By Bayram Altug
GENEVA (AA) – UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Andrej Mahecic on Friday told Anadolu Agency that the UN was deeply concerned by reports that the Assad regime had killed 20 refugees returning to Syria.
Commenting on the dangers faced by Syrians returning to their homeland, Mahecic referred to recent comments by Mouin Merehbi, Lebanon’s interim minister of state for refugee affairs, in which he accused the Syrian regime of killing returning refugees.
The UN agency is closely following media reports suggesting that some of the refugees who returned from Lebanon to Syria were killed, Merehbi said.
The Syrian regime is "primarily responsible for investigation of such allegations", he said, going on to stress that the UNHCR still had limited access to Syria.
"UNHCR also tries to verify the information available and to triangulate the facts through multiple sources. In some cases this can take time, including because of limited access,” he added.
Mahecic went on to say that the UN was already in contact with various authorities and the relatives of the victims.
Emphasizing that refugees must be allowed to safely return to their homes, he said: "UNHCR takes very seriously reports of violence and abuse against those returning from exile.”
“Any reprisals or revenge against returning refugees anywhere in the world are cause for deep concern to UNHCR, and are devastating for the individuals and families involved,” he added.
The spokesman also said that the UNHCR was in talks with the Syrian regime to ensure that Syrians wishing to return to their homes from neighboring countries would not face harassment, discrimination, arbitrary detention or physical threats.
Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper recently quoted Merehbi as saying that as many 20 refugees who had recently returned to Syria had been killed by the regime.
Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected ferocity.
*Ali Murat Alhas contributed to this report from Ankara