Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported on June 9 that the local council of Darayya, located in the Rural Damascus governorate, has received an approval to restore 50 houses in the city with the support of unnamed international organisations working in Syria. SANA added that these organisations are currently selecting another 60 homes for rehabilitation.
Because of its proximity to Damascus and the Mezzeh military airport, Darayya suffered a severe siege imposed by regime forces between 2012 and 2016. This resulted in the forced displacement of all its residents after entire neighbourhoods were levelled by regime airstrikes. In August 2018, the Rural Damascus governorate announced that the city’s displaced residents could return, provided they submit documents proving property ownership within the city and obtain prior security approval. In mid-2019, some families returned.
Mundhir Al-Azab, the head of Darayya city council, told SANA that the owners of the 50 selected homes were among the lowest-income residents of the city. These houses were inhabited before they were damaged by people Al-Azab described as “terrorists.” They are structurally sound, licensed, and fall within the city’s zoning plan. He added that the same organisations have also chosen 20 commercial shops for rehabilitation.
Al-Azab mentioned that 23,000 homes and 4,000 shops had been rehabilitated by their owners in the city, while efforts are underway to rehabilitate more by the civil community. A correspondent for The Syria Report expressed doubts about this figure, adding that rehabilitating 23,000 homes in the city would theoretically mean the return of approximately 100,000 displaced residents, while sources in the city indicate a population of around 25,000 at most, with some not being fully settled due to poor services.
The city undergoes strict power rationing, with electricity being supplied for just one hour daily. This, in turn, hampers the water supply to the inhabited homes’ tanks, forcing residents to purchase drinking and washing water at their own expense. The streets of Darayya are still filled with rubble and garbage. Many of the city’s buildings are at risk of collapse and pose a public danger. For the most part, those who returned to the city are simply displaced people who have lost ties elsewhere and have not found another place to live.
Notably absent in SANA’s report and Al-Azab’s statements is the specific location of these homes, their owners and the international organisations funding the project. The city council has yet to share the SANA article on its public facebook page. Our correspondent could not determine the locations of these homes, their owners, or whether any closed-door tendering occurred for the renovation projects. The correspondent highlighted the city council’s failure to post any news about the renovations in its headquarters or on its internal announcement board. Via indirect communication, a local council member denied to The Syria Report any knowledge of the project and expressed doubts about its existence altogether.
An informed source from the city told The Syria Report that the news might not be entirely accurate, and the work might not be a full renovation but merely a simple rehabilitation. The source added that the international organisations funding such projects are the ones setting criteria for selecting homes. Often, these organisations stipulate that the house must be inhabited by its owner and the properties have to be undamaged and habitable.
In any case, according to the local source, the process will not go beyond simple rehabilitation work, such as minor repairs, installing doors and windows, and distributing some household items. The source added that the city council frequently makes contracts for rehabilitating homes and government buildings with international NGOs, either through the Syrian Red Crescent or smaller local NGOs, making it hard to ascertain the primary funding source.
The Syria Report’s correspondent added, based on local sources, that the Darayya city council cannot undertake renovation or rehabilitation projects alone as its current budget does not allow for it. Even the government and official buildings, such as the Land Registry and municipal and financial offices were only minimally rehabilitated after the council launched campaigns to collect donations from the community. These buildings were equipped only with the bare minimum of furniture and equipment.