Syria’s refugees are losing hope of going home. They may be right

A new survey of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan found that a majority don’t believe they will ever return home. That loss of hope will pose a significant challenge for the Middle East and Europe, as big as the war itself

Syrian refugees try to cross into Turkey from Syria, in Akcakale, southeastern Turkey. Lefteris Pitarakis

By Faisal Al Yafai

Will Syria's millions of refugees ever go home? As the civil war crawls into its seventh year, nobody, not the politicians around the world searching for a resolution, not the rebels on the ground, and certainly not the people of Syria, can have much hope that it will end soon.

The Syrian war remains the world's worst humanitarian crisis, a war that has raged longer than the Second World War. Even those tasked with bringing it to an end are losing hope. This week Carla del Ponte, one of the investigators on the UN's commission of inquiry on Syria, said she would quit because there was no political will from the Security Council. “We are powerless,” she told a film festival in Switzerland. “There is no justice for Syria.”

Worst of all, the refugees themselves are beginning to lose hope. Last week, a poll released as part of the Middle East-wide Arab Youth Survey found that more than half of young Syrian refugees believe they are unlikely to return home permanently. The survey that covered refugees in Jordan and Lebanon found that a majority (54 per cent) in the two countries believed they would never return home.

Those sentiments should jolt policymakers, in the region and beyond, out of a political stupor that has assumed for too many years that the Syrian war can be contained. The truth is, the war was always destined to be too big for Syria’s borders and to engulf the region, as it has done. The refugee crisis also is too big for one country or one region. If Syria’s refugees can’t go home and can’t live elsewhere – if they continue to exist in limbo – the repercussions in the Middle East and Europe will be as big as the war itself.