Yarmouk Camp: the Right of Return?

Damascus Governor Adel Al-Olabi told the pro-government newspaper Al-Watan on February 6 that out of the 1,200 official requests submitted by former residents of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp south of the capital, 500 have been approved, allowing those people to return to the now-empty camp. Approval came after applicants provided proof of property ownership in the camp, proof of the property’s safety, and security approval.

Damascus governorate has not yet published the names of those who are approved to return to Yarmouk.

Activists from Yarmouk, who spoke with a correspondent for The Syria Report in the area, questioned the veracity of the governorate’s numbers. Some activists said that, at most, 50 approvals had been granted, mostly to the families of pro-regime Palestinian militia fighters.

Only 10 families have so far been able to return to the camp, Mahmoud Zaghmout, a member of the UK-based Action Group for Palestinians of Syria, told the pro-opposition Syria TV channel on February 2.

Olabi added in his Al-Watan interview that the Damascus governorate has started receiving requests from people who have been approved to return to Yarmouk camp and wish to repair their properties. According to rules put in place by the governorate, the applicant must be the owner of the property to be restored. They must also submit a file that contains copies of their identity card, family card, proof of ownership, security approval number and a written request to obtain the restoration permit. The applicant must also attach a “technical report” prepared by an engineer from the camp municipality on the property to be restored, including a list of construction materials needed for restoration. Without this pre-prepared list, the property owner will not be able to bring construction materials into the camp.

The Damascus governorate has vowed that restoration applicants should receive responses within a week of applying for the permits. The Action Group for Palestinians of Syria confirmed last week that the governorate has received 30 such requests and approved them just 48 hours after submission. The group added, however, that inspection committees have imposed SYP 30,000 fees on applicants, without any apparent legal or administrative justification.

Meanwhile, several pro-opposition news sites reported in mid-January that the Damascus governorate issued a verbal decree to halt looting in Yarmouk. The decree gave a one-week deadline to unload three stolen goods centres within the camp that benefit the elite Fourth Division group, which controls Yarmouk. A correspondent for The Syria Report reported that the centres had been emptied of their contents over the past several days. The goods in the centres had been looted from homes and included iron and electrical cables taken from demolished walls and ceilings. Floors were also torn up to extract the plumbing installations and sell them as scrap.

A card granting entrance into the Yarmouk camp. 

Source: The Syria Report