Now that Islamic State is being driven from its stronghold in Deir Ezzor, and Bashar al-Assad and his allies seem poised to defeat the opposition forces, there is hope that the civil war may be nearing its end. But, writes Morderchai Kedar, this does not mean that those displaced by the violence will start returning to their homes:
About half the citizens of Syria—approximately ten million people—have become refugees. Approximately half of them are inside Syria and half elsewhere. Those abroad are in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, other Arab countries, Europe, North and South America, Australia, and even Israel.
Generally speaking, all Syrian refugees who have reached countries outside the Arab world will stay there for good, because life in those countries is orderly and safe. The refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, however—altogether about 3.5 million Syrians—are waiting for the war to end so they can return home.
Yet the reality in Syria is changing completely, and it is difficult to foresee a massive return of Syrian refugees from those countries. There are two main reasons for this. First, during the six years of the savage and blood-drenched war, large parts of the Syrian cities have been reduced to rubble by aerial bombing, barrel bombing from helicopters, artillery and tank shells, and explosive devices and mines. . . . Refugees will not agree to exchange their tent in Jordan for a ruin with no infrastructure in devastated Syria.
But there is another reason the refugees will not return: the Sunni refugees’ fear of the country’s new landlords, the Shiites. For a considerable time, Iran has been transferring Shiite citizens from Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan to Syria. Its clear intention is to change decisively the country’s demographic composition so it will have a Shiite majority instead of the Sunni majority it had until the civil war erupted in 2011. This is undoubtedly the case because the Alawite rulers of Syria know the Sunni majority regard them as heretics and idol worshippers who have no right to live in, let alone rule, the country. . . .
The new demographic situation in Syria will convince the Sunni refugees that they no longer have anything to return to. They will therefore do all they can to move . . . to any country in the world that will agree to accept them, preferably in Europe or North America. This may well lead to a process opposite to that expected to result from the Syrian “peace”: instead of a return of refugees, there will likely be a mass flight of more refugees and Sunni citizens.
The consequence, writes Kedar, is likely to be greater instability in Europe.