BEIRUT: Hundreds of thousands of Syrians could potentially have their land and property confiscated by the state under a newly introduced law last month, once a deadline to provide proof of ownership expires early this month.
The law, enacted on April 2, 2018, stipulates that Syrians must register their properties within 30 days or risk having their homes reappropriated once a new develpoment zone has been deisgnated.
Under the new rules, Syrians need to provide the necessary documents to local administrators or have relatives do so on their behalf. The law focuses on areas near the capital Damascus and those under the government’s control, experts say.
According to article 2 of the law, the local administration would issue an advertisement in a printed and online publication that calls on all those affected by the law to come forth with the necessary paperwork within the month-long period. Yet the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that less than 9% of the 5 million Syrians who have left their homeland possess property certificates.
Failing to do so would result in these lands, homes, and properties to fall under a broad reconstruction plan according to the newly ratified property law.
Although a form of compensation is promised, it is likely that the number of eligible Syrians for reimbursement would be very limited.
Syria’s been ravaged by a bloody civil war which has forced millions to flee their homeland, with many of them unable to return within the tight timeframe to retain ownership of their belongings.
Logistical reasons are not the only factor that might hinder some refugees' return home, as others fear persecution by the state or even death.
The law has raised concerns among experts who argue that it’s a mean for Assad to implement a drastic plan with a social engineering undertone.
Ongoing battles raging over the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp south of Damascus have led thousands to flee, while another offensive to capture the neighbourhoods of Tadamon and Hajar al Aswad near the capital has also gained traction in recent days.
The timing of the law has also raised questions among experts, who have expressed concerns over its ratification in the midst of ongoing armed conflict as more and more Syrians are getting displaced.
Others have labelled the move as an attempt to create demographic change in Syria and dissuade Assad’s opponents from returning to Syria while rewarding his loyalists.
The law has sparked outrage across Europe, mainly in Germany which has hosted over 700,000 thousands refugees.
The government has described it as a "cynical plan" designed to confiscate refugees' property, with government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer telling reporters last week that she was "deeply concerned" by the effect the move will have on 11 million displaced people, including 5 million Syrians who fled abroad.
The law has drawn comparisons with both the Israeli Absentees’ property law and Lebanon’s own version drawn up following the bloody civil war.
In 1950, Israel enacted the Absentee property law which confiscated the property of Palestinian refugees who were expelled from their land. Meanwhile, Lebanon put in place a similar model which facilitated the state’s acquisition of land in central Beirut.
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