On May 24, Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu laid the foundation stone for a residential village project near the town of Ghandoura in the countryside outside Jarablus in the rural northeastern part of Aleppo governorate, which is under the control of the Ankara-backed Syrian Interim Government (SIG). The project comes amid a broader process by Turkey to repatriate Syrian refugees to opposition-held areas of northern Syria.
“Syrian refugees living in Turkey will settle in [these] homes within the framework of voluntary returns, which preserves their dignity,” Soylu said during a short speech in front of an audience of displaced Syrians, police officers and Syrian opposition factions affiliated with the National Army.
Meanwhile, written on a large billboard at the launching site in both Arabic and Turkish was: “The Safe and Dignified Return Project,” alongside slogans from the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, AFAD (an organisation that operates under the supervision of the Turkish Ministry of Interior), the Qatar Fund for Development and the Turkish Dignified Living Association, according to AFP.
Both the Turkish Minister of Interior and the Director of the Qatar Fund for Development, Khalifa Al-Kawari, laid the foundation stone for the project, the state-run Qatar News Agency reported. The project aims to provide housing for 50,000 people and includes 5,000 apartments alongside public facilities, a mosque, a commercial centre, three schools and a medical centre. There will also be roads, public parks, an electricity network and water tanks available for the returning refugees.
Soylu said during the launch ceremony that 240,000 homes would be built in the area and that he hoped to complete the project within three years. Previously, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in May 2022 that his government was working to build between 200,000 and 250,000 housing units in 13 different areas inside Syria, with funding from various international organisations. This was part of a push to repatriate more than one million Syrian refugees from Turkey, where around 3.7 Syrian refugees currently live under international protection.
The Syria Report’s sources in the area clarified that the Ghandoura project is meant to include only 12,000 apartments, which will be constructed over three phases. The first phase aims to build 5,000 apartments by the end of 2023. This phase already began after Soylu’s visit to the area and also includes construction work to prepare the foundations, infrastructure and surface coverings for the site.
A local official in Ghandoura’s council told The Syria Report that the project is being built on a 58-hectare plot of publicly owned property, which before 2012 was used as an agricultural airport. The official added that the airport had covered 110 hectares, some of which was seized by opposition faction leaders since they took control of the area in 2012. Since then these leaders have been investing in agricultural activity on the land.
The land has changed hands over time as various different factions seized control of the area, with the entire town falling under Islamic State control in 2014-2017. After Turkish-backed National Army forces expelled IS, opposition faction leaders continued squabbling amongst themselves over the land. With Turkish support, the local council in Ghandour was able to recover 58 hectares of the land, which it allocated for the construction of the residential project. The local official in Ghandoura’s council added that the project could later be expanded to cover the entirety of the old agricultural airport, once work on the existing three phases is completed.
A Jarablus Local Council official, told The Syria Report, that the surface area and other specifications for the project’s apartments have yet to be determined. Local authorities were working to put new engineering plans in place for the communities, as well as to set the conditions and specifications for construction and cladding materials. The official added that AFAD would directly supervise implementation of the project.
The apartments will be distributed to people by local councils in the area, a new measure Turkey has imposed after the February 6 earthquake. Under this new rule, NGOs and aid organisations that build residential communities will not be able to distribute the dwellings themselves, but rather via existing local council regulations. The Ghandoura Local Council official said that the homes in the Ghandoura project will be distributed as soon as they are ready, via the local council. The project is entirely allocated for Syrian refugees wishing to return from Turkey, he added, as the project will not benefit internally displaced people.