Through secret auction, Syrian regime leases displaced people’s lands in Homs
Homs – Orwah al-Mundhir
Following the security “settlement” agreement that took place in the northern countryside of Homs in September 2018, a large number of those who rejected the “settlement” left for opposition-held northern Syria, leaving behind hundreds of dunums of agricultural land and homes.
During the past four years, the relatives or neighbors of the displaced landowners kept it and began cultivating and investing it in agreement with the displaced owners in return for agreed profit rates that varied from 15 to 20% for those who work in the land, as is the practice or as what is called the “custom of the trade.”
At the beginning of the land lease season, the regime’s government auctioned these lands only in official newspapers, which made the real landowners lose the ability to rent and benefit from their lands in their countries of displacement or asylum.
Public auction for the “backed”
The Homs Provincial Council did not announce the auction under which the land was put up for lease in any government department in the region. The auction put up about 2500 dunums of agricultural land for investment in secret. It was attended by district directors, mayors, and those close to the security detachments and branches.
Talal Makhzoum, a brother of one of the displaced from the village of Makramiya in the northern countryside of Homs, told Enab Baladi that he was shocked that the land of one of his brothers, who left after the “settlement” agreement and arrived in Europe, was leased to a person who acquired 320 dunums of farms in the area by virtue of the said auction.
Makhzoum added that the governorate rented lands at 25,000 SYP per dunum of non-irrigated land and 40,000 SYP per dunam of irrigated land, while the minimum value of rent per dunum of land exceeded 150,000 SYP and reached 300,000 SYP in some other areas.
He added that he lost his right to benefit from his brother’s land to those close to the security branches.
Although the lands were put up for auction, the regime’s government did not collect the minimum value of land leases in the region, and those close to the security branches got the benefit, limiting the auction to them.
On the condition that his full name not be disclosed, Mahmoud, an agricultural engineer in the al-Houla region, told Enab Baladi that the minimum wage for a dunum of land exceeds 100,000 SYP. Had the auction been publicly held, the regime’s government would have obtained large sums of money at the expense of the lands of the displaced. However, the auction was dominated by three or four merchants who shared no less than two thousand dunums of land to achieve “surreal profits” during the agricultural season.
Properties in abeyance
Displaced persons from regime-controlled areas lost their ability to lease their land after the regime government auctioned it off and were denied access to their property after their forced departure as internally displaced persons or refugees outside the country.
Abdul Moamen Gallo, one of the displaced from the city of al-Rastan, told Enab Baladi that he owns 75 dunums in the farms of al-Rastan, which he rented last year for 150,000 SYP. But he lost it this year after the regime’s government had seized it publicly.
Thus, the displaced lost their right to fully benefit from their land after they had previously lost their ability to sell it when the regime’s government issued a decision mandating security approval for the buyer and seller in order for the transfer of ownership to be completed.
Talbiseh-native Youssef al-Ahmad, who is currently residing in Germany, told Enab Baladi that he could not even sell his land due to his inability to obtain security approval to complete the property transfer transaction.
How legal is the auction?
The Homs countryside auction was not the first of its kind, with the Ministry of Local Administration and Environment in Idlib governorate announcing the start of an auction for investment in Syrian pistachio trees from June 2nd to 15th. The ministry fixed the working period for one agricultural season.
The General Secretariat of the Hama Governorate also announced the acceptance of applications to participate in the public auction to invest in Syrian pistachio trees, starting May 30th to June 7th.
Many of the owners of these lands live in areas uncontrolled by the Syrian regime, which allows the latter to benefit from their absence to seize their lands, according to what some of the landowners had told Enab Baladi.
At the time, Enab Baladi asked Counsel Ahmed Sawan about the legality of auctions. He replied that it is not possible to determine the legality of the state’s offering of these lands in public auction except by knowing the legal owner of each land by referring to the Land Registry.
Sawan added that the state only has the right to lease state-owned lands. But if it is private property for individuals, then neither the state nor any party may invest in it or declare it leased, as it constitutes an assault on a person’s property without their consent and a violation of property rights. Article 768 of the Civil Code stipulates that “only the owner of something, within the limits of the law, has the right to use and exploit it.” The right to ownership is a permanent right that does not fall out of use, no matter how long.
Also, this lease is a violation of the current Syrian Constitution, which stipulates in Article 15 that private property is safeguarded according to the fact that public confiscation of funds is prohibited, and private property is not expropriated except for the public benefit by decree and in exchange for fair compensation in accordance with the law.
Sawan explicated that the original right to invest these lands belongs to its owners; if they are present on-site and even if they are traveling (In that case, they can delegate a person they trust with the notary public of the country in which they are located or at the Syrian consulate in their country of residence).
This delegate invests the property on behalf of the owner, and no party has the right to object to him investing or using the land.
However, if the land owner is missing or absent and their address is unknown, any of their relatives can obtain a judicial mandate over the absentee from a Sharia court judge with easy and simple procedures.
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