AMMAN: Despite government rhetoric committing to the return and reintegration of Homs city residents who fled neighborhoods previously controlled by the rebels, civilians trying to return home say that the regime is placing literal and bureaucratic roadblocks to prevent them.
“I tried to return more than once to my house in the Bab a-Sabaa district, but regime forces at checkpoints [have consistently] prevented me from entering the neighborhood,” Ghazi a-Taqawi, a civilian who fled his home in 2012, told Syria Direct on Tuesday. Soldiers at the checkpoint sent him to the local intelligence branch to start the reintegration process.
But once he arrived at the security office, an officer hit him, telling him, “Go away, you don’t have a house here. Go ask the rebels to give you a house,” a-Taqawi said.
Back in April 2014, after the regime had taken back nearly all of rebel-controlled Homs city neighborhoods, the provincial governor, Talal al-Barazi, stressed the government’s commitment to reconciliation agreements and the rebuilding of destroyed neighborhoods so that displaced residents could return, reported the official daily A-Thawra.
Since then, city and provincial officials have repeated these promises. However half a dozen Homs residents told Syria Direct that regime security forces have in fact prevented civilians from returning and it is unclear exactly why.
Despite jumping through bureaucratic hoops and agreeing to pay SP200,000 ($1,059.23) in back electricity and water bills for the years Samir Huriya, a resident from the neighborhood of Jabb al-Jandali, was displaced from his home, regime forces still denied his formal return request six weeks ago.
“As soon as I entered the security branch, they told me to get out of there and that I couldn’t return,” al-Jandali told Syria Direct.
Rusul Binyan, a 52-year-old furniture manufacturer who fled his home in Bab a-Sabaa in March 2012, had a similar experience when he tried to obtain a return permit this past August.
“I actually obtained the document, but the last step was for me to go to the mukhtar [official overseeing the neighborhood] of Bab a-Sabaa. He told me, ‘Look, you can’t return to your houses.’”
“As he kicked me out [of his office], he said that he could do me a favor, offering to buy my house for SP250,000 ($1,324.04) and told me to go get the deed to the house,” said al-Binyan, who did not sell his home.
Both Binyan and al-Jandali noted that the mukhtars they dealt with were not originally from the respective neighborhoods they now oversaw.
‘Immense destruction and roads buried under rubble’
Even if the regime allowed displaced Homs residents from these formerly rebel-held neighborhoods to return, it appears that on some streets at least they would find nothing but debris.
Al-Barazi announced this week that the provincial government, in cooperation with the Homs city council, is starting an extensive road renovation and repair project in the city, reported SANA, adding that two roads in the Dahiyat al-Walid neighborhood were already repaved as the first part of the new initiative.
A total of SP30 million ($158,884.80) was allocated for the street maintenance, according to Nadhim Tayara, the president of the Homs city council. The funds will focus on “the streets with the most damage” from the war “to lessen the suffering of residents as much as possible,” according to the same SANA report.
As with the regime’s previous reconstruction endeavors in the city, these most recent repairs are reportedly taking place only in undamaged loyalist neighborhoods of the city.
“Other neighborhoods remain devoid of residents because they were forced out in mid-2012 due to the destruction of all forms of life there,” Walid al-Aridi, a civilian living in the Homs neighborhood of Bab a-Darib, told Syria Direct on Tuesday.
A former member of the Homs city council, Wael Abu Omar, who fled the city in February of 2014 after he was arrested by regime security forces for undisclosed reasons, said that Dahiyat al-Walid, a neighborhood loyal to the regime, had suffered little if any damage during the fighting.
“The city council is paving the Dahiyat al-Walid neighborhood, which hasn’t suffered any damage throughout the revolution in Homs,” said Abu Omar.
“Meanwhile, immense destruction and roads buried under rubble lie untouched only a few meters away.”