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“Usufruct contracts” for alternative concrete housing units in northern Syria

The completion of the second phase of the "One Thousand Housing Units" project (Molham Volunteering Team)

The completion of the second phase of the "One Thousand Housing Units" project (Molham Volunteering Team)

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Enab Baladi – Zeynep Masri

The “Molham Volunteering Team (MVT)” has launched the “One Thousand Rooms” project through its official website to build 1,000 housing units to shelter 1,000 displaced families who are in a “desperate” need for alternative accommodation to replace their makeshift tents in northern Syria.

This project comes to alleviate the “unbearable hardship” experienced by the internally displaced people (IDPs) in north-western Syria, such as losing tents due to storms, the destruction of their little belongings because of rain, and children’s illness due to the poor living conditions and inadequate camps’ environment.

On 6 of last June, the MVT completed the second phase of the “One Thousand Rooms/ Housing Units” project in Tur Laha village in Harem district on the Syrian-Turkish border, bringing the number to 437 built housing units in the project.

In the first phase of the project, the team finished building 126 housing units in Barisha village, north of Idlib.

In the second phase, 135 housing units were built in the Barisha- Qurqanya area, while in the third phase, 176 housing units were completed in the Tur Laha- Qurqanya area.

The Director of the Shelter Sector in the MVT and the project’s engineer, Baraa Babouli, told Enab Baladi that the project aims to provide privacy, protection, and security to 1,000 displaced families within a period of about ten months, as their tents failed to provide those essential needs.

According to Babouli, the IDPs are the “less fortunate” category who are entitled to receive shelter after losing their properties and houses.

According to the working plan, the new camp in Azaz city, north of Aleppo besides 472 housing blocks will be completed by the end of next August.

The housing units are built in two land area measurements, 24 square meters (m²) of one room and facilities, and 32 m² of two rooms and facilities.

The selection of beneficiaries to live in these housing units depends on the size of their families, as small families receive units of 24 m², while large families are delivered 32 m² housing units.

Moreover, each housing unit consists of concrete walls, a rain cover for the tent’s ceiling, a door, windows of steel, a toilet, a bathroom, a marble sink, and heat and cold insulation materials.

The project, launched last mid-February, aims to shelter the families that were recently displaced from their regions, after the last Syrian-Russian military escalation on cities and southern rural areas of Idlib city.

According to Babouli, the selection criteria of beneficiaries include families of no breadwinner, low-income families, families with sick members, the elderly, amputees, or people with disabilities.

The housing units recipients in the “Qurqanya-Barisha” camp who were displaced from Kafr Nubul city, southern Idlib, were chosen because they were living in “very bad” tents and have experienced “tragic” circumstances in their displacement journey.

The project also targets the IDPs who live under trees, in the roads or unfinished buildings, or in fuel stations.

Informal “usufruct contracts”

Upon receiving the housing unit, the beneficiary signs a “usufruct contract” containing certain binding conditions during his/her staying period in the unit.

These conditions state that the beneficiary shall not change the unit’s technical conditions, such as adding reinforced tiles to avoid damaging or destroying the structure of the unit.

Beneficiaries shall not trespass on public property or share facilities with other people, nor leave the unit without informing the MVT, or sell or put it for rent.

According to the contract, beneficiaries cannot change or use the housing unit for other purposes, such as storing food or converting it to a grocery store.

The usufruct contracts are conducted between the MVT on one side and the beneficiary on the other side. These contracts are not certified by any third party, according to Babouli.

He added, if the beneficiary violated the terms of the contract, the MVT would alert him and then warn him twice.

However, in case of non-adherence to warnings, the MVT will be forced to evict the beneficiary from the unit “for the general welfare of the camp, to avoid problems and sensitivities among the beneficiaries, and to prevent trespassing on public property,” according to Babouli.

In an interview with Enab Baladi, the Head of the “Free Syrian Lawyers” organization, Ghazwan Koronfol, talked about the “usufruct contracts” and their mandatory obligations to the involved parties, if they were not certified by a third party, whether a local authority or independent judiciary.

