinghy Friday with about 20 people aboard. It wasn't immediately clear if some migrants had already fallen off.
The Italian Coast Guard says Libya asked a nearby cargo ship to search for survivors, but no one was found.
The Italian news agency ANSA quoted Libyan authorities as saying a dispatched Libyan coast guard boat turned back after mechanical problems.
According to the IOM, 2,297 migrants died or went missing in the Mediterranean last year, out of a total of 116,959 people who reached Europe by sea.
Arrivals in the first 16 days of 2019 totalled 4,449, almost all by sea, compared with 2,964 in the same period of 2018.
“As long as European ports will remain open ... sea-traffickers will continue to do business and kill people,” Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said in a Facebook post late on Friday.
Since Italy’s populist government came to power in June, Salvini, leader of the anti-migrant League, has closed Italian ports to humanitarian vessels.