AfD lawmakers travel to ‘normal’ Damascus in attempt to encourage refugee returns

AfD lawmakers travel to 'normal' Damascus in attempt to encourage refugee returns
Daily life in Damascus. Photo: DPA
Lawmakers from Germany's far-right AfD party were in Syria on Tuesday, expressing "surprise" at scenes of normal life in Damascus as they push their bid for Berlin to start sending refugees back to the war-torn country.

The group of six, comprised of four members from Germany's national parliament and two state lawmakers, arrived in Damascus on Monday for talks with pro-regime officials and a tour they say is aimed at getting a real idea of the situation on the ground.

“Since the German media's reporting does not offer a trustworthy way of assessing the actual situation in Syria, the goal of the trip is to get an understanding of the humanitarian situation on the ground and the rebuilding efforts in the areas liberated from terrorists,” they wrote in a statement.

The visitors said they were “surprised” by the “normalcy seen on the streets of Damascus”.

“Women without headscarves are free to move around the strikingly clean streets of the metropolis,” they said.

The group is being led by Christian Blex, a member of North Rhine-Westphalia's regional parliament, who posted pictures on Facebook of his Monday meeting with Syria's pro-regime Grand Mufti Ahmed Badreddin Hassoun.

The top Sunni cleric “calls all Syrian refugees to return home”, according to Blex.

Hassoun often appears alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for religious occasions and has in the past warned against Western interference in his country, threatening terror attacks in Europe.

The German group also met with “representatives from the Syrian parliament”, Blex wrote, who posted a string of pictures of Damascus street scenes, including one from his hotel room showing a pool view.

“You hardly see any military. There's advertising for mobile phones and TVs. Normal daily life,” Blex added.

Ahead of the trip, Blex said in an interview with the far-right Compact magazine that the delegation would be open to meeting with Assad himself.

The anti-Islam, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) entered the Bundestag for the first time last year, capitalising on anger over an influx of more than a million asylum seekers in Germany since 2015.

As one of its first acts in parliament, the party proposed striking a deal with Assad to repatriate Syrian refugees, who make up the largest number of newcomers in Germany. The motion was rejected.

More than 340,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in Syria since the civil war started in 2011.