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Syrian government evicts slum-dwellers to build high-end neighborhoods

Editing: Mohamad Alaa |
TranslationEditor: Vera Halvorsen |
Translation: Glory Jabr
Publication date: 2018/05/08 21:12

While the Syrian government launches intense bombings to complete its control of the Damascus surroundings, and signs displacement agreements with the opposition, its legislative branch develops laws as bloody as military operations to gain control of all Syria. The laws include Law No. 10, from 2018, which allows the establishment of one or more organizational areas as part of the general organizational chart of the administrative units issued by President Bashar al-Assad.

According to a legal source from inside Damascus, Law No. 10 can have severe consequences, because it was issued at a sensitive time in coincidence with the Syrian government’s seizure of Eastern Ghouta. The law includes all the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic and does not have executive instructions; it is "inclusive," and violates the Constitution from 2012.

There are no neighborhoods in Syria outside the law, even Abu Rummaneh and Maliki

The legislative Decree No. 66 from 2012 restricts two slum areas in Damascus, Region 1: the southeast of Mezzeh from the two real estate areas Mezzeh-Kafarsousa, and Region 2: the south of the Southern highway of the real estate areas, Mezzeh-Kafarsousa - Kanawat - Basateen - Darya - al-Qadam.

Law No. 10 from 2018 allows the establishment of organizational areas as part of the organizational chart, which may include the Maliki and Abu Rummaneh neighborhoods if the administrative unit decides to include it, on the basis of economic feasibility according to Article 1, including the area within the organizational chart. In practice, Law No. 10 allows the transformation of privately owned land into common ownership among the owners, to later allocate them according to particular shares.

Committees emanated from the law and its functions

Law No. 10 allows the formation of an inventory and description committee whose duties are to inspect the area and count the number of houses and people, whether they are legal or illegal owners of the houses.

The committee is composed of a group of experts of the real estate departments, the administrative units (governorate councils), and two members representing the people. However, the mechanism of the two people’s representatives election is "difficult," because if the residents of the region do not elect a representative, the two members will be appointed by the chairman of the committee and thus the committee will have a "judicial nature." This will be dangerous in terms of proving rights and ownership, and creates imbalance in the first committee.

The owner has the right to object to the decisions of the “Proprietorship Committee” within eight days, and the decision is categorical; the litigation gets two degrees without a veto, but only one chance to appeal.

The second committee is the "Distribution Committee," whose mission is to distribute the value of the properties on the basis of percentages of shares certificates. The shares cannot be sold or purchased.

The legal source from Damascus stated that those who have been issued eviction notices will be assigned alternative housing in the same area. However, the Distribution Committee does not give out permits to landlords, because new licenses must be issued at a charge.

Landlords may not receive alternative housing

The legal source stated that landlords must use the land they are allocated together with other owners in partnership with a contractor to build new houses. The source explained that a house owner will not necessarily be compensated with a home, because his property becomes part of the shares. The cost of the shares will rise, preventing the landlord from being able to afford property of the same size.

According to Law No. 10, the landlords must choose between three options. The first option is to purchase unbuilt land together with other owners. The second option is to purchase stocks; however, there are "big caveats" because the capital of the company is much larger and controls the decisions. The third option is to sell the shares at an auction and leave the area.

People who live in slums will get only "rubble"

Before the 2011 revolution, one third of the Syrian population lived in slums, and these people are the ones who are now the most affected by Law 10. There are different types of slums, including “illegal” slums, built without a permit. The people living in structures in slums built without a permit will get only “the rubble of their house.” Those who have proof of registration with a water electricity company are entitled to only five percent of the property’s value, as compensation for four years’ rent. They can be allocated alternative housing, but only after proving that they are the legal occupants of the house, which is in most cases “impossible.”

Twenty percent of Syria’s population lives in slums, and up to 40 percent in city centers, according to a study by the engineer Ayas al-Dairi, the assistant director general of the Public Housing Corporation for planning and housing studies.

The Syrian government fights refugees and displaced persons with legal deadlines

The landowners are given only 30 days, 60 days or 90 days to move out of their properties, depending on their period of appeal.

The first deadline concerns "proving the owners' rights to the administrative unit". The legal source thinks that 30 days is insufficient to go through the bureaucracy to prove a landlord’s ownership of a house in Syria at any time, nevermind during war. There are also refugees outside the country who own property, but do not have the ownership documents due to loss or damage. The source said, "If they do not prove their right within 30 days, their right to ownership will be lost."

The source told SMART, “The citizen cannot recover his right if he does not prove it within 30 days, and his ownership must be legalized in the interest of the property." This raises a new problem for those who are outside the country. If a landowner sends a proxy to prove his right, it will take at least three months to complete the process due to the long waiting time for security approvals. Law No. 10 makes it impossible for landowners to prove their right. The law also limits the owners by determining that only family members within four degrees of kinship can conduct the proxy.

What is happening is not a "demographic change"

The source said that what is happening cannot be described as "demographic change," but closer to "economic and social change" because demographic change means to bring a group of “ethnically and socially different people into a new region.” The source stated that the law means, “Only people who look like us can be with us." The source added that those who will buy property in the region are local merchants. For example in Damascus, the Damascene merchants will buy in the district of Joubar.

This point of view explains what Bashar al-Assad asserted in a speech on Aug. 20, 2017, that during the war years Syria has lost its finest young people, and its infrastructure has been damaged, "but in return it has won a harmonious healthy society."

In the realization of his speech, Bashar al-Assad displaced hundreds of thousands of Syrians, especially from Rif Dimashq, starting from the cities of Zabadani, Madaya, Darya, Mu'amdia, Wadi Barada, and Eastern Ghouta, ending with the towns of Babila, Yalda and Beit Sahem in Southern Damascus.

Law No. 10 violates the 2012 Constitution

The source noted that Law No. 10 will be implemented only by the proposal of the Local Administration Minister to the President of the Republic or the People's Assembly to issue a new decree to include the region on the basis of economic feasibility, and gave the authority the responsibility to issue a decision including any land of the Syrian Arab Republic.

The source said that the law allows the executive authority to appropriate the right of ownership, which is considered a "sacred right" by the 2012 Constitution.

Article 15 of Chapter 2 of the 2012 Constitution states that, "collective and individual private property is protected according to the following principles: (a) Public confiscation of funds is prohibited; (b) Private property can be expropriated only for public benefit by decree and in return for fair compensation in accordance with law; (c) Private confiscation can be imposed only by a final judicial decision; (d) Private confiscation of war and public disaster necessities can be permissible by law in return for fair compensation; (e) Compensation should be equivalent to the real value of the property.”

Syrian and Palestinian activists say that the military operation by the Syrian government in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus and the nearby al-Hajar al-Aswad district is part of its systematic plan to “destroy” the area and implement its organizational charts, which began in the area of Basateen Mezzeh behind the Razi hospital.

Will the Syrian refugees and Diaspora declare a "land day" to demand the right of return as Palestinians? This is a question that the international community may have to answer. The international community also has to answer to the deals taking place under the table, whose results are reflected in the displacement buses.