Syrian residents attempting to return home to towns such as Qaboun and Darayya, neighbourhoods in Damascus, are being blocked from returning home by the Syrian government. Residents told Human Rights Watch that the government has also been, ‘demolishing their properties with no warning, and without providing alternative housing or compensation.’
Both areas have been set for redevelopment under a complex law, Law 10, passed earlier this year that allows the government to confiscate land.
Human Rights Watch’s deputy Middle East director Lama Fakih said,
“Apparently under the guise of a notorious property rights law, the Syrian government is actually blocking residents from returning,”
The report found that under Law 10 of 2018, passed in April, the government can appropriate private property without due process or adequate compensation in redevelopment zones.
Daraya and Qaboun: ex-rebel held areas
Both Daraya and Qaboun had been identified by the Syrian government as towns connected to the Syrian revolution. But both have been retaken by the Syrian government out of the hands of anti-government groups. Daraya fell into the hands of the Syrian government in August 2016, when an agreement to evacuate meant that all rebel groups left the area.
At the time of the exodus from Daraya, the New York Times reported that residents of Daraya had, “little hope of returning.” Government forces were determined to take Daraya back because it remained an area that symbolised revolt.
Qaboun is six kilometres from the capital and was taken by the Syrian regime in 2017. The taking of Qaboun started on the 18 February and was led by the Syrian Army, supported by the Russian military, against the rebel forces. Hundreds of rebels are said to have died in the battle and by the end of May 2017 the last rebels left Qaboun leaving the area fully under the control of the Syrian government. Thousands of residents were displaced, and extensive damage was caused to homes and buildings in the town.
Since the recapture of Qaboun, the government has imposed restrictions on the movements of people, forcing them to pay 500 Syrian pounds (US$1) and leave their identification with the border police.
The Great Return
As the 7-year long Syria war heads towards its end, a number of Syrian refugees have returned to their homeland. Residents in the town of Morek, in the central Syrian region of Hama, have been returned to their homes, despite destructions. Almost 500 people have returned to Syria from Lebanon, and a report by the New Arab suggests that a number of residents are now weighing up the risks of returning versus those of staying. From the economic scarcity in Lebanon to hostility towards migrants in Europe, Syrians are at a crossroads on the decision of when to return home.
In July, Syrian authorities, with the support of Russia, set up a centre to help refugees return home from abroad. The Defence Ministry of Russia issued a statement saying that the ‘Centre for the Reception, Allocation and Accommodation of Refugees’ will “monitor the return of all temporarily-displaced people and Syrian refugees from foreign countries to their places of permanent residence”.
In sharp contrast however, the UN have not endorsed the return of refugees to Syria and have stated that it is still too dangerous, particularly in areas such as Idlib where fighting is still ongoing.
Mohammed al-Hawari, the spokesperson for the UN refugee agency in Jordan, said that returning Syrian refugees (from Jordan) was “premature”.
Adequate housing is a right that is protected under international law and the residents of towns such as Daraya and Qaboun should be protected by that law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Arab Charter both state that no one should,
“under any circumstances be arbitrarily or unlawfully divested of all or any part of their property.”
As Human Rights Watch state in their report dated 16 October, stopping people from resettling in the former rebel-held areas is a form of collective punishment which is a violation of Article 33 of the fourth Geneva convention, which states that collective punishment is a war crime.