Eviction and evacuation of damaged homes have continued in the Karm Houmed neighbourhood of east Aleppo city amid fears of building collapses. Some of the recent demolitions appear to have been done at random or based on maliciously written reports, rather than on safety standards or legal requirements.
Karm Houmed is among a handful of very low-income informally built neighbourhoods in southeastern Aleppo. Most of the homes there adhere to what is known locally as “Arab housing,” which includes small one- or two-storey unlicensed homes built either on agricultural land that is not slated for construction or on public property. The area also features some multi-storey apartment buildings.
According to a correspondent for The Syria Report in the area, Karm Houmed residents fear their homes could collapse after a building in the nearby Al-Fardous neighbourhood recently crumbled and killed at least 13 people. Some residents have reported cracks in their buildings to the authorities. Many homes in the area have since been evacuated, with local authorities arranging the demolition process afterwards.
Some families have also voluntarily evacuated their homes without notifying authorities after noticing cracks in the walls of their homes. Some of these newly displaced families have moved in with relatives or are staying in rental homes in neighbouring districts.
Many houses in the area were damaged from wartime fighting and heavy regime bombardment when opposition forces controlled eastern Aleppo between 2012 and 2016. “Barrel bombs,” dropped by regime forces over the neighbourhood, have been especially responsible for the damage. The indirect effects of these attacks have begun to surface, i.e. cracks in many walls and damage to weak foundations due to water leaks from poorly maintained and damaged sewage pipes.
The correspondent reported that in mid-September, residents submitted a complaint to the Qadhi Askar Department of Services, part of the Aleppo City Council, saying that there were cracks in a two-storey building that houses three families and a total of about 20 individuals. One day later, the city council evacuated the building at night, albeit without providing alternative shelter for the residents. The evacuated families went to stay with relatives in nearby areas.
Afterwards, on September 17, machinery provided by the Aleppo branch of the Ministry of Defence’s Military Housing Establishment demolished the building with help from the Faylaq Al-Mudafaeen Halab (Aleppo Defenders Corps), a pro-Iran militia. According to The Syria Report’s correspondent, the Qadhi Askar Department of Services does not have the machinery or equipment required to demolish buildings and remove rubble, so it requested assistance from the Military Housing Establishment and from the Faylaq Al-Mudafaeen Halab’s services unit. The unit is areas under the control of the militia and performs public service tasks as an ostensibly civilian arm of the group. Karm Houmed is among the areas under the control of the militia and the Baqir Brigade, a militia loyal to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
The Aleppo City Council also recently informed residents of other nearby buildings that they must evacuate. But because no alternative shelter or housing was provided, most of those evacuated residents simply returned home after a few days, despite the cracks in their buildings.
Another worrying phenomenon has emerged since the collapse of the apartment building in Al-Fardous, according to The Syria Report’s correspondent. Namely, security informants or regular people write reports on cracked buildings, which they submit to the Qadhi Askar Department of Services and the Aleppo City Council’s Public Safety Committee. While some of the reports are factual and include information on the dangers to the building as reported by residents and neighbours, other reports are written in bad faith with the aim of deliberately removing the residents of some buildings due to previous conflicts. Neither the Qadhi Askar Department of Services nor the Public Safety Committee verifies the level of risk described in these reports.
For example, the Qadhi Askar Department of Services recently received a report about cracks in a six-storey building in the Al-Saliheen neighbourhood. The building was immediately evacuated and sealed by the Al-Saliheen police force. Notably, the building has no residents but does have a sewing workshop occupying the ground and first storeys. Though the building was indeed damaged and unsafe, the writers of the report apparently had a dispute with the owners of the sewing workshop and wanted to remove them from the premises, according to The Syria Report’s correspondent.