Russia says 114,000 Syrian refugees repatriated in 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — Nearly 114,000 Syrian refugees have been repatriated this year, the Russian military said Tuesday, a fraction of the estimated 6 million who have fled since the start of the conflict.

Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said that over 177,000 internally displaced people have also returned to their homes in 2018. He said the returns demonstrate that “the war is over and the country’s restoration is proceeding at full pace.”

Russia, which has waged a military campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has pushed for the repatriation of refugees. Western governments say it’s too early to encourage return.

The conflict, which began with a peaceful uprising against Assad in 2011, has displaced half of Syria’s 23 million people, including an estimated 5.6 million refugees living in other countries.

Mizintsev also criticized the U.S. for failing to ensure delivery of aid to a desert camp for displaced Syrians in Tanf in southern Syria, near the Jordanian and Iraqi borders.

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“It’s the last bulwark of evil, injustice and horror for simple Syrians created by the U.S.,” Mizintsev said. “The U.S. has illegally occupied the territory so it bears full responsibility for conditions in the camp.”

The Syrian government and Russia have blamed U.S. troops stationed near the Rukban camp near the border with Jordan for failing to provide security for aid shipments, allegations the U.S. has denied. Jordan closed the border over security concerns.

Last month, the U.N. and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent organized a desperately needed aid delivery to Rukban, and Mizintsev said that Russia and Syria would support another aid convoy to the camp.

Mizintsev also assailed the U.S. for the failure to solve humanitarian problems in the northern city of Raqqa, once the capital of the Islamic State group’s self-styled caliphate. A U.S.-backed offensive drove IS out of Raqqa a year ago, but Mizintsev pointed to the failure to clear Raqqa of mines and restore its electricity and water supplies.

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