Sat 21 Jul 2018

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Tow “Optional” Deaths Haunt the Returnees to the Syrian City of Raqqa

A destroyed neighborhood in the city of Raqqa – March 1, 2018 (Enab Baladi)

A destroyed neighborhood in the city of Raqqa – March 1, 2018 (Enab Baladi)

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A number of the Syrian Raqqa governorate’s people returned to the remaining part of their houses, hoping that between the remnants they would find the sense of belonging, they waved a goodbye to after they undertook the internal displacement journey, through which they suffered the pains of being in the camps’ tents; the journey turned the shattered houses into a better choice than that of a tent, especially after the “Islamic State” ISIS left the area, in October 2017, which stigmatized the place with a number of obstacles that the people have to break through to live in peace.

UN numbers indicate that more than 60 thousand citizens, out of 450 thousand, have returned to their afflicted city, which destruction and rubble form most of its features, while mines and explosions choose the depths of its lands to accumulate and hide.

The numbers appear to be massive if compared to the “sloth” movements undertaken to clear the rubble off and restore the partially destroyed buildings, as well as mines removal operations, particularly with the United Nations and human rights organizations’ voices getting louder demanding a cessation, if not prevention, of the people’s return since Raqqa is yet not healthy enough to receive its inhabitants again.

Enab Baladi interviewed some of Raqqa’s people, returnees, amidst the official parties’ abstinence from making a statement or a declaration; the citizens spoke of their suffering in details and the confusion that struck them as they are divided between living in the camps or in the rubbles, the present version of their houses in their lives in the past, which mines surround, to an extent of suffocation.

Ismael, one of Raqqa’s people, gave Enab Balai an image of Raqqa in the present by saying “Fear controls the city due to the mines that have spread everywhere; witnessing the repetitive scenes of death in landmines explosions became normal.”

For her part, “Um Mohammad,” another returnee, said that Raqqa lacks the minimum of life’s requirements, and continued to say “There is no water, no electricity, all the buildings are destroyed; we cannot wander in the city because of the landmines, in addition to the deaths that are happening in front of our eyes.”

Numbers issued by the United Nations (UN) state that the dmines in Raqqa are causing the deaths of 50 to 70 people on a weekly basis; the organization described these numbers as shocking and promising of a greater danger, if the people, 45 thousand citizens, kept returning to Raqqa.

As for displacement, Um Mohammad said “It was a bitter pill to swallow; I will never forget those moments of tears, cold and starvation to the end of my life, despite the fact that life in the city of Raqqa is not much better than in the refugee camps.”

Muzafar, a resident in Raqqa, spoke of the scary, full of dangers, journey of return, says that all the bridges went out of service, for they are collapsed, which forced the people to resort to “unsafe” boats to move between the Euphrates river’s two banks.

Lately, people have been talking about the increasing number of deaths due to drowning in the river among the families who are trying to return to Raqqa; a whole family died in the river, after their boat sank, last February.

No water, No Electricity, Who Is Listening to People?

With the Raqqa’s city destruction amount reaching 80%, States around the world pumped their money to rebuild the afflicted city; however, the money was “meager” and does not comply with the size of the declared destruction, especially that this money was allocated to demining operations  and the implementation of projects in the field of food aid, water, health and to offer relief to the internally displaced people. It is important to mention that none of these projects has been yet implemented.

In relation to this, Ismael says that, so far, the people have not received any monetary shares to rebuild their destroyed houses, pointing out that the prices of building materials have become way beyond the residents’ financial capabilities, with the huge differences between the prices of building materials in Raqqa and other Syrian governorates.

He added that the people are bearing heavier financial responsibilities when it comes to clearing off the mines of their houses, for the process has turned into a gainful trade, for the few individuals who are undertaking this mission are asking for a financial return, that, in some cases, might reach 150 thousand Syrian pounds (300 dollars), which people cannot afford, according what he said.

Everyday, the Local Council in the city of Raqqa receives dozens of applications from the people who ask for their houses to be cleaned off mines, but it cannot show a fast response due to the lacking staffs; often, the people register their names at the Local Council to be answered after a month or two, according to Enab Baladi’s reporter.

However, during the waiting period, the people in Raqqa are forced to resort to unofficial individuals and entities to get rid of the mines planted in their houses for 300 dollars for each house.

Ismael stressed “the necessity for forming engineering and experienced teams to sweep the neighborhoods and houses, as well as to prevent the people from entering their houses until they are demined, and the neighborhood is secured.”

As for the services sector, “Um Mohammad” said that all the electricity convertors are stolen, as a result of which the city does not have electricity, except for amperes, which prices are breaking; she added that the water networks are broken, forcing people to buy drinking water and water from tanks for a thousand Syrian pounds per day  (the equivalent of two dollars); the water is unsterilized and is causing a lot of diseases, according to what she said.

The humanitarian organizations and concerned entities have called on for the restoration of the city’s infrastructure, including water and electricity networks, as well as hospitals, in addition to the extraction of the bodies of the dead people that are still stuck beneath the rubble of the destroyed buildings.

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