Today, Yarmouk’s streets are nonetheless piled with rubble. Scattered Palestinian flags fly from largely deserted homes, the one reminder that this was as soon as a significant political and cultural heart of the Palestinian refugee diaspora.
Two years in the past, Syrian authorities started permitting former Yarmouk residents who might show house possession and go a safety test to come back again.
But up to now, few have returned. Many others have been deterred by worry they could possibly be arrested or conscripted by pressure. Others not have homes to come back again to. Still, with the preventing having subsided in a lot of Syria, some wish to see what’s left of their houses.
Earlier this month, the federal government opened up Yarmouk for a uncommon go to by journalists to spotlight its push for returnees. The event: the launch of a brand new group heart, constructed by a non-government group.
One of those that have returned is Mohamed Youssef Jamil. Originally from the Palestinian village of Lubya, west of the town of Tiberias in present-day Israel, he had lived in Yarmouk since 1960. He raised three sons within the camp, earlier than Syria’s warfare broke out.
The 80-year-old got here again a 12 months and a half in the past, with authorities approval to restore his broken home. Of the 30 or 40 households who used to stay on his road, there at the moment are 4. Many buildings that weren’t leveled by bombs have been looted, stripped of home windows, electrical wiring — even taps.
“I’m staying here to guard it from thieves,” he stated of his house.
Nearby, the fitting half of Mohamed Taher’s home has collapsed, whereas he’s repairing the still-standing left half. “There is no electricity,” the 55-year-old stated, although in some components of the camp there may be water and the sewer system works.
Yarmouk was inbuilt 1957 as a Palestinian refugee camp however grew right into a vibrant suburb that additionally attracted working-class Syrians. Before the 2011 rebellion turned civil warfare, some 1.2 million individuals lived in Yarmouk, together with 160,000 Palestinians, in accordance with the U.N. company for Palestinian refugees, or UNRWA.
As of June, some 4,000 individuals returned to Yarmouk, UNRWA stated, whereas one other 8,000 households acquired permission to return over the summer time.
The returnees wrestle with a “lack of basic services, limited transportation, and largely destroyed public infrastructure,” UNRWA stated. Some stay in homes with out doorways or home windows.
The U.N. company stated returns to Yarmouk elevated, partially, as a result of the camp supplied free housing. At a current press convention, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini stated an growing variety of Palestinian refugees in Syria are “basically going back into rubble just because they cannot afford anymore to live where they were.”
In the previous, Palestinian factions in Syria generally had an advanced relationship with Syrian authorities. Former Syrian President Hafez Assad and Palestinian Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat have been bitter adversaries.
However, Palestinian refugees lived in relative consolation in Syria, with higher socioeconomic and civil rights than these in neighboring Lebanon.
Yarmouk’s Palestinian factions tried to stay impartial as Syria’s civil warfare broke out, however by late 2012, the camp was pulled into the battle and totally different factions took opposing sides within the warfare.
The militant group Hamas backed the Syrian the opposition whereas others, just like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command, fought on the Syrian authorities’s facet.
In 2013, Yarmouk grew to become the goal of a devastating siege by authorities forces. In 2015, it was taken over by the extremist Islamic State group. A authorities offensive retook the camp in 2018, emptying it of remaining inhabitants.
Sari Hanafi, a professor of sociology on the American University of Beirut who grew up in Yarmouk, stated these returning are doing so due to “absolute necessity.”
“The others who don’t return — it’s because it’s an unlivable place,” he stated.
A younger man from Yarmouk residing in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon agrees. With Syrian President Bashar Assad’s authorities nonetheless firmly in place, he stated that if he went again, he “would always be living in anxiety and without security.”
“Someone who returns to the camp, or to Syria in general, is no longer thinking, ‘How much freedom will I have?’ He is thinking, ‘I just want a house to live in,’” he stated, talking on situation of anonymity, fearing for the protection of his family members again in Syria.
At the group heart’s opening, the governor of Damascus, Mohamed Tarek Kreishati, promised to clear the rubble and restore utilities and public transportation.
But there’s a protracted solution to go to persuade individuals to return, stated Mahmoud Zaghmout from the London-based Action Group for Palestinians of Syria, aligned with the Syrian opposition.
Yarmouk lacks “hospitals, bakeries, gas distribution centers and basic consumer and food items,” Zaghmout stated.
There are those that hope Yarmouk might be restored to its previous glory, like Suheil Natour, a Lebanon-based researcher and member of the leftist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
He pointed to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camp Ein el-Hilweh, which was razed by Israeli forces in 1982 and later rebuilt. Yarmouk can be “one day a very flourishing symbol of revival of the Palestinian refugees,” he stated.
Others are skeptical. Samih Mahmoud, 24, who grew up in Yarmouk however now lives in Lebanon, stated not a lot stays of the place he remembered.
He stated he’s not hooked up to the buildings and streets of Yarmouk. “I’m attached to the people, to the food, to the atmosphere of the camp,” he stated. “And all of that is gone.”
Associated Press author Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, and Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.