Why Won’t Russia Let Displaced Christians Return to their Homes in Northern Lattakia?

Displaced Christian Syrians from the rural north of the Lattakia governorate are pressuring both the government and the church to allow them to return to their hometowns in regime-held areas that were retaken from the opposition in 2015. Regime forces and Iranian militias control these areas and allow residents to return only for short visits to check on their houses.

As part of their push to return, representatives of families displaced from the towns of Kansaba and Al-Ghaneimiyeh have repeatedly visited the governor, local security branches and the Greek Orthodox archbishop. In turn, the archdiocese has pressured Russians at the Hmeimim military base. Russian officers have presented themselves to the archdiocese as protectors of Christians in Syria, according to a correspondent for The Syria Report in the area.

However, the issue of return has proven complicated. The Russian military has been reluctant to facilitate returns to the towns, under the pretext that opposition forces control the Al-Kabeineh hills opposite the villages and the area is difficult to secure militarily. According to local sources, the Russians said they would have to negotiate with the opposition and Turkey, as well as with the regime and Iranian forces, before allowing residents to return to the towns. However, it does not appear that the Russian side is interested in maintaining calm, according to opposition military sources, who told The Syria Report that Russia is directly involved in leading battles in Al-Kabeineh area.

About a year ago, the regime prohibited residents from visiting the towns of Kansaba and Al-Ghaneimiyeh, which are located along the M4 highway connecting Lattakia to Aleppo, under the pretext that battles with opposition forces could erupt at any moment.

Before the war, northern Lattakia’s Christians lived in the towns of Kansaba, Al-Ghaneimiyeh, Al-Qasab and Shtibghou. They were displaced in 2014 following clashes between regime and opposition forces. After the Russian military intervention in Syria in 2015, regime forces were able to recapture those areas, allowing residents of Al-Qasab and Shtibghou to return. Meanwhile, residents were prohibited from returning to Kansaba and Al-Ghaneimiyeh.

Displaced Christians from northern Lattakia have suffered in recent years from poor living conditions. They often seek help from aid organisations and the archdiocese, especially after international aid to Syria significantly decreased compared with what was once provided through the World Food Programme and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, according to local sources.

Some residents fear they must forget their villages, homes, and livelihoods altogether, according to a correspondent forThe Syria Report in the area. Fighting in the area has largely stopped, they argue, and if the Russians wanted to, they could drive out Iranian forces there, allowing Christian residents to return to northern Lattakia.

Source: AMC