Beirut: The Syrian government is passing laws to allow itself to seize private property, displace residents, and discourage refugees from returning, Human Rights Watch said in a new report published Tuesday.
The New York-based group says a 2018 property law, known as Law 10, empowers authorities to confiscate property without compensating the owners or giving them an opportunity to appeal.
The Syrian Government passed Law 10 in April to create “redevelopment zones” to rebuild property damaged in seven years of civil war.
In an interview with the Greek newspaper Kathimerini this month, President Bashar Al Assad said the law allows authorities to “re-plan the destroyed and the illegal areas,” and said it does not “dispossess anyone.”
A third of Syria’s housing has been destroyed in the last seven years, according to Human Rights Watch.
The World Bank says Syria has suffered close to $300 billion in material damage through its war.
The government has responded to the challenge in part by authorising local governments to create public-private partnerships to take ownership of damaged neighborhoods and redevelop them.
Under law 10, residents have just 30 days to prove they own property in the redevelopment zones in order to receive shares in the projects, or the ownership will be transferred to the local government.
Human Rights Watch says there are numerous obstacles keeping residents from making claims to their properties in the 30-day window.
It says many owners are displaced Syrians or refugees and cannot return to their local districts for fear of arrest. Many lack the identification documents that would allow relatives to make claims on their behalf.
Only about half of Syrian property was registered with authorities before the war, and many registries were destroyed in the fighting.
More than 11 million Syrians have been displaced by war, including more than 5 million who fled across the country’s borders.
The rights group says the Syrian government passed two previous laws, in 2012, letting authorities seize property and assets without due process. The watchdog says the government has a history of using the laws to demolish neighborhoods that opposed Al Assad’s rule.
Germany, Greece, and Lebanon – which host over 1.5 million Syrian refugees between them – have expressed concerns over the law.
German government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer called it a “cynical plan” to confiscate refugee property.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Jibran Bassil said refugees who have lost their property in Syria will have a reduced incentive to return. He urged the Syrian government to amend the law.