Regime loyalists, coordinating with military and security officials, are investing in farmlands left behind by families forcibly displaced in 2018 from East Ghouta to opposition-held northern Syria. Such land usage takes place without paying rent to the actual landowners.
Various East Ghouta mayors and Baath Partyofficials had warned remaining residents against cultivating lands belonging to displaced people without first obtaining either written or electronic authorisation from the landowners themselves. However, residents are afraid to seek out such authorisation, as security forces monitor electronic communications and arrest those found to be communicating with forcibly displaced people, even if they are from the same family.
According to a correspondent for The Syria Report in the area, these instructions had three interlocking goals: first, to bar residents from investing in displaced families’ lands and benefiting from their agricultural production to make an income and survive; second, to bar displaced people from obtaining the proceeds of any agricultural production on their lands; and third, to restrict usage of the land to a narrow segment of East Ghouta residents who are loyal to the regime, on condition they share any proceeds with security and military officials in charge of the area.
In effect, the military and security apparatus has allowed pro-regime residents of East Ghouta to cultivate farmland belonging to displaced people, provided that they allocate part of their profits to officers. This security protection also helped pro-regime farmland investors by granting them access to irrigation water and aid supplies such as fertiliser, seeds, and fuel before other non-loyalist farmers. According to The Syria Report’s correspondent, some non-loyalist farmers have been pushed into forced labour to irrigate seized farms. When recapturing East Ghouta from rebels in 2018, security and military forces confiscated mechanical and electric water pumps, as well as generators, which were later used to irrigate farms seized from displaced residents.
In some cases, farmers requested the right to cultivate farmlands belonging to their displaced siblings, arguing that the land was still commonly owned. These requests were rejected, with the justification that the lands in question are originally Amiri lands categorised as private state property. The lands were distributed to farmers under the agricultural reform laws of 1963. Consequently, regime officers allegedly said that they should be the first in line to invest in such lands, as they are “government property”.
Military and security officials in East Ghouta control many aspects of farmers’ work there, including imposing illegal taxes on them in exchange for so-called ‘security approvals’ to fulfil their most basic agricultural rights. This includes security approvals for digging and rehabilitating artesian wells, installing pumps on certain branches of the irrigation network, removing earthen mounds that were put in place during the fighting in East Ghouta and clearing landmines.