A rebel campaign to gain more territory in Hama province this past summer pushed residents of regime-held towns and villages to flee. Hundreds of them landed in Masyaf, one such town 40km west of Hama city, home to Alawites and Ismaili Shiites.  

“The internally displaced believed that the city’s population would welcome them,” says a female activist in Maysaf.

Instead of a warm welcome for their compatriots, however, the displaced were instead put up in a dilapidated school building, a facility “which hasn’t been repaired in 50 years,” the activist, who requested anonymity, tells Syria Direct’s Mohammed Ghazi.

“The prevailing atmosphere in Masyaf is that anyone coming from an area where there is fighting is a possible terrorist, and the regime’s propaganda plays a large role in this.”

Q: Why did people start fleeing to Masyaf?

Fleeing civilians have been coming to Masyaf for some time, but their numbers have increased in the last few months after the fighting in the Hama and Aleppo countrysides intensified. Of course, they are loyal to the regime; it’s impossible to enter Masyaf without first passing through arduous security checks which ensure that no one coming in has any connection to the opposition.

These people chose Masyaf because it is under the complete control of the Syrian regime and because it is surrounded by Alawite territory, so it is well-protected and secure.

The IDPs believed that the city’s population would welcome them, however, the prevailing atmosphere in the town is that anyone coming from an area where there is fighting is a possible terrorist, and the regime’s propaganda plays a large role in this.

Q: Describe the living conditions for the displaced in Masyaf.

In the summer, fleeing civilians started living in the local school. The school is old and run down. It hasn’t been repaired for 50 years because the government rents it from a private owner, so no one bothers to fix it up. The school is unfit for people to live in. It doesn’t have the heating utilities to keep people warm in Masyaf’s extreme cold.

Q: What was the offer regime officials made to the squatters living in the school?

Regime officials and the National Defense militia have counted and prepared the people to be moved to Hama, where it promised them housing. The regime forces went down to the school in a provocative show of force and on Tuesday gave the IDPs a five-day period before it will remove the IDPs by force. The people however, refused to be relocated.

Q: Why would they refuse this offer?

I talked with a displaced man living in the school and he believes the regime wants to put them in Hama city to use them as human shields in case opposition forces attempt to capture it, because the opposition will not strike civilians. They don’t believe the regime’s reason for moving them is to improve their situation and give them housing. [Ed.: The rebels are within 25km of Hama city.]

Q: How could this situation end?

The residents don’t have the numbers to resist this order. They might actually end up in Hama; in this area, the regime is especially barbaric. It could be resolved through mediation, or it may be a way for the regime to draft some of the youths into its ranks.