Will concrete villages in northern Syria cover housing needs of IDPs?
Enab Baladi – Abdullah al-Khatib – Yousef Ghuraibi
Hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) in north-western Syria are waiting with hope to move from their worn-out tents to live in concrete housing units amid a minimum of humanitarian assistance.
Relief organizations active in the area, have begun working on finding alternative shelter solutions. They started establishing small villages of concrete rooms (housing units) on the Syrian-Turkish border, where each unit is allocated to a family selected by the organizations according to certain criteria.
In this report, Enab Baladi investigates how these villages were established, what kind of services they provide, and to what extent they actually cover the needs of the IDPs.
Enab Baladi spoke with the relevant parties, including organizations, displaced families, and experts.
Meanwhile, the number of IDPs in Idlib and Aleppo Countryside due to the Russian-backed Syrian regime’s military campaigns that began in April 2019 has reached 1.5 million, as estimated by the Syrian Response Coordinators Group (SRCG).
Like a palace… but not a house
“After being left with no shelter, and then exploited by property owners who raised the housing rents, we were resettled in a room in the “al- Madinah al-Munawarah” village, which seemed like a palace to us.”
With these words, Saleh Waleed al-Okel described his situation to Enab Baladi.
Al-Okel belongs to a family of five members, and he was forcibly displaced from Kafr Nabl city, south of Idlib, moving between several villages. He used to pay a monthly rent of 50 USD, which worsened his financial condition, as per his expression.
Al-Okel lives in the housing unit that he was provided with a month ago, and despite the “good quality of services” he talked about, there are always other deficiencies in terms of relief items, drinking water, and bread availability.
Al-Okel called on humanitarian organizations to help cover these shortfalls, to establish a medical point and a school, as well as to install electric distribution lines. He added some of the new arrivals do not have small power generators to use when there is no electricity.
Muhammad Nawaf al-Halllaq, another displaced person from Kafr Nabl city, was displaced before from Damascus to Sinjar and then to Ezmarine village.
Al-Hallaq was unable to secure his monthly rent due to the lack of jobs in northern Syria.
Luckily, he was one of those who received a housing unit from the Molham Volunteering Team (MVT) project in Barisha town, five months ago.
According to al-Hallaq’s description, the concrete room he is living in is “one thousand times” better than the tent. It is also well- equipped; however, it falls below the level of a house.
More than 13 thousand housing units
Enab Baladi contacted three organizations working on projects for building villages for IDPs in northern Syria, namely the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH), the Molham Volunteering Team (MVT), and the Charity Cooperation Association.
These organizations, working on establishing more than 13,000 housing units, informed Enab Baladi about the details of their projects and what has been achieved so far from these projects. They also stated the numbers of units distributed to the IDPs, along with the process of beneficiary selection.
The media official of the İHH in north-western Syria, Odai al-Satouf, pointed out that the organization will be providing 30 housing unit projects for IDPs.
Al-Satouf said that the initial aim of the project is to set 12,400 housing units, while the number of the entirely constructed units has reached about 3,000 to date. The number of displaced families benefiting from the project is 1,500.
The İHH completes approximately 600 to 900 housing units per month, according to the circumstances. The project has been launched with no partnerships with other sides, as it is fully implemented by the organization’s “engineering office,” al-Satouf said.
As for the MVT, it is working on a project that consists of more than 1,000 housing units, 435 of them were constructed and distributed immediately to families, according to the team’s manager in the Idlib area, Abdullah al-Sweid.
Al-Sweid indicated that the project includes the construction of concrete housing units; each consists of two rooms and utilities. It also intends to include full sanitation systems and paved roads.
Al-Sweid also pointed out that the final form of the project is expected to be completed within months, as the MVT will announce new stages later, including hundreds of residential units in several border areas.
The MVT funds its project from individual donations only, according to al-Sweid, who emphasized that there are no partnerships with other organizations.
The director of statistics and studies division at the Charity Cooperation Association, Fadel Omran al-Okel, told Enab Baladi that the association’s project aims to establish a camp for the displaced people of Kafr Nabl city under the name the “al- Madinah al-Munawarah” village.
The village includes 520 entirely constructed housing units; meanwhile, the association is expanding the project to include 28 additional units. The number of families residing in these units amounted to 514 families.
Moreover, the association conducts this project in partnerships with other organizations. The first part was implemented in collaboration with the Human Development Foundation, while the rest of the project was completed in cooperation with the MVT.
It is worth mentioning that different projects which are being implemented in north-western Syria, are incalculable. These projects are funded by donors from the Gulf Arab countries such as Sabah al-Ahmad Charitable Village, which was opened last April, besides other villages supported by the Qatar Red Crescent.
The beneficiary selection process
The organizations select beneficiaries according to their own criteria. The housing units are delivered for free without any payment from the families. The NGOs that Enab Baladi contacted clarified their selection criteria for the beneficiaries.
Regarding the İHH, al-Satouf said that the categories that benefit most from the project or those chosen based on the organization’s priorities are the displaced families from the towns that have direct contact with the Syrian regime forces, or near the frontlines of battles.
As for al-Sweid, he said that the MVT targeted the most vulnerable group, the breadwinning widows, in the first stage of its project.
The second phase was aimed at evacuating displaced families from collective shelters and transferring them to separate housing units for each family.
On the other hand, the Charity Cooperation Association has worked on five stages to deliver the units. The first stage targeted people with disabilities, mainly a disabled breadwinner in a family, while the second covered the detainees’ wives.
The third stage of units’ delivery was intended for families with a disabled member, the fourth for widows, and finally, the fifth was for the people displaced due to the recent military campaign of the Syrian regime forces on the western and southern Aleppo countryside.
“SRCG” estimates the actual need of IDPs
The head of the Syrian Response Coordinators Group (SRCG), Muhammed Hallaj, estimated the number of the IDPs benefiting from these projects at a maximum of between 2,000 to 2,500 families.
Hallaj clarified to Enab Baladi that these projects are not implemented in one full stage. Instead, they are executed on several stages. Then, the units, whose numbers are not great as per his description, are delivered directly to the selected people.
According to Hallaj, these projects have different objectives. Some of them are intended to build housing units.
Other projects are renovating buildings for residents of the area, in exchange for housing a displaced person for a certain period. This is to be done without a residential lease agreement or through a contract between the organization and the buildings’ owners, which is being done by the Social Development International Association (SDI) and Syria Relief and Development Organization (SRD).
Nevertheless, in al-Hallaj’s opinion, organizations are supposed to center their efforts at the construction of housing units more than their rehabilitation. These projects, when fully implemented, cover only three to four percent of the IDPs. In his opinion, it is better for these people to return to their homes; however, a considerable proportion of them cannot do so because the Syrian regime has taken control of their villages. Besides, some IDPs’ houses have been completely destroyed in the Syrian regime bombardment.
The SRCG documented the return of 18,474 families to the villages of Idlib and Aleppo Countryside until the date of 12 April, after the Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreement was signed on 5 March.
Nonetheless, the returning families represent only 9.94 percent of the total number of IDPs.
There is no defined percentage for IDPs who are waiting to receive their housing units, and according to Hallaj, this is due to the organizations’ criteria to receive only special cases including people with disabilities, widows, orphans, and those without any source of income.
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