More than two thirds of all refugees worldwide come from five countries, and if sent back, could face a continued threat of insecurity, persecution and economic hardship.
Earlier this year, the Danish government stripped 94 Syrian refugees of their residence permits after declaring parts of Syria safe enough to return to.
This is not an isolated case.
In just 2020, more than one million Afghan migrants were deported to Afghanistan from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.
And in a report released in April, Human Rights Watch said Burundian refugees, who fled following deadly clashes in the 2015 presidential election, have been subjected to enforced disappearances and tortue by Tanzanian police, forcing them to sign up for “voluntary return”.
It has become common practice to repatriate refugees involuntarily whether they are ready or not, which rights groups say is a direct violation of international human rights law.
It stipulates that no one should be returned to a country where they would face “torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and other irreparable harm”.
It also says no refugee should be forced to go back and should be able to make a free and informed choice to return. And in the case of repatriation, it must be done in a safe and dignified manner.
In the first half of 2020, about 102,600 refugees have been repatriated to their country of origin, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
After being forced to leave by host countries where they were hoping to find safety, migrants and refugees face an agonising future of violence, persecution, and economic hardship posing a continuous threat in their country of origin.
And when refugees do return, they are often traumatised, isolated and unlikely to find employment or access to healthcare and basic necessities.
The following is a breakdown of the security climate in the five countries where 67 percent of refugees originate from globally.
The Syrian war began after a violent government crackdown on public demonstrations in 2011, which were taken out in support of six teenagers who were arrested after they scribbled graffiti in opposition to the Bashar al Assad regime.
An armed insurgency soon followed by a number of moderate opposition groups, chiefly the Free Syrian Army which captured swathes of territory across the country. By 2014 the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), aka Daesh, was on the rise in Syria and had begun to seize control of large parts of the country, at one point controlling around one-third of the country.
In 2015, the Russians intervened in Syria on the request of regime leader Bashar al Assad as the threat of the collapse of the state loomed, leading to heavier death tolls and an exodus of refugees from Syria.
Although Daesh lost control of nearly all of its territories by 2019, a string of recent deadly ambushes and hit-and-run attacks in the region are still carried out by the group. UN experts estimate that more than 10,000 Daesh fighters still remain active in the region.
Ten years on, more than 400,000 people have died as a result of the conflict over territories, according to the World Bank — other estimates range as high as 600,000 — and six million people are seeking refuge abroad predominantly in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, with over six million displaced internally, according to UN agencies.
Recent high-intensity fighting in Idlib, Syria’s last opposition stronghold, under the control of rebels and Turkey-backed opposition groups, has created yet another humanitarian crisis that sent hundreds and thousands of refugees toward the Turkish border. Syrian and Russian forces have routinely bombed hospitals, schools and homes in Idlib and Homs.
The country is in ruins. Poverty and unemployment are some of the biggest challenges Syrians face, which has worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic. More than 70 percent of Syrian refugees live in poverty, according to UNHCR.
And even if the fighting ends, Assad’s government will have to rebuild the country, including the areas destroyed through his use of chemical weapons. The UN has estimated the rebuilding cost at $250 billion.
More than 5.6 million Venezuelans have been forced to leave the country when its economy collapsed under President Nicolas Maduro in 2015, setting off the largest displacement crisis in the history of Latin America and the second largest in the world.
The country has also been at a political impasse after Maduro was re-elected to a second term in 2018.
The United Nations Human Rights Council found the government of Maduro and its security forces responsible for extrajudicial executions and short-term forced disappearances.
They have also “jailed opponents, prosecuted civilians in military courts, tortured detainees, and cracked down on protesters”.
The country’s health system is in crisis with shortages of medications and health supplies.
The coronavirus pandemic has also exacerbated the already critical situation in the country where Covid-19 data was kept under wraps by the state.
After decades of civil war, South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011, but the hard-won victory lasted just two years. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the ruling political party that led the way for independence, is now divided and engaged in power struggle.
When South Sudan’s president accused his vice president of an attempted coup in 2013, political infighting turned into violence on the street. It drove nearly four million people from their homes.
More than 70 percent of the country’s children are unable to go to school, according to The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
Besides the persistent conflict, aid agencies warn that desert locust swarms, recurrening flooding and Covid-19 in the country are increasing the risk of famine this year.
The Rohingya Muslims have suffered decades of persecution in Myanmar, but their largest exodus began in 2017 after a deadly crackdown predominantly in Rakhine state by Myanmar’s army sent more than 745,000 Rohingya to seek refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.
Entire villages were torched, many Rohingyas were killed and countless human rights violations were reported.
Medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said about 6,700 Rohingya, including 730 children below five, were killed in August 2017 after the violence broke out.
Myanmar has so far shown no interest in creating conditions for the voluntary return of the refugees. Instead, the military coup in February has left the country fully under control by the generals who campaigned for mass persecution of the Rohingya in 2017.
The junta leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, has said that the country will not repatriate those who they do not consider its citizens.
Rohingyas are not recognised as one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups and have been denied citizenship since 1982. The Myanmar’s government views them as foreigners or “illegal immigrants”, often referring to them as Bengalis.
Early this year, Bangladeshi officials said that they would begin a third effort to repatriate Rohingya refugees to their homes in June.
Afghans make up to 2.7 million of the UNHCR’s registered refugees globally. The wave of refugees from Afghanistan began after the Soviet occupation in 1979 and has continued through the civil war, Taliban rule and the US invasion of the country in 2001.
More than a year since the signing of an agreement between the United States and the Taliban, attacks against civilians, insecurity and displacement have only escalated.
This year saw a spike in targeted attacks on civilians. At least 80 Afghans, including journalists, members of the civil society and judiciary, religious scholars and government officials, have been killed, according to the UN.
Daesh, in this instance the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant—Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP), have claimed responsibility for 25 attacks in 2020 “deepening humanitarian crisis and the threat of drought”. More than 40 percent of the population is facing an emergency as food insecurity is at a record high.
The UN said in a statement this month that it is expecting a high number of displacements after foreign troops withdraw from the country in September, as part of the US-Taliban deal signed in February 2020.