Syria calls for refugees to return, but fear leader’s anger

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The UN refugee agency declined to attend, as did countries in the European Union, which called the conference “premature.”

In a statement, the bloc listed the reasons it said refugees could not return home safely, including enforced disappearances, indiscriminate detentions, conscription, poor or no social services, physical violence and sexual and torture.

About 20 other countries sent representatives, including China, Russia, Pakistan, Brazil, India and South Africa. But these countries host few or no refugees.

Of the three states hosting the vast majority of them, only Lebanon has sent a representative.

Conference attendees noted a strong Russian presence, which at times seemed to outweigh that of the Syrian government. Russian security guards equipped with walkie-talkies patrolled the conference center, while Russian civilian and military officials attended sessions inside.

And Russian doctors took the temperature of people entering through the main door and handed out face masks to Russian participants.

Analysts said the conference appeared to have been motivated less by concern for refugees than by Russian and Syrian political and economic calculations.

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