Millions of Syrian refugees stand permanently to lose the homes they fled, under a new law from the Assad regime confiscating vacated property.
“Law Ten” gives Syrian home owners until May 10 to present their property deeds to their local council or face the liquidation of their titles and the seizure of their homes. The law took effect this month, giving Syrians only 30 days to comply or lose their property to the state.
Almost half the population have fled their homes over the course of the seven-year conflict. About six million Syrians are living outside the country as refugees and seven million more are displaced within its borders.
Rescuing survivors after an airstrike in eastern Ghouta
More than 100,000 civilians have been displaced in the past two weeks after rebel strongholds around Damascus struck evacuation deals with the government. Rebel fighters and civilians who left the areas were transported to the opposition-held Idlib province.
Under the new law, anyone seeking to re-register their property must first gain approval from the feared state security organisation which operates only in government-held areas. Thousands of opposition activists and supporters, within Syria and abroad, are subject to arrest warrants.
The government says the new law is designed to combat squatting and aid the reconstruction of areas destroyed by the war. Many of those affected, however, say it is designed to prevent their eventual return.
Kristyan Benedict, Amnesty International UK’s Syria campaign manager, said: “This appears to be an attempt by the Assad government to cynically benefit from the traumatic uprooting of millions of civilians from their homes. The international community should unite in opposing any attempt to seize the property of displaced Syrians.”
Mohammed Haider, an opposition activist from Homs who lives as a refugee in Beirut, said: “It is a way for the Assad regime to cleanse Syria of all opposition.”
His extended family owns a building in Homs where more than 30 relatives used to live. All fled during the fighting that reduced much of the city to rubble, although their building is still standing.
Assad has shown other signs that he is looking to create a regime-friendly Syria in the post-conflict territory that he controls. This week he told the Russian parliament that his country needs $400 billion of investment and ten to 15 years to rebuild; money he is looking to Russia to provide.
“We are not waiting for western companies here, especially in the oil and gas sphere,” Assad said. “I spoke about that with President Putin in Sochi. We want Russian companies to work here, and we expect their fast market entry.”
Some oil income is already flowing to Moscow: Russian mercenary companies operating in Syria are believed to be receiving a share of the profits from oilfields they capture.
The World Bank has estimated the damage to the country at $250 billion. Swathes of its largest cities, Aleppo, Damascus, and Homs, lie in ruins.
Donors at a conference in Brussels pledged $4.4 billion in humanitarian aid for Syria and neighbouring countries that are sheltering refugees; significantly short of the more than $7 billion the United Nations was seeking. Britain pledged $620 million for projects including the protection of civilians, aid workers and hospitals.
Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, has called on Russia, Turkey and Iran to push Assad back to the negotiating table, noting that many donors refuse to help rebuild Syria until progress towards peace is made. Jordan warned that anger among neglected refugees could lead to the revival of Isis.