President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, Mr President.
Glad to see you.
Russia is continuing to make intensive efforts to facilitate a long-term settlement in Syria, restoring its sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.
In this context, I should note the productivity of the Astana format that also involves our partners from Iran and Turkey. We have achieved great progress thanks to our joint efforts: the hotbed of international terrorism in Syria has been almost completely eliminated; the level of violence has been reduced significantly. The country is returning to peaceful life while an inclusive political process continues under the auspices of the United Nations.
At this point, Syria’s post-conflict recovery is crucial – primarily, the return of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes. As we know, this is one of the key conditions of the fundamental UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
Unfortunately, as of today, more than 6.5 million refugees remain outside Syria, the overwhelming majority being able-bodied citizens who can and must take part in their country’s recovery. Moreover, their return would also be in the interests of the host countries – mainly, Syria’s neighbours, because this burden is significant and they have to incur substantial expenses related to temporary accommodation and provision of supplies to Syrians. Not to mention the fact that younger refugees often fall under the influence of radical groups, join militants and may pose a threat to their host countries.
Back in 2018, I addressed the international community with an appeal to support the process of repatriation of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons which you, Mr President, and the Syrian government initiated. It was then that we agreed to expand bilateral cooperation on this matter, in particular, by forming inter-agency coordination offices.
In Syria itself, measures to improve living and working conditions and lift various political, social and psychological restrictions, continue to this day.
These efforts have yielded fruit. Over 850,000 Syrian citizens have returned back to Syria and over 1 million people have returned to the places of their permanent residence inside the country. This is certainly a result of your efforts, Mr President. This is good, in general. But the scale of the humanitarian disaster – there is no other description for the situation – remains quite considerable.
Now that peace and tranquillity have been restored in the larger part of Syria, there is a possibility to ensure a large-scale return of refugees back home. It is vital, of course, that this process runs a natural course, with no pressure applied. Each Syrian must be able to make a decision independently, based on reliable information about the situation in his or her home country and the measures to restore peaceful life taken by you, Mr President, and by the Syrian authorities.
This is the objective of the international conference on the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, which will be held in Damascus on November 11–12. Russia wholeheartedly supports it and is actively helping Syria to organise and hold it. Representatives of many countries, as well as the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross, have confirmed their participation.
The Russian delegation, which will be one of the largest, will include professionals from over 30 ministries and agencies. In addition to taking part in the forum, they intend to hold meetings with their Syrian colleagues to discuss the most important current aspects of bilateral cooperation. Also, the delivery of 65 tonnes of humanitarian aid will be timed for the conference.
We hope that the conference will be productive and will help to stimulate the process of a massive return of refugees, thus promoting lasting normalisation in Syria.
I hope that it will be successful. For our part, this is what we will work for, Mr President.
President of Syria Bashar al-Assad (retranslated): Thank you very much, Mr President.
I am delighted to be hosting this videoconference with you today, especially in the run-up to the International Conference on Refugees, which will be convened in Damascus within the next few days.
Thank you for your attention to the problem of refugees. It is a humanitarian problem, but many countries around the world are trying to politicise it. It is a national problem, and all Syrian authorities are interested in resolving it. It is one of our government’s top priorities for the next period, especially since a significant part of Syria’s territory has been liberated, and we have eradicated terrorism there.
Of course, this matter is a priority, but, in addition to it, we would, of course, like to discuss other issues.
As you are aware, Mr President, many refugees and internally displaced persons were driven out of the country by fear of terrorism. Others fled because infrastructure was destroyed, and they lost their jobs.
We continue to maintain direct contact with most of the states in which these refugees are residing. We are aware that they are eager to return, especially after Syria has provided certain benefits to encourage the return process.
However, the problem is that terrorists are still holding some regions of our country, and Syria and its people are under economic blockade, which does not help us meet the Syrian refugees’ essential needs. Schools are closed or have been destroyed, and providing essential services is a challenge.
In addition, the returning refugees must have certain prospects for a normal life, but the problem is that the Western embargo is a big hurdle to achieving these goals.
We pin great hopes on this conference and hope that it will bring practical results. The Syrians are not only willing, but are excited to be able to carry out practical agreements in the months immediately following the conference. And we are aware that most of the refugees support the Syrian government, but, unfortunately, the current circumstances prevent them from returning.
We appreciate the other states’ interest in participating in this conference. We hope it will be possible to alleviate the existing economic embargo or even break it by joint efforts in order to create proper conditions for the return of refugees.
Once again, Mr President, thank you for this opportunity to contact you and for the attention that you and the leadership of the Russian Federation are devoting to this matter and, despite the international pressure and sanctions against this conference, you are helping us organise it.
We are confident that it will be a success, and are committed to continuing cooperation with Russia and other interested states on this matter. We are confident that, similar to the outcome of World War II, the truth is on our side and we will succeed in upholding it.
Thank you once again for supporting Damascus and the Syrian government in overcoming this crisis, the post-conflict rebuilding effort and the return of the refugees.
Vladimir Putin: Mr President, I propose briefly discussing some of the details related to organising this conference and then, maybe, our bilateral relations.