Middle EastWorld

In Turkish-funded Syria camps, tents give way to homes

BIZAAH, Syria: Syrian mother of four Maryam al-Hussein was relieved to have a roof over her head as she moved from a tent camp into a housing complex built with Turkish support. “When I first heard that we were moving into a house, I couldn’t believe it,” the 28-year-old widow told AFP in opposition-held northern Syria.

“I was so happy that I couldn’t think of anything other than the move,” she said, sitting outside her new concrete home. The housing complex built near the Turkish-held Syrian city of Al-Bab is the latest in a series of residential projects sponsored by Ankara. Turkey’s goal is to create a so-called “safe zone” along its border to keep Syrians displaced by war from crossing into its territory, and to allow it to send back some of the millions who already did. The housing units, branded by local officials and their Turkish sponsors as a humanitarian action to assist displaced families, could also serve as a model for initiatives to resettle Syrian refugees living in Turkey.

Turkey and its proxies have seized control of territory inside Syria during several military operations launched since 2016. In these regions, the Turkish lira has become the main currency and Ankara has helped set up hospitals, post offices and schools that teach the Turkish language.
Turkish non-governmental group the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) said it has supported the construction of more than 18,000 residential units in Syria’s north since 2019. “More than 50,000 people have settled in the houses we have built so far,” said IHH secretary general Durmus Aydin. Aydin said that twice as many will be sheltered in a total of 24,325 homes due to be completed by April.

‘Temporary shelters’

The latest housing complex was built near the opposition-held area of Bizaah with the support of Turkey’s AFAD emergencies agency, local officials said. It consists of 300 one-storey concrete units with large metal doors and small side windows. Each unit is made up of two rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom, and is equipped with its own water tank and costs about $2,500 to build, Aydin said. They will be home to residents of a nearby displacement camp who were transferred there this month.

The complex-which is one of many similar housing projects supported by AFAD-includes a mosque and a school. A medical centre is currently under construction, local officials said. For Maryam, the move marks a major upgrade from the dilapidated tent camps where she had lived with her father, brother and four children under harsh conditions. Maryam, whose husband was killed in battles between rebels and Syrian regime forces, was displaced by war in 2019 and moved from one camp to another seeking refuge.

“In the winter, a house is better, because the rain does not seep in and in the summer it remains cool because stone deflects heat better than tents that turn into furnaces,” she said. Local official Hussein al-Issa, who oversees the resettlement of displaced families, said the Bizaah housing complex was built on land managed by an opposition-affiliated local council with “the full cooperation” of Turkey. “These houses are temporary shelters for our displaced brothers,” he said.

‘Lying to ourselves’

While many displaced families are grateful to Turkey for helping provide shelter, Mohammad Haj Moussa appeared dissatisfied. “It’s like we are lying to ourselves,” the 38-year-old father of four told AFP. “We want a (permanent) solution. We want to return to our homes,” added Haj Moussa, who was displaced by war five year ago. Since fleeing his home in the northwestern province of Idlib, Haj Moussa said he had moved from one displacement camp to another.

“This unit isn’t too different” from the camps, he said. “It’s a joke.” Nearby, Ahmed Mustafa Katouli said he was grateful to have a concrete roof over his head, but complained the units are too small. “These houses do not make up for what we have lost,” said the father of six, displaced from Aleppo with his wife nearly a decade ago. “We have lost homes, land and martyrs,” he said, adding that after years of surviving in tents, “I am forced to live here”. – AFP

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