Many displaced residents of the Husseiniyeh Palestinian Refugee Camp southeast of Damascus have been unable to return, after it appears to have been turned into a military compound with only one entrance and exit through a security checkpoint.
Al-Hussseiniyeh is in the Housh Sahia area, located 13 kilometres from the Damascus city centre and two kilometres from Sayyida Zeinab. It was once considered the second largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, with 50,000 residents in 2012, more than half of whom were Palestinian refugees according to unofficial statistics from the Palestinian Refugees Portal website. The camp is also relatively new, established in 1982. It was supervised by three municipalities that fell administratively within the Damascus, Damascus Countryside and Quneitra governorates. Al-Husseiniyeh underwent urban expansion and a rising population as a result of displacement from the Jaramana refugee camp in the 1980s. Residents of the Jaramana camp were fleeing the government’s demolition of their homes to expand the road network at the entrance to the city of Jaramana.
Al-Husseiniyeh faced massive destruction by regime artillery fire, barrel bombs and aerial strikes during the brief period of opposition control in 2013. The bombing caused the displacement of most camp residents and put the electricity and sewage networks out of service.
Regime forces prevented displaced residents from returning to the camp until August 2015, nearly three years after recapturing it, claiming they were protecting residents from war remnants and rehabilitating the camp. In early 2016, the Minister of Reconciliation stated that the government was rehabilitating Al-Husseiniyeh’s infrastructure, including electricity networks, roads, sewage, and water in order to facilitate return to the camp. He said the costs amounted to SYP 300 million.
The Military Security branch in the area only allowed people back into the camp if they could prove ownership of their properties there and obtain security approval. Families whose members had been in the political or armed opposition or participated in civil society organisations during the period of opposition control were expressly banned from returning, local sources told The Syria Report.
To restrict movement in Al-Hussseiniyeh, entries and exits were all funnelled through one Military Security checkpoint at the main entrance to the camp. The camp’s remaining entryways were blocked off with dirt mounds.
After retaking the camp, regime forces seized the homes of opposition members, allowing the families of foreign and local Shia militia fighters to take up residence. Regime forces also blew up a number of other homes after confiscating the possessions still inside. The number of returnees to Al-Husseiniyeh never reached more than half of its former population, according to local sources.
Those who returned to the camp did so in stages. First were the families of Reconciliation Committee members and the families of regime soldiers and pro-regime militia fighters killed in battle, followed by public sector and government ministry employees. The rest of the population was allowed after them. However, the Military Security checkpoint prevented certain families from returning even if they had obtained security approval, on the pretext that one of their family members had belonged to an opposition institution or armed faction. Former tenants in the camp were also prevented from returning.
Residents of Al-Husseiniyeh still suffer from deteriorating public services, including sewage problems, drinking water and electricity cutoffs, poor phone coverage and uncollected garbage. Theft is also rampant, while criminal gangs impose fines.
In November 2020, camp residents submitted an official complaint to the municipal authorities, asking for the removal of the main checkpoint and dirt mounds. The mounds had made it difficult for residents to move around, as they had to walk long distances to reach the main entrance, which had become a dumping zone for uncollected trash. The municipality responded to the complaint saying that the issue was not within their powers, but rather fell to the security forces.