Despite the harsh living conditions in displacement camps in Lebanon, some Syrian women prefer not to return to their home city of Qusayr, located in the rural southwestern part of Homs governorate. Returning poses a high risk amid the widespread destruction to many homes and a slim likelihood of repairing or rehabilitating them, as Hezbollah holds direct military and security control over Qusayr.
A decade ago, Umm Mohammad was displaced to Lebanon from her home village in the countryside outside Qusayr. A widow in her 30s raising six children, she moved between camps and faced poor housing conditions. Most recently, she ended up in a camp where she pays annual rent to a landowner to live in a tent with her children.
Umm Mohammad was forced to flee Qusayr after her husband was killed during clashes between Syrian opposition forces and the Lebanese Hezbollah group in 2013. He had been the family’s sole breadwinner and worked as a tractor operator on farmlands owned by other people, Umm Mohammad told The Syria Report. According to her, Hezbollah not only killed her husband, but also destroyed their home and confiscated the tractor, the family’s sole source of income. Since then, Umm Mohammad and her children have been homeless and without income. She did not work prior to her husband’s killing and did not study past elementary school, leaving her with no choice but to leave to Lebanon, she said.
Umm Mohammad showed the title deed for her destroyed home to a correspondent for The Syria Report, explaining that she is afraid to return to Qusayr. She fears pursuit by security forces, as well as the possibility of declaring her possession of the title deed.
Qusayr is located within the Homs governorate some 15 kilometres from the Lebanese border and encompasses more than 80 surrounding towns and villages. Hezbollah and Syrian regime forces took control of Qusayr in June 2013, displacing around 50,000 people–that is, the majority of residents of Qusayr and the surrounding countryside–to Lebanon. Since then, Hezbollah has run Qusayr as a military zone, with training camps, weapons depots, an airport and barracks. Today, Qusayr is considered to be under Hezbollah, rather than Syrian state control. There is also a great deal of confusion surrounding housing, land and property rights in the area, as only a handful of displaced people were permitted to return home to Qusayr. Widespread demolitions and physical changes to many parts of Qusayr as it became a military zone have also contributed to the confusion.
The Syria Report also met with Maryam, a widow in her 40s from Qusayr. Her house was destroyed 10 years ago by a Hezbollah missile, killing her husband and disabling her youngest child, she said. Maryam has no place to return to in Qusayr, and prefers to stay in the Syrian displacement camps in Lebanon. “My house was destroyed, and all the residents of the village were displaced,” she said. “I don’t have any more family members there.” On top of that, Maryam’s oldest son will soon turn 18 years old, making him eligible for compulsory military service in Syria. For Maryam, returning to Qusayr is out of the question, despite all the difficulties of staying in Lebanon.
The Qusayr City Council announced the issuance of a new zoning plan for the city in October 2018, in accordance with the controversial Law No. 10. The 2018 law stipulates that one or more development zones may be established within the general zoning plans of an administrative unit. Through the new zoning plan, Qusayr became the first instance of Law No. 10 being applied in practice. The city council announced a one-month deadline for people to submit objections to the new zoning plan, despite most residents having been displaced. Then in November 2018, Law No. 10 was amended, extending the deadline for objections to one year. Still, the Qusayr City Council made no announcement to extend their deadline. And four years after its supposed implementation, no further details or announcements have been issued about the new zoning plan.