Despite ‘reconstruction’ promises in Yarmouk camp, rubble still everywhere

A man walking through the rubble in the Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees in Damascus - 6 October 2018 (AP)

A man walking through the rubble in the Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees in Damascus - 6 October 2018 (AP)

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Syrian social media activists surfaced on 18 July a video on Twitter showing that nothing has changed in the Yarmouk refugee camp in the southern district of Damascus despite the promises of reconstruction by the Syrian regime over the past years.

The rubble has been in place since the displacement of the camp’s residents in 2018.

The Syrian regime’s government has not taken any effective steps towards the rehabilitation of residential buildings, installations, and infrastructure in the region, or the restoration of services such as water and electricity networks, despite official statements disseminating contradictory information.

More than four years after Syrian regime forces regained control of the Yarmouk camp from the Islamic State (IS) group that held more than one of Damascus’ southern neighborhoods, the regime’s government began promoting the “unconditional” return of camp residents since 2021, in light of questioning this announcement, which has been repeated more than once during the past years without it ever finding its way to implementation.

Reality-contradicting promises

In September 2021, the media office of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) announced that the Syrian regime had permitted Syrians and Palestinians to enter the Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees.

According to a statement issued by the Front’s Secretary-General, Talal Naji, and published by the head of the Alliance of Palestinian Forces’ press office, Rama Qodbashy, Naji confirmed that a decision was issued to the concerned authorities by the president of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, to facilitate the “unconditional return” of the camp’s residents.

The statement pointed out that “the competent Syrian authorities, in cooperation with the inhabitants, have removed rubble from houses in preparation for the entry of Damascus governorate vehicles to remove rubble and clean up the sub-streets and inner quarters,” in addition to completing the laying of water, electricity, and telephone grids in preparation for the return of residents of the Yarmouk camp.

However, the head of the media department in the Action Group for Palestinians of Syria (AGPS), Fayez Abu Obeid, questioned, in an interview with Enab Baladi, the regime’s promises to rehabilitate the camp, as no official body has moved to remove buildings debris, while 70 percent of the camp is destroyed due to bombardment.

Return right ruled by security 

Regarding the return of families to the camp, “the Syrian regime is procrastinating and delaying their return,” Abu Obeid said, citing “the obstacles and conditions it places on the residents and the delay in issuing cards for their return to their homes.”

A circular issued by the Directorate of Ground Operations affiliated with the Syrian Air company prohibiting entry of Palestinians to Syria without the approval of Branch 235, also known as the Palestine Branch, indicates that the return to the camp will not be comprehensive but will rather be carried out according to specific security measures.

Syrian Air did not publish this circular issued on 17 July through its official identifiers, but the head of the media department in the Action Group, Fayez Abu Obeid, confirmed to Enab Baladi that it was issued internally.

According to what the Palestinian-Syrian lawyer and researcher Ayman Abu Hashem had said in a previous interview with Enab Baladi, “the circular was issued in the form of an undeclared decision by the Branch 235, known as the Palestine Branch, aimed at “filtering every Palestinian entering Syrian territory and repositioning them under security scrutiny.”

Hundreds of families who have been allowed to return to Yarmouk camp have homes that are still habitable or partially damaged while their owners are restoring them at their own expense so that they are initially ready for housing.

The prerequisite for a return to the camp is a security clearance to return home, Abu Obeid said. The number of families receiving the required security clearance is still very low compared to the camp’s large population.

Palestine refugees in Syria have been deployed in nine official camps since 1948 to date. Before 2011, they numbered more than 500,000 Palestinian refugees that were mainly stationed in the Yarmouk camp, in addition to other camps and areas.

The right to housing is a fundamental right enshrined in the principles of housing and property restitution adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the so-called Pinheiro Principles.

The camp previously saw battles between former Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions and regime forces amid the split of Palestinian factions between the two sides, which was before IS took control of two-thirds of the camp in 2015.

However, regime forces regained full control over the al-Hajar al-Aswad area and the Yarmouk camp in May 2018, following a month-long military operation in which IS was expelled from the camp after an unofficial evacuation agreement whereby IS operatives were transferred to the As-Suwayda desert.

 

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