Al-Hajar al-Aswad: One school for the children of 20,000 returnees

Destruction in al-Hajar al-Aswad, south of the Syrian capital Damascus - May 22, 2018 (Reuters)

Destruction in al-Hajar al-Aswad, south of the Syrian capital Damascus - May 22, 2018 (Reuters)


Nearly two years after the start of approvals for a number of families wishing to return to their homes and properties and restore them in the city of al-Hajar al-Aswad, south of the Syrian capital Damascus, by an official decision issued in December 2021, the residents are still facing problems in various aspects that make their adaptation and ability to settle difficult.

The educational reality in the region faces problems, especially the scarcity of restored schools, which forces them to resort to alternative solutions that multiply the difficulties of life and increase the financial costs on the families.

The number of completely destroyed buildings in the Yarmouk Camp and al-Hajar al-Aswad area reached 2,109 buildings, 1,765 buildings are severely damaged, and 1,615 are partially damaged, making a total of 5,489 buildings affected during the eight years following the start of the Syrian revolution in March 2011, according to an damage atlas published by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) on March 16, 2019.

Schools that do not cover the need

Days ago, the Syrian regime’s government announced the opening of a school for basic education levels (primary and basic), through the restoration of the Martyr Ahmad Zaal Fadel school, which accommodates 450 male and female students.

The restored school is the third in the region out of 36 schools belonging to the education directorates of Quneitra and Rif Dimashq, with an area of about 2,500 square meters and consisting of three floors while housing 28 classrooms of which 14 have been opened, a laboratory, a library, and an IT hall, according to what the official Syrian news agency (SANA) reported.

With no schools available for secondary education in the area, the director of education in Quneitra, Abdo Zaitoun, pointed out during the opening to a plan to open a secondary school in the area at the beginning of the next school year.

Siham, from the al-Thawra neighborhood in al-Hajar al-Aswad, told Enab Baladi that she still sends her children in the preparatory and secondary stages to the Zahira district in Damascus, and at the beginning of the return of the families to the area, the solution was to rent a Suzuki truck to secure the children’s trips to schools.

Sihem (44 years old) started sending her children via transportation that is difficult to secure in al-Hajar al-Aswad, at a cost that reaches about 12,000 Syrian pounds daily.

Sihem’s return (refused to mention her full name for security concerns) to the city of al-Hajar al-Aswad with her four children in 2020 and the restoration of a room and a kitchen was assisted by her expatriate brother, in the absence of her husband who died from shrapnel injury to his head where he worked in 2012.

The population of al-Hajar al-Aswad currently stands at 20,000 people, according to the statement of the head of al-Hajar al-Aswad city council, Khaled Khamees, on February 18, due to the return of some families.

Ibrahim, an employee at the Education Directorate in Damascus (withheld his full name), told Enab Baladi that there are seven schools in al-Hajar al-Aswad, most of which are almost completely destroyed and difficult to restore.

The Syrian regime’s government restored three schools in the city of al-Hajar al-Aswad, one of them is Ahmad Zaal Fadel School which was opened a few days ago and belongs to the Quneitra Education Directorate, and the other two – al-Hajar al-Aswad Third School and Hassan ibn Thabit School – belong to the Rif Dimashq and Quneitra directorates, but they do not suffice the needs of the residents, according to Ibrahim.

The director of education in Rif Dimashq governorate announced the completion of restoration works in the al-Hajar al-Aswad Third Mixed School on October 20, 2022, indicating that the remaining schools will also be restored.

Many families still send their children for preparatory and secondary education to schools in the al-Qadam and Zahira districts. As for Ibrahim, he transferred his children, who are in the primary stage, from their school in al-Qadam to al-Hajar al-Aswad Mixed School.

Ibrahim, originally from al-Hajar al-Aswad, left the area in 2013 before recently returning to it.

The al-Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood is about seven kilometers away from the center of the Syrian capital, Damascus, bordered on the west by the al-Qadam area which is about 1.7 kilometers away.

Shortage in the health sector

Al-Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood has been facing problems in the service reality ever since the Syrian regime took full control of the neighborhood and the Yarmouk Camp south of Damascus after a military operation that lasted about a month in May 2018, which expelled the Islamic State organization from the camp after an informal evacuation agreement that transferred the elements of the organization to the As-Suwayda desert.

Enab Baladi contacted an employee of the Syrian Red Crescent in Quneitra, who said that the Quneitra directorates, including health, the Red Crescent, and education, oversee the restoration of some services to al-Hajar al-Aswad, the reason for their supervision is because the majority of the area’s residents are from Quneitra province and the Palestinians.

The employee Tariq, during his talk with Enab Baladi, pointed out that the al-Hajar al-Aswad area includes two health centers, which have not been restored due to the severity of the destruction they suffered, which prompted the Syrian Red Crescent in cooperation with some NGOs and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to build a temporary prefabricated health clinic to assist the residents in the area.

The medical clinic, which started its work in September 2022, provides first aid, vaccines, and medical consultations for the residents.

Difficult approvals

Since September 5, 2021, the Rif Dimashq governorate began to receive applications from the residents of al-Hajar al-Aswad related to filling out the forms for their return to the al-Hajar al-Aswad area to start restoring their real estate properties, after obtaining the necessary approvals from the relevant authorities.

The governorate asked the residents to provide it with certified documents that confirm their ownership of the homes, in addition to a family statement, pictures of personal cards, but the security clearance was not easy to obtain and not all applications were endorsed, especially as the Military Security detachment in the area is responsible for issuing approval or rejection, according to a security source in the Military Security Committee.

The security source (Enab Baladi withheld his full name for security reasons) mentioned that the Military Security is responsible for issuing security clearances, and the al-Thelatheen Street in the Yarmouk Camp area is the only way allowed for the residents of al-Hajar al-Aswad to enter the area after obtaining security approval.

He continued that the application process for obtaining security approval is done in two steps; first, the required documents are submitted to Military Security, and they are studied and evaluated for a period that can last up to six months. The majority of denials of security approvals occur for those whose children were among the armed factions in al-Hajar al-Aswad or belonged to the Islamic State organization, according to the Military Security’s assessment.

Rejection also occurs if the individuals do not possess documents proving their property ownership in the area, which may have been lost during displacement and resettlement, according to the security source.

The Military Security asks families for alternative documents to the proof-of-ownership documents that some families have lost, including a report from the Rif Dimashq police department, an electricity and water bill, and a paper from the neighborhood’s mayor whom the person belongs to, witnessed by two individuals, stating that the person is the owner of the mentioned property to submit the request afterwards.

The security source mentioned that in January, approvals were granted for only about 2,000 out of 4,000 submitted requests.

Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Daraa, Sarah al-Ahmad, contributed to this report.


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