Hundreds of residents return to regime-controlled Homs city months after leaving in rebel surrender agreement

AMMAN: More than 500 people returned to their homes in a former rebel-held district of Homs city on Tuesday, citing unbearable living conditions in Syrian’s northern displacement camps.

A convoy of buses carrying 200 families arrived in the Waer district of Homs city on Tuesday afternoon after leaving the rebel-held northern Aleppo countryside city of Jarablus the day before, local pro-regime and pro-opposition media outlets reported.

“We can’t take this tragic situation any longer,” Adnan, a 50-year-old resident who returned to Waer with his family, told Syria Direct just before leaving Jarablus on Monday.

“Today, the conditions we’re living in are forcing us to return,” the father of four added.

Adnan was one of 511 residents to leave Jarablus on Monday, Abdul Khalil, the head of the Jarablus Local Council told Syria Direct the same day.

It is the largest group of former evacuees so far to return to the Waer district of Homs since the regime regained control of the western neighborhood in May.

  Returnees arrive in Homs city's Waer district on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Photos Homs al-Waer.

Tuesday's returnees are among thousands of civilians and rebels who initially left the Waer district as part of a Russian-brokered evacuation agreement reached between opposition fighters and the regime in March.

The surrender agreement saw more than 15,000 rebels and families leave the last opposition-held district of Homs city over the following months, with the last convoy departing in May, Syria Direct reported at the time. Regime forces then reasserted control over the district, which it had encircled since 2013, thereby regaining full control of Syria's third-largest city.

Those who left Waer had the option to go to rebel-held Idlib province, to the blockaded northern Homs countryside or to ill-equipped camps in the northern Aleppo countryside. Waer’s 50,000 residents could also choose to remain in their homes.

For some residents who chose to leave for northern Aleppo, rather than return to life under regime control, conditions in displacement camps on the outskirts of Jarablus were, in their words, appalling.

Syria Direct has previously reported on unsanitary conditions in the camps, lack of basic medical services and prohibitively high rent costs pushing residents to live in tents provided by the Turkish Red Crescent.

 Returnees in the north Aleppo town of Tadef on Monday, en route to al-Waer. Photo courtesy of SANA.

“No one can say anything about [our decision to return] until they’ve been in a tent flooded with rainwater or lived for two days without water,” said Adnan, the 50-year-old returnee.

Over the past week, civilians wanting to return to Waer gave their names to a committee in the Jarablus camps. The list was forwarded to a regime representative through an opposition negotiator serving as a go-between.

Though Abdul Khalil told Syria Direct that 511 residents registered to depart, several pro-regime outlets reported that 630 returnees arrived in Homs city on Tuesday.

The Jarablus Local Council president told Syria Direct that the discrepancy is likely because certain families might have left for Waer without registering in Jarablus.

The journey from Jarablus took approximately 24 hours, as the convoy passed first through the rebel-held city of al-Bab in northern Aleppo province, and then to neighboring, government-held Tadef, where they switched buses. Residents finally arrived in Waer on Tuesday afternoon after stopping on the outskirts of Homs city for security checks.

Tuesday's convoy was not the first time former Waer residents have opted to return to regime-held Homs city over remaining in Jarablus.

Homs governor Talal Barzani welcomed dozens of former residents who chose to return to Waer in early May, Syria Direct reported at the time. 

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor. She left Syria at the beginning of the conflict.

Tariq Adely

Tariq Adely graduated from Brown University in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in comparative literature and translation. He continued his studies at the Qasid Institute and the Institute for Critical Thought in Amman, Jordan.