Unclear Prospects for the Residents of Daraa’s Palestinian Refugee Camp

With rising military tensions in Daraa city, the Daraa Camp for Palestinian refugees has returned to the fore due to its strategic location between opposition and regime-held territory. Over the past several days, regime forces have targeted the camp, near the Syrian-Jordanian border, with medium-grade weaponry and restricted movement of residents. Camp residents say they fear being displaced by regime military action.

Daraa Camp is located in the southern part of the city and links its two sides: the opposition-held Daraa Al-Balad area and the regime-held Daraa Al-Mahattah area. The camp, which sits only one kilometre away from the city centre, extends from Al-Sidd Road in Daraa Al-Balad to Al-Hal Market and the Industrial zone near the centre of Daraa.

Daraa Camp was established in 1950 to shelter the first wave of Palestinian refugees to Syria after the 1948 war. It was built on a four-hectare plot of land though its surface area swelled with the second wave of Palestinian refugees after the 1967 war. Before 2011, the camp population had reached 10,500 Palestinian refugees with a surface area of 130 hectares, according to UNRWA. Local sources told The Syria Report that the number of residents had actually been closer to 15,000 when taking into account displaced Syrians from the occupied Golan Heights. The camp comprises three main parts: the northern sector, the “emergency” sector and the old sector.

The camp was severely damaged between 2013 and 2018 during battles between opposition factions and regime forces. Most camp residents were displaced to the camps of Al-Mazayrab, Al-Yadudeh and Jallin, as well as to Daraa Al-Mahattah. In late 2018, 400 Palestinian refugee families returned to Daraa Camp. Sources told The Syria Report that fewer than 5,000 people live in the camp today.

Local sources who spoke with The Syria Report said they fear that current military tensions could be exploited to displace the remaining residents of Daraa Camp, with the goal of rasing the camp and implementing a new zoning plan in its place. Indeed, the previous governor of Daraa said in 2018 that the camp was part of a new zoning plan for Daraa city. He said at the time that “there is no intention currently to remove remaining residents of Daraa Camp,” but orders had been issued “that residents of all areas and towns in Daraa should be allowed to return home except residents of the camp.”

The governor also added at the time that “it has been decided to rebuild the destroyed camp, in accordance with modern zoning plans that include public parks and multi-storey towers.” He explained that “reconstruction is costly for residents and the Syrian state, so it was decided to rezone the map and build a modern city in its place.”