Nearly half a million Syrians return to own homes this year: UNHCR

GENEVA (Reuters) – Nearly half a million Syrians have returned to their homes so far this year, including 440,000 internally displaced people and more than 31,000 returning from neighboring countries, the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday.

Most returned to Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Damascus, it said, on the view that security had improved in parts of the country.

“This is a significant trend and a significant number,” UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic told a Geneva news briefing.

“Most of these people are returning to check on properties, to find out about family members … They have their own perceptions about the security situation, real or perceived improvements in areas they are returning to.”

He said it was premature to say whether de-escalation zones set up via talks held by Russia, Iran and Turkey in Astana or U.N.-led peace talks in Geneva had accelerated the return trend.

An estimated 6.3 million people remain internally displaced across Syria after more than six years of war, Mahecic said.

A further 5 million are refugees in neighboring countries.

A survey conducted by the UNHCR in recent weeks showed that more than 80 percent of Syrian refugees expressed their wish to return home, he said.

“Of those, only about 6 percent were considering that to be a possibility in the near future,” he said

UNHCR believes that conditions for refugees to return in safety and dignity “are not yet in place in Syria”, he added.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alison Williams)

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