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UN Refugee Chief Opposes ‘Safe Zones’ in Syria

Filippo Grandi, the head of U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, told reporters in Beirut, Lebanon, Feb. 3, 2017, that creating safe zones in Syria for refugees won't work because the country was "not the right place" to guarantee refugee safety.

The head of the United Nations refugee agency says a proposed initiative to create safe zones in Syria for refugees would not work in the country.

“Let’s not waste time in planning safe zones that will not be set up because they will not be safe enough for people to go back,” Filippo Grandi told reporters in Beirut Friday.

Grandi said Syria was “not the right place for the initiative” because of terrorism in the country and the number of groups involved in Syria’s conflict.

Trump interested

U.S. President Donald Trump recently expressed an interest in safe zones, as did Turkey and Lebanon, the two countries host 3.75 million Syrian refugees.

Trump also signed an order last week barring Syrian refugees from the United States indefinitely and barring refugees from other countries for 120 days. The order also includes a 90-day entry ban on citizens of seven countries that the administration identifies as “sources of terror.”

Grandi said Trump’s executive order is a “dangerous weakening” of the established international norms to protect refugees.

He said Syrian refugees “should be embraced, they should be received with solidarity and generosity, not identified as carriers of risk, of threat, they are not. These are people that flee from danger, they are not dangerous themselves.”

Trump’s executive order is supported by roughly one-half of all Americans, according to recent polls, and is consistent with repeated promises made by Trump during his election campaign.

Other developments

Also Friday, Turkey hosted talks with Syrian opposition members ahead of U.N.-backed negotiations with Syria’s government in Geneva later this month.

And in another development, Russia’s foreign ministry said Russia’s embassy in Syria’s capital, Damascus, was shelled Thursday and Friday, but no one was hurt. It said it would continue its “uncompromising fight with terrorists in Syria.”