After the earthquake on February 6, 2023, NGOs and international organisations increased their development and relief project activities in regime-controlled areas of Idlib governorate. Some of these organisations now use the homes of displaced persons as their offices.
On May 3, the Syrian Development Horizons Association opened an office in Khan Sheikhoun, with the attendance of the Idlib governor and the local Baath Party branch secretary. Many NGOs working in regime-controlled parts of Idlib have offices in Khan Sheikhoun since the governorate made it the alternative administrative centre for the governorate in late 2021, the city of Idlib being outside its control.
According to a local correspondent for The Syria Report, the headquarters of the Horizons Association is a house that belonged to a member of the Haloum family, who were forcibly displaced to opposition-controlled areas of northern Syria. The home is in the Al-Bira neighbourhood of eastern Khan Sheikhoun. It was damaged by artillery shelling from regime forces, but the association has worked to restore it.
The association claims it rented the house from its owner, though The Syria Report has not been able to independently confirm this claim. Some members of the Haloum family still live in Khan Sheikhoun, and some are members of the regime forces. Those members consider themselves the custodians of all the Haloum family’s homes and properties in Khan Sheikhoun, including those who were forcibly displaced from the city. Therefore, they treat the Haloum properties in Khan Sheikhoun as their own.
In any case, even if the home is rented, the fact that this is occurring on a property whose owners cannot use because they were displaced, can be considered a violation of the housing and property rights of the home owners.
The Horizons Association was declared by the Ministry of Social Affairs Decision No. 477 on February 23, 2023. It describes itself as a provider of social services, including educational support, execution of development projects and support for families returning to their hometowns in Idlib. Despite its recent establishment, the association has carried out projects related to psychological and educational support for children in Idlib, funded by UNICEF, according to what the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Association said in a televised interview, which the Association published on its Facebook page on May 14.
On the other hand, in early May 2023, the governor of Idlib announced the opening of a clinic by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), in the city of Khan Shaykhun. It contains women’s, children’s clinics and offers free medicine. Reportedly, the Italian NGO INTERSOS Humanitarian Aid Organisation supported the opening of this clinic. There is another clinic in Khan Sheikhoun, but it belongs to the Directorate of Health in Idlib. It was opened in July 2021, but its patients reportedly suffer from poor medical services and difficulty obtaining medicines.
A source on the ground told The Syria Report that the new clinic by SARC was established on a property owned by a member of the Muhanna family, who were forcibly displaced to opposition areas in northern Syria. The Syria Report could not find another source to corroborate that information and it is not clear whether the SARC or Idlib Governorate have officially rented the property from its owner. In any case, the state prevents the return of IDPs from opposition areas, unless they submit to a security check by the intelligence services and accept what the regime calls “settlement agreements” and then join the military service for those of conscription age. The state also forbids its citizens to deal with residents of opposition areas. Therefore, even if a rent was paid, the decision to use that property would be a violation of HLP rights.
The Muhanna property, located in the eastern district of Khan Sheikhoun, was a home and not intended as a health centre. The eastern district in Khan Sheikhoun contains bases and offices for numerous security and military departments for regime forces and their Russian and Iranian allies. These forces have seized many houses in the district, via a process called property extortion.
INTERSOS started working in regime-controlled areas of Syria in 2019. It has an office on Aref Al-Shahabi Street in the capital, Damascus, and some of its projects are funded by UNHCR. On May 30, the head of INTERSOS in Syria, Pietro Caborus, and his accompanying delegation, visited the governor of Idlib. During the visit, they discussed the services currently provided by the Red Crescent in the governorate and explored expanding services to cover all sectors, according to a Facebook post by the governorate. Earlier, on March 15, a delegation from INTERSOS, led by its Regional Director for the Middle East Martin Rosselot, as well as the head of SARC’s Idlib branch, visited the winter clothes distribution point for families affected by the earthquake in Maarat al-Numan. They also visited the medical clinic in the town of Al-Tamanah. The clinic has begun providing services to families returning to the area.