Koronfol said, in principle, these contracts are binding obligations to both sides of the contract; nevertheless, they remain regular informal contracts, as there is no official authority that has legal recognition to document these contracts.

According to Koronfol, in the event of a dispute between the contracting parties, they could resort to the “de facto courts” of the opposition factions. The courts help to clarify the nature and content of the obligations to the two parties and decide in their light.

Nevertheless, any power changes in the area will put these contracts and their effects against the risk of non-recognition by the Syrian regime in case it re-controlled the region.

Who owns the land?

According to Babouli, the “Molham Volunteering Team (MVT)”  builds the housing units in north-western Syrian areas on land with four different property ownership types.

In the first type, some camp residents “rent” the land at their own expense, then the MVT build the housing units on it, while in the second type, some people from the camp “buy” the land and contact the MVT to build the stone-walled units.

In the third property ownership type, the MVT rents a land from its owner according to a long-term memorandum of understanding for at least 15 years.

While the land in the fourth type is a “waqf” that cannot be sold, purchased, or leased.

This land is granted as a waqf by a donor to the use of the MVT under a 20-year memorandum of understanding.

The MVT project engineer, Babouli, told Enab Baladi that the concrete residential units in northern Syrian regions were built in coordination with the authority in control.

In northern Aleppo countryside areas, the MVT coordinates with the local councils there and with the “Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey (AFAD).”

In Idlib, the MVT coordinates with the “Directorate of Development” of the “Syrian Salvation Government (SSG),” which is informed with the technical conditions and construction specifications, and asked for building-related permissions to ensure that nothing would obstruct the workflow of the project.

The project’s services

The MVT provided sanitation services and water pipes in Barisha and Tur Laha camps in walls so that the inhabitants could install water tanks.

The MVT is also working on providing wells in the post-construction phase of the project.

According to Babouli, the MVT is unable to supply camps with electricity due to the lack of power resources and installation service at present.

He added that Azaz camp would be “ideal,” because the land on which it is built is vast and the number of its housing units is significant.

Moreover, Azaz camp has been built gradually with more organized coordination efforts so that it does not fall in the informal settlements classification, according to Babouli.

Besides, the MVT is working on providing the camp with a proper sanitation system for the disposal of dirty water and waste at the expanse of the MVT, which will construct a well, and establish a main tank to provide drinking water to the beneficiaries.

Would the housing units camps become informal settlement areas?

The project’s objective was set, considering that IDPs, such as those displaced from Rif Dimashq, Daraa, and Idlib countryside, will not return to their areas any time soon, Babouli said.

He added, the MVT is working on providing a solution that would ensure security and privacy to the displaced people, for “a displaced person is equal in rights to the areas’ residents.”

A displaced person has human rights, and the least of his/her rights is to have a shelter, according to Babouli.

The engineer of the project pointed out to Enab Baladi that If displaced persons currently residing in these housing units could return to their houses and hometowns, the property will be restored by the MVT, who would grant it to other people in need of shelter.

According to Babouli, there is a massive need for shelter in north-western Syria.

As for Koronfol, he said that these residential stone-walled units built instead of makeshift tents could turn to camps of informal settlements and areas of permanent housing violations.

The project’s risk lies in the fact that “it contributes to the resettling of people outside their original areas,” as per Koronfol’s expression.

He said that “to spare the displaced people from being caught between the options of living in makeshift tents and suffer from cold and floods or the resettlement option that might be permanent, these people must be given the alternative replacement of wooden, pre-fabricated and mobile houses.

According to Koronfol, the wooden houses would be warmer and more convenient than the concrete housing units, and do not contribute to “permanent informal settlement.”

The number of IDPs living in camps in north-western Syria has reached 1,041,943 persons, of which 183,811 persons live in 366 camps according to the statistics of the “Syrian Response Coordination Group (SRCG)” of July.

The Displaced Syrians in these camps face the risk of pollution due to the unhealthy environment, lack of income, children’s deprivation of school, lack of health care, the continuing shortage of food and water, and the lack of the most basic daily services.

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