More than half of young Syrian refugees don’t plan to return home permanently unless the war in their country comes to an end and ISIS is eliminated.
That’s according to the ninth annual Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, which looks at the hopes, concerns and goals of young Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon.
Only 7% said that President Bashar al-Assad would have to be pushed from power for them to return.
The Syrian civil war, now in its sixth year, has left more than 320,000 dead and drained $226 billion from the national economy, according to the World Bank. It has displaced 6 million Syrians inside the country and forced more than 5 million to flee, with most now in camps in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.
The refugee flows have burdened Syria’s neighbors, straining resources, finances and security capacities, particularly given concerns that terrorists may be hiding themselves among the waves of people fleeing violence. The massive refugee flows have also swept Europe, triggering political backlashes and national soul searching about identity and moral obligation.
And they’ve become an issue in US politics as then-candidate and now-President Donald Trump has held up Europe’s acceptance of Syria’s refugees as dangerous and self-destructive. After a court fight, the Trump administration has instituted temporary entry bans on travelers from many Muslim majority countries.
“The world has seldom witnessed an exodus of people on the scale we have seen in recent years,” said Don Baer, worldwide chairman and CEO of communications firm Burson-Marsteller. “Managing this refugee crisis is a global humanitarian challenge, and it requires not only a comprehensive understanding of the situation, but also firsthand insight into the views of those who have lost their homes and livelihoods.”
The majority of young Syrian refugees surveyed, 66%, said they don’t believe Trump’s presidency will change the course of the conflict, while 23% said it will get worse with his administration in the White House.
Young Syrian refugees are divided on whether Russia’s impact on the conflict is positive or negative, with 49% saying Russia has a positive impact and 46% disagreeing.
Asked if ISIS has gotten weaker over the last year, 77% said yes, a higher percentage than young people in other Middle Eastern countries, where 61% said the group is waning.
When the refugees were asked what steps needed to be taken before they return home, 47% said ending the war ranked first, while 25% said ISIS had to leave Syria. Eight percent said they needed to see an improvement in the economy.
Just over a quarter of the young refugees surveyed agreed with the statement that “there can be no peace agreement as long as Bashar Al-Assad stays in office,” while 71% said ending the fighting is more important than ousting Assad from power. Two percent said they did not know.
The Obama administration had said the Syrian leader “must go” to reach a political solution to the Syrian conflict. The Trump administration has slightly softened that line, essentially saying Assad must go at some point.
When asked how their situation could be improved, 56% of the refugees said European Union governments could help most by letting more people enter the EU. Another 42% said financial help to their host countries of Jordan and Lebanon would help more – an answer that 52% of women gave compared to 32% of men.
Some 54% said it was unlikely they will permanently resettle in Syria, while 42% said it was likely and 4% were unsure.
For the survey, the polling company PSB conducted 400 face-to-face interviews of young Syrian refugees aged 18-24 years, split equally between men and women.