Violations of housing, land, and property (HLP) are rampant in northern Aleppo governorate, according to a wide-ranging report published in January 2022 by iMMAP, an international NGO that provides information management services to humanitarian organisations. The report focused on areas in Aleppo’s northern countryside alongside the Turkish border, which are under the control of Turkish-backed opposition forces and, thus, under de facto Turkish control.
Northern Aleppo has been the target of successive waves of attacks and land grabs throughout the Syrian war, including by the Islamic State (ISIS), opposition factions backed by Turkey, and Turkish forces, displacing tens of thousands of residents to neighbouring Turkey and other places. In addition, northern Aleppo has been a major destination point for displaced families from other parts of Syria, who were relocated by bus after regime forces recaptured former opposition strongholds outside Damascus and elsewhere. As a result, over 1.3 million people now live in a part of Syria that was home to only 550,000 before the war, according to the report. More than 800,000 of the current 1.3 million residents are displaced people from elsewhere in Syria, one-third of whom live in camps or “collective shelters.”
In addition, the destruction wrought by fighting in northern Aleppo has meant the destruction and loss of key HLP documentation, stored in cadastral offices previously controlled by the regime. However, according to iMMAP, exact statistics on the scope of such losses are “difficult to ascertain.” And of course, wide swathes of properties and lands northern Aleppo had yet to undergo the delimitation process through the regime’s official Cadastral Affairs offices even before the war, meaning that tenure of such properties is weak should owners wish to transfer or prove their ownership.
The result is that this heavily populated corner of Syria – and one now home to a hundred of thousands of vulnerable displaced people – is embroiled in a complex web of potential and ongoing HLP rights issues.
Also notable is the violations reported by Kurdish residents from Afrin, an area in northern Aleppo governorate along the Turkish border. Previously, Afrin had been controlled by the People’s Defense Units (YPG), the Kurdish military force affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkish-backed groups seized Afrin in 2018, displacing nearly 150,000 people, many of whom were Kurds, according to the iMMAP report. The report notes numerous HLP violations since the invasion, including the destruction and looting of homes and seizures of private land, among others.
The report warned of a lack of durable solutions as population growth and poor economic and security conditions continue to mire northern Aleppo governorate.