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Grand Town project, subject to US sanctions, is promoted at Damascus’s refugee conference

Promoting the project of the Grand Town Tourist City, during the conference on the return of Syrian refugees in the Syrian capital Damascus - 11 November 2020 (Tishreen newspaper)

Promoting the project of the Grand Town Tourist City, during the conference on the return of Syrian refugees in the Syrian capital Damascus - 11 November 2020 (Tishreen newspaper)

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The organizers of the Russian-backed conference on returning refugees to Syria held in the Syrian capital, Damascus, have used the conference hall to promote the organizational chart of the Grand Town project, a luxury real state project. 

The Grand Town project’s organizational chart appeared in photos published by the government newspaper, Tishreen, of the Umayyad Palace for Conferences’ hall.

As monitored by Enab Baladi, the Grand Town project was announced in September 2018, which is a city located on two and a half million square meters in a geographical location linking the capital Damascus with Damascus International Airport, adjacent to the Exhibition City and the Conference Palace at the fourth bridge.

According to the description of the project on its official website, “Grand Town” is “a developed and smart city,” whose walls are encrusted with precious stones of creativity and luxury.”

The Grand Town Tourist City consists of villas, a golf course, three and four-star hotels, a water park, an amusement park, and the “Umayyad Palace for Conferences,” in addition to residential buildings.

However, Enab Baladi has not monitored any development in establishing the conference on its official pages since its announcement.

The project is on the US sanctions list and one of the public-private partnerships in Syria that seeks to profit off displacement and reconstruction, according to what the US Treasury Department published on 17 June 2020.

The Syrian government has also granted a long-term contract to two regime-friendly businessmen to build and manage Grand Town City: Nader Kalai and Khaled al-Zubaidi.

The US “Caesar Act” sanctions were imposed on these two businessmen and their companies. 

Al-Zubaidi is a businessman and a member of the Board of Directors of the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Tourism. He is a co-owner of al-Zubaidi and Kalai” LLC, Director of Agar Investment Company, General Manager of al-Zubaidi Development Company,” and co-owner of Enjaz Investment Company.

Nader Kalai is a Syrian businessman and a representative of the “Castle Investment Holding,” and a member of the Board of Directors of ” al-Zubaidi and Kalai” LLC. 

Although they house large numbers of Syrian refugees, several countries have not attended the conference, which was held today to return Syrian refugees to their areas of origin inside Syria.

China, Lebanon, the UAE, Pakistan, Oman, Russia, and Iran participate in the conference held at the Umayyad Conference Palace in Damascus.

The conference is met with international rejection, most notably the position of the European Union, which said in a statement, Tuesday, 10 November, that the conference is premature.

The European Union is of the opinion that the priority at present is to take real measures to create conditions for safe, voluntary, dignified, and sustainable return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their areas of origin.

The European Union stated that while the decision to return must always be an individual one, conditions in Syria are not, at present, suitable to promote large-scale voluntary return, in conditions of safety and dignity in line with international law.

The European Union added that the limited returns that have taken place illustrate the many obstacles and hazards still encountered by returning internally displaced persons and refugees, particularly forced conscription, indiscriminate detention, forced disappearances, torture, physical and sexual violence, discrimination in access to housing, land, and property as well as poor or inexistent basic services. 

 

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