Damascus (AP) — Jordan’s foreign minister Monday called for international investment into conflict-ravaged Syria’s crippled infrastructure to speed up refugee returns.
Ayman Safadi made the remarks during a visit to the capital Damascus, where he met with Syrian President Bashar Assad and his counterpart, Faisal Mekdad.
Jordan, which shares a border with the war-torn country and hosts some 1.3 million Syrian refugees, played a crucial role in the once-pariah state’s return to the Arab League. It hosted regional talks in May between Syrian, Saudi, Iraqi and Egyptian officials in an initiative to reach a political solution to the years-long crisis.
Syria’s uprising-turned civil war, now in its 13th year, has killed nearly half a million people and displaced half of its prewar population of 23 million. Syrians in both government-held territory and an opposition-held enclave in the country’s northwest suffer from rampant poverty and crippled infrastructure.
“We have offered everything we can to ensure them a dignified life,” Safadi said at a news conference following his meetings. “But what we are sure of is that the refugees’ futures lie in their country.”
The Jordanian foreign minister said that securing critical infrastructure and basic necessities will speed up voluntary refugee returns, especially as international aid for refugees continues to decline.
Assad in a statement released by his office echoed similar sentiments, saying that investment in infrastructure and reconstruction would create the “best environment” for refugee returns.
“We reaffirm that the refugee file is a solely humanitarian and moral issue that should not be politicized in any way,” the statement read.
Anti-refugee sentiment has soared in Lebanon and Turkey, two other neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees.
But while government-held Syria receives humanitarian aid through United Nations agencies, Western-led sanctions have made it difficult for Damascus to fix electricity, water and other infrastructure decimated in the conflict and more recently by a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake in February.
Western countries, most vocally the United States and the United Kingdom, say that Syria is still not safe for return. U.N. agencies and human rights organizations say the same, with groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch saying they have documented cases of arbitrary detention and disappearances.
Safadi’s meetings with Mekdad and Assad also discussed the humanitarian crisis in Syria, steps toward a political solution to the conflict, and drug smuggling, which has become a lucrative industry in the economically shattered country.