Omar Khattab – Deir Ezzor
An article on the difficulties faced by returnees from displacement camps and the consequences of their return
Returning home is the sought-after wish that displaced people and those who fled death have always dreamed as they escaped the places of conflict and war to safer areas, leaving their homes and living. Yet, paradoxically, when this dream turns into a nightmare that brings another chapter of suffering and pain.
The problem of displacement and forced displacement as a result of war has physical effects and imposes complex patterns on all aspects of economic, social, psychological and health life.
In addition to its consequences and effects, displacement does not take place as easily as it is supposed, but also reflects on the lives of returnees and their ability to recover from its effects and adapt to their old homeland with its new monuments, destroyed and poor conditions caused by the war.
On the Economic Front
After the return of hundreds of families[i] from displacement camps in the eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zor, the area was severely destroyed, and many returnees were forced to rebuild or restore their homes according to the rate of destruction, all at their own expense in the absence of any support from international organizations or local authorities, which carried a heavy economic burden on the returnees who were able to barely rebuild their homes. Not to mention the immediate challenge faced by the locals that how to support themselves, their inability to produce crops due to a lack of agricultural materials and equipment, lack of employment opportunities or alternative sources of income. In addition to the difficulty of securing water and the drought that is hitting the area, which has increased the need for water, forcing residents to rely on expensive water tanks.
In an interview with a civilian official in one of the committees of the Autonomous Administration in the eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zor, he said: “The eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zor in the area from Hajin to Baguuz is the most affected areas in Deir ez-Zor as it is the last stronghold of ISIS, where there have been major battles in this area that caused extensive destruction. I can say that in 2019 the rate of destruction was more than (80%) in part and (40%) in full, where what needs to be repaired is about (30%). Moreover, there is extensive destruction of schools and educational facilities. Multiple local and international organizations along with international programs contributed to the removal of debris, but the contribution of returning families has been the greatest part in the removal of destruction, resulting in high economic costs.”
Another civil official at a Autonomous Administration institution in Deir ez-Zor described the economic situation for those returning from displacement in Deir ez-Zor as “catastrophic across the province”, attributing this to “the lack of available employment opportunities and the absence of any material support that could fill the economic deficit suffered by returning families as well as the unemployment due to the destruction of all aspects of infrastructure in the region as a result of the war.”
Abu Ahmed, from the city of Sha’afa, recently returned to his city to find his home, carpentry shop, which he owns with the equipment, was destroyed and he is now unemployed, like many people in the region, talking about his suffering after returning from displacement; “If it were not for the support of expatriates in the Gulf and Germany, the situation would have been worse for me, especially with no support from local councils and international organizations” he said.
Today, the support of expatriates in the region is the most important financial source in the region and money transfers are the primary income of a large number of families in the eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zor.
“We have no clue how to start over. We have spent all the money we had during the years-long journey of displacement, and we need financial support to buy agricultural materials and machinery so that we can start over and rely on ourselves to rebuild our lives, farms and village again,” Abu Ahmed said.
The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said in his report[ii] to the Security Council on the extension of resolution 2585 on the introduction of humanitarian aid that 2.7 million people live in northeastern Syria, of whom 2.2 million need humanitarian assistance, including half a million displaced people, and 140,000 live in camps, including al-Hol camp, which, according to the Secretary-General, has 57,588 people.
On the Health and Psychological Level
It is no different for the health and psychological situation for the community returning from displacement camps, as the new circumstances impose a heavy reality on family members, especially women and children, with psychological consequences as a result of their mobility and lack of adaptation of the new habitation, especially since some have spent years in the camp and the accompanying problems such as housing and economic situation, and the inability to adapt to its conditions and live within it, creating a situation of anxiety, tension and fear, as a result of their great suffering in some camps, as well as the battles they have witnessed in the past, resulting in psychological trauma, the effects of which have so far suffered.
“We have suffered in the camp from fear and repression for years, every act counts. One day, I saw in the camp the body of an Iraqi girl who was killed and abused, and I cannot forget that scene yet. My young son still has some nightmares about the killing of a number of people, especially when he saw a decapitated woman,” says Um Khalil.
“The fragility of the health situation in the city is the inability to help a three-month-old girl who has a fever. We have not been able to reach the nearest hospital 12 km away because of the relatively unstable security situation. Not to mention the spread of skin diseases caused by the bodies scattered in Baghuz in random mass graves,” said Abu Ala, a pharmacist in the Baghuz region.
On the Educational Level
Displacement as a result of conflicts are among the most important reasons for the increase in school drop-outs and the lack of schooling for children, as families returning from camps push their children to the labour market because of the poor economic situation, at the expense of education.
According to statistics published by the UNICEF[iii], more than 2 million children — more than one third of Syrian children — are out of school, and 1.3 million children are at risk of dropping out.
These statistics point to an uncertain future for children across Syria[iv], and its indicators have been demonstrated by an increase in the rate[v] of crime[vi] and the spread of substance abuse[vii] and trafficking, with the near-intentional laxity of the parties controlling those areas for overlapping purposes and reasons.
“The city suffers from a lack of teaching staff and a large number of destroyed schools, in addition to the limited space of classrooms for all students where some of whom sit on the ground. There is a lack of educational supplies. The school drop-outs and the trend towards work pose a major threat to children in the absence of any support, either officially or by the organizations concerned, particularly UNICEF,” said
Abeer (pseudonym) who is a teacher in Al Soussah, east of Deir ez-Zor.
“We must also build the capacity of teachers and bring them in to deal with post-crisis children and their psychological and social needs, and help teachers make up for the lessons that students have lost during their school break,” said Ted Chaiban[viii], director of UNICEF’s Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa, who stressed the need to take into account equity in education and reopen schools to ensure that all children return to them, particularly marginalized and poorer children.
On the Social Level
The difficulty of social coping is an additional obstacle for returnees from the camps because of the poor infrastructure of those areas and the lack of major services and employment opportunities, which may lead some families to migrate either out of the country or move to safer areas where some services are better provided. This happened to families in the eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zor who have moved to other places with the minimum living conditions.
Families returning from the camps, particularly al-Hol camp, face more and more complex difficulties, because one of the most important indicators of the proper coping of individual is that he or she suffers from no diseases (physical, mental, and emotional), which is due to satisfaction, acceptance of themselves first, and acceptance and satisfaction of community on second hand.
Over the past years, the United Nations has launched a number of initiatives[ix] to support returnees from camps in Syria and Iraq, aimed at “responding and assisting the needs of children and adults in need of protection, as well as the support of the Member States to enhance security and address accountability through prosecutions, rehabilitation and reintegration.” All support was based on national legal frameworks and fully in accordance with international law, including international human rights, international humanitarian law and international refugee law.
These programmes continue to work in the context of contributing to community cohesion, community reconciliation, reintegration and community preparation for the return and reintegration of displaced persons and families who have been stigmatized with their association with ISIS, which is often the most marginalized and fragile, and focus on support for families returning from the camp, which must be a priority for international supporters.