Despite recent “presidential instructions” to facilitate the return of residents to the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus, many obstacles remain in place.
According to a correspondent for The Syria Report in the area, a Military Security detachment on Al-Thalatheen Street, where the camp begins, began giving homeowners in the camp daily security approvals, allowing them to enter the camp only temporarily. The approvals include allowing entrants to remove rubble from their homes and deposit it on the streets. The first stage of this initiative will continue from September 10 to October 10.
The correspondent confirmed that the checkpoint prohibited entry into the camp for people who had failed to present official documents proving their real estate ownership.
Some residents told The Syria Report that they were displeased with the ambiguity surrounding the decisions, as official entities did not issue decrees clarifying the next step in the plan or a timeline. It is unclear how the governorate will act towards residents after the October 10 deadline. This is in addition to the lack of clarity surrounding the fate of the camp’s new zoning plan, which the governorate has postponed after facing many objections.
According to those who have managed to enter the camp in the past few days, it has become clear that severe shortages of electricity and fuel for heavy machinery are impeding efforts to remove rubble. The remaining wreckage from airstrikes on Yarmouk is also blocking access to many parts of the camp. Residents said that all the removal of wreckage from homes was done by hand and at their own expense.
A leader from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which has authority over the camp, told the pro-government newspaper Al-Watan on September 12 that instructions from the Syrian presidency have allowed residents to return “unconditionally.” According to this decision, returnees were requested to remove the rubble from their habitable homes and deposit them on the streets in the first stage. Phase two is to begin in October with the removal of the rubble from the streets, as well as removal of buildings at risk of collapse. This will coincide with work to extend the drinking water network and rehabilitate the sanitation and electricity networks. This will be done in coordination between the Damascus governorate, the Palestinian factions, and the Embassy of the State of Palestine.
According to the PFLP-GC leader, the Syrian president also directed the Syria Trust for Development (STD), an NGO run by First Lady Asma Al-Assad, with the help of merchants and store owners, to assist in restoring their properties. This would be done in cooperation with the Damascus governorate and with the participation of international organisations. STD, which is closely tied to the government, contracts with international organisations to carry out development and reconstruction projects.
Around a year ago, the Damascus governorate permitted displaced residents to enter the camp if they met a number of complicated conditions, including showing their ownership documents, paying SYP 8,000, obtaining security approval, and submitting a request to the municipal council in order to send a technical committee to inspect the damage. Until now, only a few dozen people have managed to gain entry and settle into the camp. The Damascus governorate has only succeeded in providing electricity and drinking water to a few main points in the camp, which residents must extend to their homes at their own expense, in addition to enduring all the logistical barriers.
Camp residents suffer from a lack of available bread and fuel inside Yarmouk. According to the Action Group for Palestinians of Syria, there are no shops or supplies sold within the camp, in addition to a lack of transportation for residents to buy items outside Yarmouk.
In late August 2021, UNRWA sponsored the transportation of students inside the Yarmouk Camp to its affiliated schools in the nearby Al-Zahirah neighbourhood.