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Assad regime seizure laws leave 14 million Syrians facing legal battles to reclaim property, report reveals

May 28, 2023 at 9:38 am

Syrians who have returned to the Syrian town of Jarabulus on October 3, 2016 [Halil Fidan/Anadolu Agency]

Around 14 million Syrians face significant obstacles preventing their return to their homes in Syria due to the regime’s seizure of land and property over the past decade, a new report has revealed.

According to a report by the UK-based Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), shared with The Guardian newspaper, property laws in Syria which were passed by its assembly or by government executive order have allowed the regime’s unprecedented seizure of land and property belonging to citizens who were displaced or fled the country.

As a result of a year-long study of those laws passed by the regime both before and after the start of the Syrian revolution in 2011, the report highlighted laws such as the decree No. 66, which was passed in 2012 and targeted opposition strongholds through the front of redeveloping informal settlements throughout the capital Damascus.

In 2015, decree No. 23 named the planning and urban development law – was subsequently passed, which granted power to local authorities such as municipalities and governorates to deduct land from private properties located outside certain zoning areas, without any charge or compensation.

Then, in 2018, a new law allowed the regime to expand the aforementioned development area scheme of Damascus to the whole of the country, giving property owners nationwide only 30 days to appeal against the seizure of their property by proving their ownership. That law was, however, amended later that same year following an outcry.

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“People are afraid to go back because, even if they have documentation or access to civil registries to prove their ownership of a property, multiple laws have been passed that leave them with no rights, and in practice no compensation”, said Fadel Abdul Ghany, SNHR’s executive director. “The laws are being used as a carte blanche for the Syrian regime to take over all the strategic and important areas of Syria.”

He clarified that those laws instituted by the regime of Bashar Al-Assad directly affect the families of the 500,000 Syrian civilians killed primarily by Syrian and allied forces but not yet registered as dead, alongside the 115,000 forcibly disappeared and the 12.3 million people internally displaced within Syria and those who have fled the country.

The report comes amid efforts by countries in the region – such as neighbouring Lebanon and Turkiye – to deport or pressure Syrian refugees to leave and return to Syria. Aside from the more obvious dangers of arrest, detention, torture or death at the hands of Syrian security services, the returnees will increasingly also face the loss of their properties, homes, and lands.

Many of those laws set by the Assad regime would have to be reformed or recast, according to Ghany and the report, in order to provide returnees and their families with an avenue to overcome such legal obstacles to reclaim their properties.

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