Palestinian journalist clarifies hidden secrets of Yarmouk camp’s regulatory plan  

A man walks through rubble in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in the Syrian capital Damascus - 06 October 2018 (AP)

A man walks through rubble in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in the Syrian capital Damascus - 06 October 2018 (AP)

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The Palestinian journalist Mohammed Safiya has warned against the consequences of implementing the Yarmouk refugee camp’s regulatory plan and the procedures undertaken by Damascus governorate in dealing with the camp’s file.  

Safiya talked about what he called “legal maneuvers” adopted by Damascus governorate to pass its plan through a series of videos he posted on his Facebook account and sent to Enab Baladi via e-mail on 29 November. The video series was entitled “The Hidden Secrets Behind the Yarmouk Camp’s Regulatory Plan.”   

Safiya said that he managed to reach this information after searching and investigating operations, as well as contacting private sources from inside Damascus governorate for several weeks.  

According to Safiya, the legal maneuvers included the dissolution of the local committee of Yarmouk camp, affiliated with the Syrian Ministry of Local Administration and Environment. The committee is an independent body authorized to decide whether the camp needs a regulatory plan or not. Since 2018, Damascus governorate sought to secure a decision from the Syrian Cabinet to dissolve this committee under the pretext that it hinders the plan’s issuance. The governorate changed the local committee’s name to “Damascus Services Directorate” to make it under its administration.  

BesidesDamascus governorate forged the destruction rate estimated in the camp. It claimed that it reached 42 percent of the camp’s area, while the actual destruction level did not exceed 18 percent, according to what Safiya cited from engineers in Damascus. Since the real percentage of destruction is relatively low and does not entitle the imposition of a regulatory plan, the governorate sought through forging the destruction percentage to make use of Article 5 of Law No. 23 of 2015, which allows the reorganization of areas of severe destruction levels.  

In addition, Damascus governorate manipulated the number of objections submitted by residents against the camp’s master plan. The governorate divided the camp into three parts (A, B, and C), and each part was subjected to independent voting. The governorate accepted objections based on each development zone and separately, preventing the number from exceeding three thousand objections, the percentage set by the law in order to cancel the camp’s regulatory plan.  

Safiya added, there is an apparent contradiction in the officials’ statements regarding the number of objections offered by the residents against the camp’s regulatory plan. The latest of these statements was by the executive office member in Damascus governorate Samir Jazairli, who said that the number of submitted objections reached 2,900. Meanwhile, governorate officials’ previous statements said that the Yarmouk camp’s regulatory plan’s objections rate was the highest in Syria’s history, as it ranged between nine thousand to 12 thousand objections. Safiya called on Damascus governorate to offer official statistics about the number of submitted objections.  

Moreover, the new plan’s announcement timing was also manipulated. The governorate’s executive council announced it during a special session that coincided with the Eid al-Adha holiday and the high and middle school exams, causing people to lose three days from the objection period, Safiya said.  

According to Safiya, the governorate sought to abolish the “camp” status by changing its name from the Yarmouk camp to the Yarmouk area to attract investors who would not purchase towers set in a camp.  

After the Cabinet decided to put the camp’s master plan on hold, Damascus governorate issued a statement saying that “following the suspension decision, a committee was formed to discuss future solutions in the Yarmouk area.”  

The sources Safiya contacted, and the facts on the ground confirm the transition of the decision from the stage of suspension to the stage of cancellation and returning to the old regulatory plan of 2004. Safiya pointed out that the fears of the new plan’s implementation are due to the absence of the camp residents, the lack of discussions on compensations allocated to the affected people, or the unserious commitment by the governorate to provide alternative housing to those whose houses are included in the development plan.  

When the plan guarantees the return of all the Yarmouk camp residents, it would be approved, but if it remained in its current form, people would not approve of it, as evident through the massive number of objections submitted to the governorate, Safiya said.  

Conditions for residents’ return  

On 1 January, Damascus governor Adel al-Olabi said to the pro-government al-Watan newspaper that the governorate is currently preparing inspecting and charting reports to assess Damascus’ urban reality and its surrounding areas, including the Yarmouk. The governorate is also studying urgent solutions to rehabilitate those areas, al-Olabi added.  

He pointed out that the governorate assigned the General Company for Engineering Studies to conduct a regulatory and technical study for the Yarmouk area and perform a full assessment of its regulatory plan since it is a development area with no random housing.  

The company proposed three solutions after completing its study. The first solution suggested simple repairs to the area, including the affected areas. The second solution sought to expand the Yarmouk Street and regard it as a development area and a status quo area, while the third solution proposed to regulate the entire Yarmouk area.  

Al-Olabi pointed out that Damascus governorate adopted the second solution and then approved the plan’s suspension decision. It also worked urgently to return the camp’s residents to their habitable homes, on condition of structural safety.   

The executive office in Damascus governorate set three conditions for the Yarmouk camp’s residents to return to their homes: “structural safety, proof of ownership, and necessary permits,” according to the al-Watan newspaper. 

 

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