Since the February 6 earthquake, the rubble in Lattakia has been treated as a sensitive security issue and a taboo topic. The issue is a “red line” for some people. Everything mentioned on the topic relates to the contents of the collapsed homes, such as furnishings and other valuables that remained intact, rather than the rubble itself.
Legally, the rubble belongs to the homeowners. However, owners who spoke with The Syria Report said they had yet to receive compensation for the debris of their homes and properties. They also said they did not have the opportunity to gather their valuables from beneath the rubble before it was removed. Most owners said they don’t know if they can still collect the rubble of their collapsed homes and are too afraid to inquire about the topic.
A source from Lattakia Governorate told The Syria Report that the government transported the earthquake rubble to a dump on the new Aleppo highway. He added that the rubble would be recycled and some of it used as gravel in public road paving projects. However, much of the rubble contains metals such as iron, copper, and aluminium, which “influential merchants” ‘will likely use unofficially, according to the source. He said that this aspect of the rubble is well-known, though the source refused to elaborate further.
Law No. 3 of 2018, which addresses the removal of rubble from buildings after natural or unnatural disasters (or those subject to laws requiring their demolition), gave the owners of demolished real estate the right to the value of their rubble. However, the law left local administrative units responsible for deciding the value of such rubble after selling it in public auctions or recycling it and deducting the demolition and removal costs. Law No. 3 was not mentioned at any stage of the building damage and rubble removal underway in Lattakia post-earthquake.
A source from the Lattakia City Council told The Syria Report that widespread fears around discussing the rubble are unrealistic. Instead, the source said, the problem lies with certain parties in local municipalities trying to cover up corruption and theft during rubble removal by spreading rumours that the topic was a sensitive security issue or a red line. According to this source, the municipal work crews removing the rubble committed major violations against private property.
According to the source, the matter is not merely about “low-income workers having a right to benefit [from the rubble].” Still, it is more systematic and overseen by officials in the municipal councils. Often, the crews responsible for debris removal prevent locals from accompanying them during their work under the pretence of protecting them, while in reality, they are monopolising the debris sites, digging them for valuable items, and stealing them. What remains of the furniture is often unfit for use or recycling. Interestingly, according to the source, the residents have registered no official complaints against the municipal authorities for theft.
In contrast, an informed source from the Lattakia governorate council told The Syria Report that the executive office has been holding regular meetings to follow up on demolishing buildings at risk of collapse and removing their debris. The council has followed the necessary legal procedures during the demolition and deportation operations, including the need for the following documents:
- Police unit control document;
- Property owner’s consent to the demolition and removal; authenticated by the notary;
- Decisions issued by the councils of administrative units to demolish the property based on reports from structural safety committees.
According to the source, each meeting reaffirmed the right of building owners to access the rubble of their homes and to be informed about the details of the demolition and deportation process all the way to the final dump site.
However, the debris removal process did not start until a month after the earthquake. This process included debris from completely collapsed buildings, as well as from severely damaged buildings at risk of collapse due to the quake, which was demolished by crews belonging to the Lattakia City Council and Lattakia governorate, with the help of crews from the Military Construction Establishment (MCE) branch in Lattakia governorate. The MCE is a contractor affiliated with the Ministry of Defence.
The process began with the collapsed building in Lattakia city’s Al-Sijn “prison” neighbourhood. One of the building’s residents said on Facebook that the municipality asked for SYP 70 million to remove the debris. One worker claimed that this payment was to cover the debris removal and sorting costs and allow the residents to take whatever they wanted from their properties. This caused widespread confusion about the responsibilities of the municipalities and the governorate in removing debris and maintaining private property. After that, the municipality suddenly removed the debris from the site without collecting any payment from the former residents or informing them of the removal timeline. This suspicious behaviour has led to rumours spreading amongst city residents that the debris does not belong to the homeowners.
In another instance, an old, dilapidated four-storey building in the Al-Ramal Al-Janoubi area of Lattakia collapsed due to the earthquake. Eyewitnesses recounted that the demolition and debris removal crews from the city council were quick to remove the building’s debris, and the workers did not hesitate to steal valuable items from amongst the rubble, including gold and jewellery. When one of the former residents asked about what happened, officials in the city council denied any thefts occurred.
In the city of Jableh, the bottom three storeys of a four-storey building collapsed. Although the fourth storey partially survived, it was tilted to a dangerous degree. The building owners managed to evacuate furnishings from the fourth storey with the help of a crew from the Jableh municipality. Due to their close relationship with a senior officer, the building owners could steer the crew’s work towards their benefit. They kept the debris for use in reconstructing the building.
Debris removal crews from Lattakia municipalities are still at work today, clearing rubble and reopening closed roads. Teams from the Civil Defence and the Lattakia Fire Brigade accompany these crews. However, violations continue to occur. A volunteer in an NGO was offered temporary work by a relative who works in a demolition and debris removal crew for one of the municipalities. The invitation indicated that the real compensation for the work is the potential to find valuable belongings among the debris. Within this atmosphere of chaos, personal relationships and nepotism, the young volunteer considered this routine and said he was grateful to his relative for providing him with beneficial work.
Meanwhile, a family in one rural Lattakia village could extract all the contents of their partially collapsed house through a crew affiliated with the village municipality and accompanied by members of one of the security agencies where a family member works. The family protected all the contents of their house, and they did not suffer from any theft or looting. They also knew the location of the debris disposal and visited it to retrieve some recyclable items.