Southern Idlib: Who Is Looting Displaced Residents’ Homes?

The looting of IDP properties in opposition-held areas along contact lines with regime territory in the southern part of Idlib governorate has lately increased. The people carrying out most of the thefts, which are taking place in areas under the control of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, are local gangs or remaining residents themselves.

A correspondent for The Syria Report in southern Idlib described what is happening in the villages of Kafr Oweid, Sufuhun and Al-Fatireh as similar to the looting that took place in former opposition-held areas by regime forces elsewhere. Most of the homes in those villages now have no doors or windows, and copper wiring has been stripped from them. Local gangs are taking advantage of the fact these villages have been vacant since residents were displaced by the most recent battles in the area in early 2020. Many people are afraid of returning to visit the area because of  sniper fire and shelling, and returns are usually limited to short visits by farmers to their agricultural lands during planting seasons.

Some members of these gangs were arrested while looting civilian homes and were referred to the courts of the HTS-backed Salvation Government’s Ministry of Justice in Idlib city in cases where there were personal allegations against them. However, most of the arrests have ended with the plaintiff dropping charges after reconciling with the looter outside court. In most cases, the courts impose, as a common right, a fine on the looter of up to USD 1,000 depending on the number of proven thefts, in lieu of a prison sentence.

The thefts have prompted some displaced owners of damaged homes to remove the rubble from their houses, especially iron rebar. Occasionally  they sell the materials rather than leaving them to be looted--this is done through groups that work in exchange for half the amount of iron extracted from the rubble. The price of one tonne of recycled iron is about USD 550. There have also been cases in which owners of destroyed houses sell their damaged tiles to these groups based on estimates. For example, a man from the village of Kafr Oweid sold the roof of his destroyed house, which has an area of about 250 square metres, for a price of USD 150.

Furthermore, as IDPs remain in camps in northern Idlib governorate, they have begun to seek stability beneath concrete ceilings instead of plastic tarpaulins. Some IDPs have made agreements with groups to extract iron from their irreparably destroyed homes, to use in building new homes in the camps. The price per tonne of new iron is up to USD 700.

On top of the latest military escalation by regime and Russian forces along the frontlines in Idlib, the looting now makes a return home even more impossible for displaced people in the foreseeable future, even if their hometowns and villages are located within opposition territory.