Wed 13 Nov 2019

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Idlib’s youth housing compound: a matter of dispute between IDPs and Salvation Government

Migrants living in al Sakan al Shababi compound in Idlib, threatened with deportation- October 10, 2019(Enab Baladi)

Migrants living in al Sakan al Shababi compound in Idlib, threatened with deportation- October 10, 2019(Enab Baladi)

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Refugees from Eastern Ghouta staged two protests last week against decisions taken by the Salvation Government (SG) in Idlib province requiring refugees to evacuate the Youth Housing compound in the city of Idlib. 

The refugees protested the decisions to vacate the compound without providing alternative accommodations as winter approaches and successive crises hit the refugee camps in the governorate. The protesters agitated against a decision to evict 180 Ghouta families from compound they have lived in for almost nine months. The SG wants to carry out the evictions on the grounds of that owners of the housing units are claiming them.

Youth Housing

Nine months ago, the Syria Relief and Development (SRD) organisation completed the housing project in the Youth Housing compound, located in the city of Idlib. The project aimed at housing 200 IDP families, largely living in poverty or in extreme poverty, in Idlib.

The compound was implemented by the Syrian regime’s government when it had controlled the governorate, for subscribers in the Idlib region. The prices of houses had been paid in instalments. However, after the opposition took control over the region, refugees of the Homs governorate lived in the fully-built parts of the units, while the still-to-be-cladded parts remained empty.

The committee for the migrants of rural Damascus moved about 180 families–mostly poor families and families of the deceased and detainees’ families–to live in these housing units after the SRD organization finished the cladding operations for the housing units.

What happened?

The SG began to inform migrant families, who have been living in the compound to vacate them because the owners of these units want to recuperate their houses. Shafiq al-Kholi, a resident of the compound from Eastern Ghouta, told Enab Baladi that, at the time of writing, the first party of the rental agreement  was unknown to him. Al-Kholi added that in the past the SG drew lots between subscribers for obtaining housing units. The government took a considerable amount of money, up to 500 thousand Syrian pounds (SYP) in return for delivering houses. After this, the subscribers began to claim their rights; asking refugees to evacuate their houses. He pointed out that 40 eviction notices were served to the families living in the compound, but only three subscribers allowed migrants to stay at their houses through leasing contract, while the other owners refused.

Ismail Asami, a member of the compound’s committee, said that an eviction order has been issued and 24-hour notices have been posted on the housing units, and the government threatened to forcibly evict the migrants. According to Ismail, the SG arrested a citizen, called Abbas Sarhan for resisting arrest in addition to proceedings initiated against him by the owner of the house. The government made promises to release him, but these promises have not been implemented yet.

Shafiq al Kholi said that the SG made the refugee families sign an evacuation promise, noting that services offered in the compound are poor in general. The compound does not have access to electricity so far while it only has a water system since last September.

Between 2015 and 2018, batches of Eastern and Western Ghouta residents were forcibly displaced to northern Syria under re-settlement agreements signed between the Syrian regime and the opposition factions after years of military operations.

Compound residents

Wissam Asami, originally from Jobar and a member of the compound committee, said that a five-person committee had been set up to discuss the eviction matter and to be the liaison with the SG. In an interview with Enab Baladi, Wissam Asami indicated that there is a basic condition in the contract; the refugees can stay in the housing units for nine months, and after the expiry of the period, the houses should be evacuated. Nonetheless, some refugees moved into the housing units without having any idea about the above-mentioned condition in the contract until the end of the specified period. “We had hoped that the Ministry of Housing and Displaced Persons, a part of the SG, would help the refugees living in the compound with finding an alternative accommodation or extending the housing contracts. However, the ministry did not pay attention to the housing problem,” Assami said.

He stressed that the eviction notice was issued last June. A delegation from the committee held a meeting with the owners, but no resolution was found.

The ministry promised the migrants housing units in Idlib’s associations or by granting empty lands for building housing units where the refugees cover the costs of the construction. However, the ministry has not delivered on its promises.

Apartment owners

On the other hand, the Minister of Local Administration and Services in the SG, Moayad al-Hassan responded to Enab Baladi’s questions about the housing issue, emphasizing that the compound is not the property of the state but the property of the subscribers. Previously, the Public Housing Agency (affiliated to the Syrian regime) built compound with subscribers’ money, and the subscribers have official evidence of their ownership.

The minister clarified that there are 1,500 subscribers in the compound. Most subscribers are originally from the Idlib governorate and its countryside. The subscribers were paying the premiums, in the hope of having a house in five years as promised by the Public Housing Agency.

In May 2018, many people applied for a house in the compound through the ministry to redress violations of their rights according to the minister. The ministry established the required committees through the Directorate of Reconstruction and Housing.

The minister justified the steps taken by the SG as the subscribers are the rightful owners and possessed the necessary documentation for proof of ownership. Moreover, the subscribers waited for the refugees for more than a year. Then, they filed numerous complaints to the SG in order to obtain their rights. The subscribers held several sit-ins and demonstrations demanding their rights.

The minister stated that the refugees living in the compound do not have the right to carry out gatherings and demonstrations. He expressed the willingness of the SG, through the Ministry of Development and Humanitarian Affairs to provide those migrants with camps or to deliver them tents to stay in.

Regarding the threat of arrests, the minister explained, “the government had to call the defendants to go to the Idlib police station. The police station is not a security branch as some claim to make it resemble the Syrian regime’s security branches. No one has been arrested. A legal and legitimate investigation was conducted in the matter and organized the arrest within the law.”

Idlib’s displacement dilemma

The number of camps in northern Syria amount to 600 camps, according to the figures of the SG. A UN statement released on 23 August pointed out that the organizations and the entities that administer the area face the challenge of securing places for the displaced and of establishing new camps on public lands.

The estimates of Response Coordination Group (RCG), released in August 2018 indicated that northern Syria has more than 3.8 million people, 21% of which are displaced from other parts of Syria and with 20% of the total population living in camps.

The displacement dilemma has been complicated by the military campaign, carried out by the Russian-backed Syrian forces between February and August 2019. The military campaign led to displacement of about one million people from the rural countryside of Hama and the countrysides of southern Idlib to safe areas in northern Syria, according to RCG’s figures

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