Resisting the Narrative: Syrian Refugees Challenge the Push for Return

Growing narratives that depict Syria as safe and ready for return are gaining traction across Syrian refugee-hosting countries. A new discourse has emerged that does not only fuel anti-refugee sentiments; it also encourages governments and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency dedicated to saving lives and protecting the rights of forcibly displaced communities, to develop and adopt dehumanising policies and practices. Policy decisions increasingly rely on the ‘pushing for return’ narrative (i.e. Denmark), while there is clear evidence that the country remains an unsafe destination for Syrian refugees to actually return to and restart their life.

Together with our partners of the Refugee Watch Coalition (RPW), Upinion published the third annual report on the conditions inside Syria and Lebanon last December. Besides re-affirming that the conditions for a safe and dignified life inside Syria are not in place, this research emphasises the deteriorating situation in the neighbouring country Lebanon which risks pushing Syrians to return prematurely. Specifically in portraying the day-to-day circumstances related to such ‘push factors’, Upinion’s large online communities – called U-panels – have played a crucial role.

Empowering Syrian Refugee voices through digital panels

Upinion has supported the RPW coalition since 2019, by frequently engaging with hundreds of Syrian refugees, Palestinians, and Lebanese host communities from each governorate in Lebanon through our digital platform. Through regular online conversations with our U-Panel, RPW captures the primary needs and concerns of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and what they consider the largest obstacles to a safe, dignified, and voluntary return to Syria as well as other durable solutions.

The success of U-panels are not only in gaining a better understanding of the livelihoods of Lebanese and Syrian communities. It is also in conveying the voices of these people through briefings and lobby meetings with EU and UN member states, UN agencies, (I)NGOs, think tanks, and local Lebanese and Syrian NGOs. The digital communities have proven to be useful for reaching out to people that want to participate and voice their opinion during real-life or online meetings with a variety of stakeholders. These outputs result in stronger advocacy, including for RPW in making UNHCR re-commit to their policy of ‘protection thresholds’ (read the 2022 RPW annual report here).

Since December 2022, Upinion has started the preparations for a similar panel to engage with thousands of individuals living in Türkiye. Insights from both Turkish host communities and Syrian refugees will allow Upinion to obtain large-scale data on the current issues and perceptions – useful for NGOs, UN agencies, and potentially governments to include and consider them in decision-making that impact these people’s lives in a life-changing manner.

Upinion aims to ensure that the needs and perspectives of refugee communities are heard and considered in decision-making. Partnering with Upinion and leveraging the power of digital panels has proven to be an effective way to achieve this goal. If you are interested in learning more about how you can collaborate with Upinion to amplify the voices of refugee communities, we encourage you to get in touch. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those who have been forcibly displaced.