JARABLUS, Syria — When Hikmat’s mother managed to sneak back into their home city of Aleppo, now controlled by government forces, she found a single word spray-painted in red on their house: “Confiscated.” Same with the family store and another house. Their farm, south of the city, is probably lost to them as well, in territory recently recaptured by Syrian forces.
This is the new reality for displaced Syrians who supported the armed opposition challenging President Bashar Assad or who lived in areas once held by the opposition. Now driven elsewhere, they face the prospect that they may never be able to return.
Around half of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million has been uprooted — the overwhelming majority of them Sunni Muslims, who were among the first to rise against the government in 2011. Nearly 6 million fled abroad, while 6.6 million are displaced within Syria.
Roughly a third of the displaced are crammed into areas that remain outside government hands in northern Syria: rebel-held Idlib province and a neighbouring Turkish-controlled enclave. Thrown together from different parts of the country, they have to adjust to a strange new hybrid society where former city dweller and former village farmer, uneducated and educated, liberal and conservative now live side by side in tent camps or rented homes, with different accents, cuisines and customs.
They all share the realization that this may be their future.
“I see this as a long-term thing. It is not a year or two and we will return. No!” Hikmat said, speaking recently in Jarablus, a Turkish-administered town in northern Syria. “All (our properties) are gone.”
He spoke on condition he be identified only by his first name to protect his family, because some relatives can still access government-held areas.
As the government regains control of opposition areas further south, the number of displaced constantly grows. U.N officials say 2018 has seen the largest wave of displacement since the war began in 2011. The government has called on those who left homes to return, but the military victories are often followed by revenge attacks and unilateral confiscation of properties by government militias.
Separately, a new property law, known as Law 10, allows the government to expropriate properties it deems abandoned in areas zoned for development. Expropriations under the law haven’t begun, but already the government has zoned off recaptured suburbs of Damascus for redevelopment, meaning many homes would be vulnerable because residents are gone, mostly …read more