Tue 17 Jul 2018

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Deir ez-Zor is Receiving Returnees and Showing No Tolerance

A woman sweeping the rubbles of her destroyed house in Deir ez-Zor – 2013 (Enab Baladi)

A woman sweeping the rubbles of her destroyed house in Deir ez-Zor – 2013 (Enab Baladi)

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 “Things are confused” is a local phrase which surmise the situation in the city of Deir ez-Zor, said by Abu Yazan, 37 years old, who returned to the city with his family after they lived in al-Hasakah governorate for five years.

The number of returnees to the city of Deir ez-Zor has increased, especially employees, during the days that followed the Syrian regime’s control over the whole city, the last part of which was al-Hamidiya neighborhood, early November 2017. The government, then, has gradually announced the reactivation of services and establishments, which coincided with a number of problems that complicated the citizens’ lives and opened new doors for social controversies, according to some people.

Abu Yazen puts the controversy into words saying that the return of dozens of thousands of people in the past a few weeks have triggered novel local disputes between the people who did not leave the city and those who were displaced and chose to comeback, for some families have stayed in the city during the siege, according to which they believe in their “legitimacy and right” to claim it as their own at the expense of the returnees. But this does not set them as apart from the people who are trying to return to their areas according to the young man.

Some of the returnees, whom Enab Baladi has interviewed, complain about “harassment and the stigma of being described as quitters and for escaping the difficulties of the siege and the risks of ISIS’ incursion.” Abu Yazan adds that the people who stayed in the city believe that “the return was enforced and that it relates to interests rather than the love of the city.”

“All that we have done was moving away from poverty and starvation, in search of life,” adds Abu Yazan, wondering: “Do we deserve the naming and shaming and that we do not have a right to our properties after we left them?”

These social disputes are inflating life’s difficulties, for the process of labeling, according to the young man, “is dividing people, giving some a national accreditation and taking from others their legal rights,” considering that society is being ruled by two standards: “affiliation with the regime and staying in the city during the siege.”

Abu Yazan describes the city as “a complicated network of accumulative problems that resulted from the war,” considering them as “normal and understandable in the context of the events witnessed by the governorate. However, they must not persist.”

Queues are Filling the City

Abu Mujahed, alias, is a young man who returned to the city of Deir ez-Zor a month ago, after being displaced to Hama governorate for six years. He tells Enab Baladi that the population’s pressure has increased in the habitable neighborhoods and offices, in addition to the increasing demand for services which the regime seems unable to provide the people with.

A few weeks ago, the government of the Syrian regime issued decrees that annihilated the city employees’ permeant and constant contracts with the establishments for which they started working after leaving Deir ez-Zor.

These decrees have forced many people to return to the city, so they would not lose their jobs.

According to Abu Mujahed, 46 years old, “the city still lacks many human expertise, especially engineering and medical ones,” adding that “the establishments of finance, education, justice and even the municipality’s buildings have been turned into dust in the past a few years; accordingly, the city is in need for a long time before being ready to receive this number of people and employees.”

Abu Mujahed confirms that some of the returnees “are still on the streets, while other families are staying in mosques or housing centers,” pointing out that “the mistakes are accumulating in this small city, especially with mismanagement and the widespread corruption in the different sectors of the government.”

Abu Mujahed believes that the decisions which forced the employees to return are “hasty and unconsidered,” pointing out that “wherever you look in the city, you would find long queues and crowdedness, starting with bakeries, educational and health departments and ending with students, for some classrooms contain 100 students.”

According to the city’s activists, the regime’s persistence to ignore the city’s capabilities is supported by its desire to polish its image and to pretend that it is as before, with overlooking the capacity and the condition of the returning employees, who mostly belong to the low-income category and suffer deteriorating financial conditions, without a place to live in which made them vulnerable to security and financial blackmail with increasing the prices of materials and real-estate rents.

The homes’ rents, in the city of Deir ez-Zor, varies between 50 to 100 thousand Syrian pounds, while the average of salaries in the Syrian governmental institutions does not exceed 35 thousand Syrian pounds (the dollar is swaggering between 450-500 Syrian pounds).

Arduous Path and Chaos

While most of the people in the city are suffering due to poverty and the difficult living conditions, the return brought with it wealth and capital, with the admission of merchants, some of whom are affiliated with the “National Defense” Militias and security bodies, amidst an absent censorship and a prevailing chaos.

Um Mohammad, 43 years old, is a teacher who preceded her family to the city to prepare a resident. However, she returned full of fear for her sons, the eldest of whom is 17 years old, as she told Enab Baladi, scared of the spreading checkpoints and conscription.

Um Mohammad, based in Damascus, said that tedious transportation and roads forced her family to return towards the capital after they have passed 100 kilometers towards Deir ez-Zor, attributing that to the repeated bus failures and a delay of more than nine hours, apart from the “insults” they had suffered from the soldiers at the checkpoints.

The rate of destruction in the city of Deir ez-Zor is estimated by activists to be about 80%. Although the regime has announced the start of the rehabilitation of the city, the process is proceeding slowly and has not achieved much difference since its control.

Al-Jorah and al-Qusor neighborhoods in the western part of the city, in addition to the Harabesh neighborhood are considered as the least damaged in the city of Deir ez-Zor.

“There are no heating devices, the fuel is expensive and the homes are not habitable and would not overcome winter’s cold,” Um Mohammad said this, believing that “all the people are angry at the difficult situation that does not resemble the slightest form of life,” negating the images that the regime is promoting about the life’s return to city.

Um Mohammad also spoke of constant threats from elements of the “Islamic State” or their supporters to those who are trying to return to the city, pointing out that “this reflects ISIS and its members’ interest in the city and their intention to attack it, at least by implementing operations that target civilians in the city.”

In the past a few weeks and in a continuous manner, there were fires and bombings that have been implemented by anonymous parties. Rumors also spread among people about sniper attacks from unknown sources. Nevertheless, activists from the city, refuted this and confirmed that the city “is secure from ISIS threats, especially with the prevalence of checkpoints at its entrances and between its neighborhoods.”

The people have agreed on a bleak image of the city, where rubble and rubbish are accumulating, and people are witnessing a difficult life with toilsome roads, while the refugees keep returning under the pressure of the decisions issued by the regime, who is showing no interest in initiating suitable circumstances to accommodate about 150 thousand civilians who are living in its neighborhoods according to civil organizations.

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