In the first in a series on the aftermath of the 21st century’s most devastating conflict, refugees from the seven-year war say they are hugely sceptical about claims that it is safe to return home
Each day for as long as he can remember, Abu Ahmed, a Syrian merchant, has hawked Qur’anic pamphlets in central Beirut, one eye out for a buyer and another for the police.
He has been in the Lebanese capital for the past six years, as war consumed his homeland, casting more than a million refugees like him into near permanent exile. Now, however, as the seven-year conflict approaches what many believe to be an endgame in Syria’s north-west, Abu Ahmed fears his meagre, but so far safe existence is in jeopardy.
The blazing guns of insurgency have largely been silenced in central and southern Syria, and politicians in Damascus, Beirut and Amman are claiming with increasing vehemence that a ruined country from which at least 6 million people have fled is now a safe for them to return.
Few Syrians in Lebanon seem convinced. “I’ll serve my country proudly and shed my blood for it with a smile on my face, but not like this,” said Abu Ahmed, 41, who hails from the former opposition stronghold of Ghouta.
“But not for this chaos. We can’t go back because of [the risk of] neighbours’ petty revenge. They snitch on you and call you a traitor and the next thing you know you’re languishing in prison, for nothing. My town is filled with regime forces and thugs. How do they expect me to return?”