Wed 13 Nov 2019

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Al-Qusayr Displaced To Syria’s North, Not Invited To Return Home

Militants of the Syrian regime holding a flag, on which the face of Bashar al-Assad is printed, in the city of al-Qusayr, Homs, after they controlled it – June 7, 2019 (Reuters)

Militants of the Syrian regime holding a flag, on which the face of Bashar al-Assad is printed, in the city of al-Qusayr, Homs, after they controlled it – June 7, 2019 (Reuters)

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Since early October 2019, the Syrian regime has begun circulating news about the return of some of the displaced families to their town of al-Qusayr, Homs Province. Their return, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), comes after an effort to refurbish their houses and public service departments. SANA does not specify, however, the numbers of the returnees nor where they came from.

The news comes after a statement on 20 September by Hizbulla’s Secretary-General, Hassan Nassrallah, calling on the people of al-Qusayr to return to the city. “We have arranged the conditions in Qusayr to accommodate a full return of the residents of the city and surrounding villages,” Nassrallah said.

He also invited those wishing to return to register their names with the Lebanese General Security Department.

The Syrian regime forces had taken control of al-Qusayr in June 2013, with key support from the Lebanese group Hizbulla. The group turned the city in the following years into an important base and a springboard for its military operations in the rest of the country, and especially along the border with Lebanon.

 

Who is returning?

According to media activist Abu al-Huda al-Homsi, originally from al-Qusayr, the families that were scheduled to return have been living in other regime-controlled areas including Deir Atiyah, Nabek and Qara in the Rif Dimashq Province, as well as in the capital Damascus.

In a statement to Enab Baladi, the activist added that the number of returned families being publicized (1200 families) is not accurate, especially because a large percentage of the city’s former residents had been displaced to Lebanon, while others remain in northern Syria in areas under the control of opposition forces.

Abu Marwan, a merchant from al-Qusayr who was displaced to the northern regions two years ago, told Enab Baladi that “most of those who have returned to al-Qusayr are supporters of the Syrian regime.” He emphasized that displaced persons from al-Qusayr in the Syrian north have not received invitations to return to their homes and that most of them would refuse to return while the Syrian regime and Hizbulla are in control of the area.

Abu Marwan added that the regime and Hizbulla are not allowing anyone to return before confirming their loyalty. He also pointed out that the returnees are subject to surveillance by security forces and that they cannot move freely or host anyone without security clearance.

According to journalist Ahmad al-Qassir, also originally from al-Qusayr, the regime approved the return of 1200 families from the Syrian interior to the city.

Al-Qassir said, in a 29 September post on his Facebook page, that the returnees were divided into two batches: the first, amounting to 790 families (3594 persons), while the second batch, 410 families, is expected to be announced in detail soon.

Calls to return… but no guarantees

Al-Qusayr is one of the larger cities of Homs province and is the administrative center of a region that includes more than 80 villages. According to Decree No. 1378 of 2011, the region’s official population is 111,969 people.

Since the loss of the city, thousands of residents escaped to the northern regions of Syria. A number of residents also escaped to the nearby Lebanese town of Irsal, located around six kilometers across the border.

In early September, there were calls for the city’s displaced population in Lebanon to return to al-Qusayr. These efforts culminated in a joint meeting between Syrian and Lebanese officials in the Lebanese town of Hermel to discuss the question of the return of the people of al-Qusayr and the surrounding towns.

According to the Lebanese National News Agency (NNA), the meeting which was held on 21 September, included the Syrian Minister of State for National Reconciliation, Ali Haidar, and the point-person on the refugee dossier at Hizbulla, Nawar al-Sahli, as well as representatives from the Lebanese General Security Directorate and the Free Patriotic Movement.

According to the NNA report, Haidar confirmed during the Hermel meeting that “there is coordination with Hizbulla and Lebanese General Security to resolve any lingering security and legal issues facing those wishing to return, so that they can return safely to their lands.”

And while refugees in Lebanon did not receive any clear guarantees, some are returning out of fear from being pursued by the security forces of the Lebanese Army, as many of them do not have legal residency papers in Lebanon.

A local source from Homs, with landholdings in the region of al-Qusayr, who spoke to Enab Baladi on the condition of anonymity, said that the returnees had been living in the towns of Hessia and Shinshar in Homs province, as well as in the region of Kalamoun in Rif Dimashq including the towns of Deir Atiyah and Nabek.

According to the source, “the Syrian regime is working on gathering those wishing to return in the public square of Shinshar and in Tadmor square at the entrance of Homs, to be transported later to their homes in al-Qusayr.”

 

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