Regime forces and local pro-regime militias from Daraa have been attacking and harassing displaced Bedouin communities living in encampments between the Suweida and Daraa governorates in recent weeks to drive them out. The raids have pushed many displaced families to flee to the eastern Badia desert in the Suweida governorate for safety.
Between Suweida and Daraa governorates, there are encampments of displaced people, mostly Bedouin tribespeople from Suweida who fled their homes at different points during the war between 2014 and 2020. The largest wave of displacement happened in 2015 from Al-Asfar, an area in the rural northeastern parts of the Suweida governorate with the highest number of Bedouin. At the time, fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq, Syria, and later opposition factions, seized control of the area before regime forces recaptured it in 2018.
The clashes damaged local infrastructure and most homes in the area’s ten villages. Bedouins in Syria, which were previously nomadic, are now sedentary and live in villages, contrary to what their name suggests. Regime forces also completely bulldozed some Bedouin villages in the Al-Lajat area in 2018, including the village of Haush Hamad. Despite Russian mediation in 2019, regime forces only granted permission for some Bedouin residents of northeastern Suweida governorate to return home under certain conditions. Only a small number of them actually made the return, most of them livestock herders. The main reason residents have avoided returning is the government’s failure to rehabilitate infrastructure and repair the electricity and water networks promptly. Regime forces and the Palestine Liberation Army, a pro-regime militia, also run numerous checkpoints in the area and have taken control of some homes and schools as military bases. Unexploded shells and landmines are spread throughout the area as well.
The largest encampments of displaced Bedouins are between the towns of Bousra Al-Sham in Daraa and Al-Qurayya in Suweida, in addition to some other encampments in the flatlands of Al-Mliha, Sama Al-Henaidat, Nahta and Al-Dara. Other camps are in the flatlands of Ara, Kanaker, Al-Thaala, Al-Aslaha, Sukkaka, and Um Walid. In addition, there are smaller refuges in the Al-Lajat area.
Around 1,000 people are today living in the flatlands between Sama Al-Heneidat in western Suweida and Al-Mliha in eastern Daraa alone. The displaced families live in over 80 canvas tents spread out across farmlands. Some of them pay the landowners to stay there, while others live on about two dozen farms belonging to residents of Daraa and Suweida. Displaced families have in recent years turned to farm labour as a source of income, with landowners in the area depending on them for work, harvesting, guarding farmland and taking care of livestock. As a result, they have become the main driving workforce in the local economy, some even now owning land, houses, and farms.
But on April 27, regime forces and allied militias put a security cordon around the area between Sama Al-Henaidat and Al-Mliha, then stormed dozens of tents and farms where the displaced Bedouin families had been living. The raids included arrests, destruction, and the looting of property and tents and aimed to remove “strangers” from the area, according to those who took part.
Participating in the regime raids was a pro-regime militia formed from a “reconciliation” faction in Daraa. Such factions are former opposition forces that reconciled with the regime in 2018 and began coordinating with regime forces. Last month’s raids lasted four hours, during which militants attacked and insulted the displaced Bedouin, including the women. They also stole money, furniture, cars, motorbikes, and livestock and dismantled some tents. Militia members also threatened the Bedouin families telling them to leave the area. The militants withdrew after arresting nine displaced Bedouin people and handing them over to the Military Intelligence branch in Daraa. Authorities released the nine detainees after a short interrogation.
Then, on the morning of April 29, fighters from the Eighth Brigade of the Fifth Corps stormed several Bedouin homes in the village of Jbib, also stealing their cars, motorbikes and some other belongings. The Eighth Brigade is based in Busra Al-Sham and commanded by Ahmad Al-Awda. It is among the most prominent reconciliation factions, operating under Military Intelligence and backed by Russia. The brigade’s raid on Jbib came three days after they gave an ultimatum to displaced Bedouin families to leave.
As a result of the raids, many families of displaced Bedouin were displaced and fled into eastern Suweida’s Badia desert area. Military Intelligence escorted them, offering protection during their move in exchange for payment.
According to a local correspondent for The Syria Report, the attacking forces accuse the Bedouin encampments of harbouring drug traffickers and others involved in organised crime. However, these accusations appear exaggerated, placing the blame for all the area’s security problems on the displaced Bedouins amid rising hostility by reconciliation factions in eastern Daraa.
A displaced man from the village of Al-Qassar told The Syria Report that he has been living in the area since 2018 and works as a guard for a vegetable farm. He also owns some livestock, which were stolen in the latest raid. He said he could not return to his home village in northeastern Suweida because his house was destroyed by shelling in 2017. The man added that he is wanted for mandatory military service, and returning home would mean having to undergo security settlement with the Military Intelligence branch in Daraa and committing to joining the military within a short deadline. Finally, fleeing the Badia desert area, as others have done, would be difficult following years of drought and dangerous security conditions there.