The Syrian Salvation Government (SSG), which is affiliated with hardline Islamist group Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham, is reportedly trying to collect rent money from a displacement camp built on land that belongs to the Syrian state. It is unclear whether SSG intends to provide any services in exchange for the money.
Last month, the SSG’s agricultural office in the northern Idlib town of Deir Hassan demanded that displaced people living in the Al-Deir camp in Jabal Al-Sheikh Barakat pay rent on the land where the camp had been built.
Most people living in Al-Deir camp come from the town of Kafr Sijneh in rural southern Idlib governorate, now under the control of regime forces. The camp is built on mixed-ownership land: some of it is private property, such as real estate plot no. 701, while the rest is land publicly owned by the Syrian state. The area on which the camp was first established is considered an archaeological site. There, both private and public ownership is restricted by the Archaeological Law included in Legislative Decree No. 222 of 1963, as well as subsequent amendments.
Article Four of Decree No. 222 affirms that all movable and immovable antiquities, as well as archaeological sites are public state property. There are two types of antiquities, according to the law: those that are immovable and fixed to the ground, and those that are movable.
Article Four does not consider fixed antiquities to be state property if the owner of the land is able to provide proof of ownership with official documents. However, according to Article Six, ownership of the land does not give owners the right to dispose of antiquities located on that property or adjacent properties. This does not mean that the owner of the property cannot impose rent on the occupants, but rather restricts occupants’ disposal of the property.
A second problem with the camp’s land is related to the owner of plot no. 701, a Christian from rural Idlib who bought the land in 2008. SSG authorities confiscated the property under the pretext that the owner resides in government-held areas. The SSG often confiscates real estate owned by people now living in government areas, with a particular focus on members of regime forces, who often have large properties.
The SSG now considers itself the owner of the camp’s land. Land previously owned by the Syrian state automatically fell under the ownership of the SSG, which further confiscated privately owned lands.
In July 2020, the SSG’s Ministry of Agriculture released a circular prohibiting informal construction and establishment of camps on both privately and state-owned agricultural lands. The measure also called for adherence to zoning plans laid out by local councils. In a second circular issued in September, the Ministry of Agriculture demanded that displaced people not purchase state-owned lands from any individuals or other parties. The circular included a threat against those selling state-owned lands as private property, adding that punitive measures would be taken against them.
The Deir Hassan agricultural office sent lease contracts to the manager of Al-Deir camp, requesting that residents sign. Some 153 families live in the camp, about 750 people. They are spread across 110 tents. The agricultural office has charged a sum of 50 Turkish liras per year for each tent.
Camp residents have refused to pay and returned the contracts unsigned. Subpar living conditions in the camp, as well as many residents’ difficult financial situations, mean they are unable to pay rent. The SSG, meanwhile, is not providing any services to justify its intent to collect rental payments on the camps, which are located on rugged unpaved roads with no sewage networks or public sanitation. Only the IYD, a Turkey-based Syrian NGO, has provided camp residents with water via tankers, about one year ago.