A pistachio farmer tends to his orchard in Maan, Hama Province, Syria (AFP)
The Assad regime is stealing the homes and farmlands of displaced Syrians, according to report by Human Rights Watch and the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
The rights organization summarizes that a pro-regime militia and regime-controlled “Peasants’ Unions” are seizing and auctioning lands to regime supporters.
In its 20-page report, the SNHR assessed that at least 440,000 dunums (44,000 hectares) of agricultural land have been seized by the regime in Hama and Idlib Provinces in northwest Syria.
The seizures followed a Russian-regime offensive from April 2019 to March 2020 that captured all of northern Hama and part of southern and eastern Idlib Provinces.
Human Rights Watch interviewed six people, five of whom said regime officials had seized land that they or their immediate relatives owned between March and November 2020. No notice or compensation was given.
One witness, from Morek in Hama Province, said he paid US $5,000 to a member of the pro-regime Tiger Forces to release the land. To prevent auction, he was required to have an immediate relative in the area. So he paid to smuggle his mother back to Morek, with his brother already detained by government forces.
HRW reviewed announcements by the Peasants’ Cooperative Associations, which called for tenders to lease lands belonging to “people who reside outside the Syrian Arab Republic or who reside in areas under the control of ‘terrorists’”. The farmland produced pistachios, wheat, olive trees, and other crops as the primary source of income for families.
In three cases, witnesses said that a security committee of regime military intelligence, the Peasants’ Cooperative Associations (PCA), and militia members seized and leased their land. In three others, the displaced said regime supporters or militia commanders rented the land.
In February, the SNHR documented at least 22 announcements of public auctions. They covered 134 villages and towns in Hama Province and 88 villages and towns in Idlib, with a total area of almost 100,000 acres.
Syria Direct interviewed the displaced whose land was seized. One farmer explained, “[It was] a part of my life, I inherited it and grew up in it.”