The opposition accuses the government of President Bashar Assad of using under-the-radar methods to discourage populations it sees as disloyal from returning, changing the demographics to help consolidate control over a corridor running from Damascus to the Mediterranean coast.
The government says it is doing all it can to bring people back.
"The main goal of the Syrian government is to return all displaced Syrians to their homes," National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar told The Associated Press last month.
More than 11 million people, nearly half Syria's population, have been driven from their homes by the war since 2011, including 5 million who fled abroad as refugees.Without question, the entire world would breathe a collective sigh of relief for the civil war there to end in such a way that people could return and the country could be rebuilt. There is actually an implicit assumption that this will happen built into population projections by the UN Population Division and by the Population Reference Bureau, which assume that by 2030 the Syrian population will have increased from its current (maybe) 17 million to more than 25 million.
Keep in mind that the birth rate in Syria had been dropping rapidly prior to the onset of violence, from 7 children per woman as recently as the 1980s to a level currently estimated to be slightly fewer than 3 children each. Of course, even at this lower level, children account for one out of every three Syrians, which is why photos of refugees always show so many children. However, a key demographic in the country is that fertility has been lower among the Alawites (an offshoot of Shia Islam and the religion of the ruling Assad family) and Christians than among the majority Sunni Muslim population. That is, in my opinion, the key demographic of the country.