The Homs City council issued official statements in February and March detailing how many residents have returned to their homes in war-damaged neighbourhoods of the old city centre, as well as to other areas. However, the statements ignored some Homs neighbourhoods that witnessed widespread destruction and whose residents remained displaced en masse.
Strangely, the statistics included in the statements rely on tracking how many families have returned to Homs, rather than the total number of individual returnees. The statistics are “misleading,” a local source familiar with the returns told The Syria Report, as one individual returnee could be counted as an entire family having returned to Homs. The intention is to suggest larger numbers of returnees than there are in reality, the source added. According to the source, “the actual number of returnees is smaller than the statements suggest, and are mostly elderly people, particularly women. In addition, most of them did not leave Homs city but rather were displaced to other neighbourhoods.” Young people in general, but especially men, mostly remain forcibly displaced in opposition-held areas of northern Syria.
Returns to the old city centre of Homs
According to the statements by the city council, 9,710 families have returned to Homs’ old city neighbourhoods in recent years. Returns were recorded in terms of the number of families that have returned vs. how many were displaced by the war. However, it is unclear what criteria is used to estimate the number of families displaced from the area. The distribution of returns to the old city was as follows:
Some 1,300 families, or 13 percent of those displaced, returned to the Bab Houd; 4,000 families returned to Bab Al-Sabaa (85 percent); 1,650 families returned to Bab Al-Dreib (65 percent); and 1,200 families returned to Bab Tadmur (30 percent). Finally, 1,560 families returned to the two neighbourhoods of Bani Al-Sabaai and JamalEddin (35 percent).
Meanwhile, also according to the city council’s statements, humanitarian organisations restored more than 1,450 houses: 100 houses in Bab Houd, 500 in Bab Al-Dreib, 300 in Bab Al-Sabaa, 150 in Bab Tadmur, and 400 in Bani Al-Sabaai and JamalEddin.
Returns to other neighbourhoods of Homs
People have also returned to neighbourhoods outside the old city centre, according to the statements that council issued in February. The returned families were distributed as follows:
Some 2,100 families returned to Deir Baalbeh Al-Janoubi (30 percent of those displaced); 2,500 families returned to Deir Baalbeh Al-Shimali (35 percent); and 8,100 families returned to Al-Bayadeh (50 percent).
Humanitarian organisations managed to restore more than 3,400 homes in these neighbourhoods: 1,300 homes in Al-Bayadeh, 800 in Deir Baalbeh Al-Janoubi, and 1,300 in Deir Baalbeh Al-Shimali.
As in the old city centre, all of these neighbourhoods saw massive displacement during the battles between regime and rebel forces in Homs in 2012-2014, and were subject to varying degrees of destruction.
Neighbourhoods without returns
The city council did not mention any returns to other neighbourhoods that were destroyed and whose residents had been displaced, such as the Al-Waer neighbourhood in the western part of the city. Opposition fighters based themselves in Al-Waer, where they settled after they withdrew from the rest of Homs city’s neighborhoods in 2014. As a result, regime forces subjected the neighbourhood to siege and bombardment. Residents were also forcibly displaced to the rural northern part of the Homs governorate in accordance with a settlement deal between regime and rebel forces reached in May 2017.
The statements also left out the Baba Amro, Al-Qusour, Al-Qarabis, and Jorat Al-Shiyah neighbourhoods, which were largely destroyed and saw the near total displacement of their residents. While it appears likely that Baba Amro will be subject to zoning under Law No. 10 of 2018, Al-Qusour, Al-Qarabis and Jorat Al-Shiyah are currently subject to an amendment to their original zoning plans.
Reasons for few returns
The president of the Homs City Council said that the low rate of returns was due to poor basic services such as water and electricity, as well as the council’s limited abilities to undertake restoration work and remove rubble. He added that the council was still working on restoration and rubble removal, including the demolition of buildings at risk of collapse. He did not specify a timeline for completion.
There appear to be additional reasons preventing the return of displaced residents. People hoping to return to Homs must visit the security branch that controls the area in order to obtain security approval. Many displaced people are afraid of arrest due to past opposition activities, or because of malicious security reports written against them, or even the possibility of facing financial extortion in exchange for non-arbitrary arrest.