A team from UNRWA is continuing to assess the damages to real estate in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp south of Damascus. However, the assessment does not include an action plan to clarify the next steps for the return of residents to the camp.
According to the Action Group for Palestinians of Syria, a London-based human rights watchdog that monitors the situation of Palestinian refugees in Syria, the UNRWA team is assessing properties by scale of destruction and safe habitability. They classify buildings into three categories, marked by drawings they place at the entrance: an empty circle for habitable buildings; a circle with a slash through the middle for restorable buildings; a circle containing an X for uninhabitable buildings. This assessment comes as residents face a deadline to remove remaining rubble from their homes by the end of October.
The Damascus Governorate has permitted some real estate owners to remove rubble from their properties in the camp since the beginning of September, while the governorate handled the removal of rubble in the streets. Since September 10, these property owners were allowed temporary entry into the camp on a daily basis without prior security approvals. They are permitted to enter in the morning to remove the debris from their homes, but must leave in the evening. Returning to reside in the camp still requires prior security approval.
An informed source told The Syria Report that so far no more than 500 families have obtained security approvals to return and live inside the camp, while only 300 other families were allowed temporary entry to remove rubble from their homes. However, for those who have returned, it has become clear that the electricity cuts and shortages of fuel for heavy machinery have hampered the rubble clearing process. In addition, the rubble, which is mostly a result of the intense aerial bombardment of the camp, presents serious obstacles to reaching many parts of the camp.
There is uncertainty regarding the situation of the camp, as official parties have yet to clarify the next steps following the rubble removal deadline. According to an informed source, current removal work is not carried out in accordance with Law. No 3 of 2018, which concerns the removal of rubble from damaged buildings. The source added that current operations are haphazard and not based on any official decisions or laws.
The source pointed out that there are still complications surrounding the security approvals required to return and live inside the camp. The governorate has demanded that prospective returnees show receipts for electricity, water, and phone bills since 2012. This is a virtually impossible precondition because these services were halted in 2012 when regime forces imposed a siege on the camp. In addition, paying bills for nonexistent services will only increase the financial burdens on those hoping to return to the camp, most of whom are impoverished and have few other options for housing. And even when people are able to offer such receipts, their return to the camp remains subject to security approval, which is a decision made by the security services and is unrelated to the Damascus Governorate.
The fate of the camp’s zoning plan is also unclear, as the governorate has delayed issuing the plan after facing many objections. According to the source, the biggest legal problems facing the issuance of the zoning plan stem from Law No. 23 of 2015, an Urban Planning and Urbanisation Law that specifies the methods for issuing zoning plans, as well as the methods for handling areas where there are building code violations and informal housing. The law excludes real estate property that has been previously subject to zoning from being incorporated into a new zoning area except by decree; however, such a decree has not yet been issued for Yarmouk. The source confirmed the previous existence of a zoning plan for the camp, No. 1915, issued on December 26, 2004.