Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Disillusioned Syrian IDPs Consider Resettlement Offer

Even people who used to support rebels are losing hope and would consider government’s housing offer.
By Nova Ali, Damascus Bureau

Seven-year-old Sahib is not like the other children in the Jaramana neighbourhood that is now his home.

The boy, who fled with his family from Ghouta, does not play with other youngsters but sits on his own, far away from everyone, watching them in silence.

Some three million people have been displaced as a result of the Syrian civil war that has raged for the last three years, and the social and economic consequences have been catastrophic.

Many internally displaced people (IDPs) interviewed by Damascus Bureau say that a series of local truces between rebels and the regime, most notably in Homs, has had a big impact on them, even those who used to favour continuing the fight.

A Syrian government project to build housing for the displaced in the worst-affected areas has led some interviewees to say they are ready to return.

Damascus has allocated nearly four billion Syrian pounds (25 million US dollars) for the construction of some 3,400 housing units in Damascus, Homs and Deraa to provide shelter for IDPs.

Ceasefire agreements have been arranged in the Damascus suburbs of Babila, Barzeh, Yalda, Beit Sahem and al-Maadamia. The city of Homs remained under siege for two years until it too came under regime control again, in a truce agreed earlier in 2014.

Miqdad, 43, and his family left their home in the old city of Homs to settle in Damascus.

“We lost our house and several of our family members and relatives, but that sacrifice was all for nothing,” he said, referring to the May deal that ended with rebel fighters withdrawing to the city outskirts.

“Homs was the capital of the Syrian revolution. Now it is no longer under opposition control. How can we be optimistic or hope for victory in the future?” he asked.

Jadih, 29, is an engineering student also originally from Homs.

“I think seriously about returning. A lot of my friends went back to their neighbourhoods in Homs despite their opposition to the regime. Their houses are half-destroyed,” he said. “People are tired of displacement; they no longer care who wins or loses. What matters is keeping their children safe.

“If the opposition wants to characterise these reconciliations as humiliation, then let them at least provide us with shelter or support, or help us travel.”

A recent study by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) found that close to 1.5 million houses have been damaged in Syria, with 315,000 completely destroyed.

Around seven million people have been affected by the damage, and one million people have lost all their property.

Yaarab, 52, left the Damascus suburb of Mliha for Jaramana, where he now works in a supermarket.

Since the regime resumed control over Mliha in August, Yaarab has lost hope in the rebel war against President Bashar al-Assad. He recall a news story about a young recruit to the rebel forces that affected him deeply.

“I will never forget the look on the boy’s face on TV as he was handed his weapon, most likely on his way to a new battle front,” he said. “He shouldn’t have had to fight. He should be drawing and laughing and enjoying life instead of throwing himself into a war against a ruthless regime that seems impossible to topple.”

“The opposition is no better. It does nothing except create battalions and brigades and trade positions with no result,” Yaarab added.

The Syrian economy has also been devastated by the civil war. A United Nations report states that the economy has suffered losses of up to 144 billion US dollars since 2011. It also says that three-quarters of the Syrian population are living in poverty, with more than half experiencing extreme deprivation.

All Syrians have suffered, but IDPs face added burdens. Economic, social and security problems have accompanied displaced people to their new places of refuge.

Um Issam, 42, was displaced from Ghouta and now lives in a rented apartment with her family.

“Since we arrived in Jaramana, we have been able to forge good relationships with some neighbours, but others were hostile. They see us as the reason why the war is dragging on, because our men stayed on in Ghouta to fight,” she explained.

Other displaced people complain of similar hostility.

Sakina, 51, moved with her family from the Damascus suburbs to al-Dwaylaa. She said that landlords sent people round to find out the names and details of people living in their apartments.

“Of course these are security instructions, and it’s their right to do it, but what dignity are we left with when we face this sort of discrimination in our own country?” she asked. “We have become like Palestinian and Iraqi refugees.”

“We had no stake in this war,” added Milhim, 26, originally from Mliha. “If any problems break out in the neighbourhood where we are staying, we don’t dare intervene because we are only guests.”

Walaa, 32, who is originally from Babila, described the discrimination she faced at a government checkpoint.

“Among all the passengers on the bus, the soldier asked for my ID only because I am veiled. He looked at me suspiciously and asked where I’d come from and where I was heading. It was as if I were coming to the area to carry out a suicide attack,” she said, adding wearily, “We are tired, we want to go back.”

Jaber, 30, was forced to leave Deir al-Asafir in the Damascus countryside. He does not support rebel truces with the regime, but feels that the opposition has also failed.

“Every day we hear of new conflicts among factions of the armed opposition, while the regime continues its forward push on the ground. Should we just bow out, or continue to die?” he asked.

Nova Ali is the pseudonym of a Syrian journalist.

This story was produced by the Damascus Bureau, IWPR’s news platform for Syrian journalists.