Syr­i­ans dis­placed to the coast trickle back to Aleppo

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

LATAKIA, Syria: For years as fight­ing raged in Syria’s Aleppo, prop­erty agent Saer Daqaq had flee­ing res­i­dents knock­ing at the door of his beach­side of­fices, seek­ing refuge in his flats in coastal Latakia. A pop­u­lar sea­side re­sort largely un­touched by the coun­try’s six-year civil war, Latakia be­came a haven for those es­cap­ing Syria’s sec­ond city, so much so that part of it was even dubbed “Aleppo Beach”. But since fight­ing for Aleppo ended last year, Daqaq’s of­fices just steps from the wa­ters of the Mediter­ranean have been much qui­eter.

With the army’s re­cap­ture of Aleppo in De­cem­ber, many dis­placed res­i­dents are now fi­nally head­ing home af­ter years away, though oth­ers who have set up busi­nesses or whose homes are de­stroyed are stay­ing put for now. With their faded white paint, the apart­ment blocks in north­ern Latakia’s “Blue Beach” area have hosted thou­sands of Alep­pans who fled fight­ing in the coun­try’s for­mer eco­nomic pow­er­house. They were once so nu­mer­ous that the area was in­for­mally rechris­tened “Aleppo Beach”, but since the army’s re­cap­ture of the city, de­mand for flats to rent has plum­meted.

“Be­tween 40 per­cent and 50 per­cent of them have gone back,” said Daqaq. Up to 700,000 Syr­i­ans dis­placed from Aleppo city and the sur­round­ing prov­ince once lived in Latakia, but more than 30 per­cent have now left, the lo­cal gover­norate says. “In the last six months, not a sin­gle fam­ily from Aleppo has come to rent an apart­ment, whether for a month or a year,” said Daqaq, 42, sport­ing a close-cropped beard. The area “is half empty”, he said, be­fore re­turn­ing to a game of cards with his friends.

No guar­an­tees of work

On the bal­conies of apart­ment build­ings, tar­pau­lin sheets bear­ing the logo of the UN refugee agency UNHCR have long re­placed cur­tains, and tan­gles of elec­tri­cal wires hang hap­haz­ardly at build­ing en­trances. Latakia’s pop­u­la­tion nearly dou­bled with the ar­rival of dis­placed res­i­dents from across Syria af­ter the war broke out in 2011. The econ­omy of the town, a regime strong­hold like its sur­round­ing prov­ince of the same name, pre­vi­ously de­pended mostly on its sea port and sta­tus as a beach re­sort.

But it was trans­formed by the ar­rival of so many dis­placed peo­ple, in­clud­ing Alep­pans with the money to open small or medium-sized busi­ness in the area. “Most of them brought their busi­ness with them: be­spoke dress­mak­ing, shoe­mak­ing, clothes shops, busi­nesses. And some of them bought land and fac­to­ries,” said Daqaq. Those busi­nesses have pro­vided some dis­placed peo­ple with a rea­son to stay on in Blue Beach.

On the ground floor of one of the build­ings that has been trans­formed into a shoe­maker’s work­shop, 22-year-old Talal re­laxes on a week­end with other work­ers. “At least here I have a job,” said the young man orig­i­nally from Bab alNayrab in for­merly rebel-held east Aleppo. “If I went back to Aleppo, there’s no way to guar­an­tee I’d have work,” he said. Other dis­placed Alep­pans in Latakia sim­ply have no home to re­turn to be­cause of the destruc­tion caused by the fight for the city.

‘Our house was flat­tened’

Um Muhammed lives in a mod­est three-room apart­ment in the area with her hus­band and four oth­ers. She sleeps in the liv­ing room, which is fur­nished with only a mat­tress and an old sofa, while the other fam­ily mem­bers share the two re­main­ing rooms. It’s a far cry from her tra­di­tional home in Aleppo’s Shaar neigh­bor­hood, in the for­merly rebel-held east, with its pretty pa­tio and five large rooms. That home, which she has not seen for more than four years, is just a mem­ory now.

“Our house has been flat­tened,” Um Muhammed said, her hair cov­ered by a white head­scarf. “My sons went to in­spect the house and the ceil­ing has lit­er­ally col­lapsed on top of the fur­ni­ture. The floor tiles have been shat­tered. It’s not re­motely hab­it­able.” She can hardly be­lieve that the coastal re­gion they once used to visit for fam­ily trips has be­come their place of ex­ile. —AFP

LATAKIA: Syr­i­ans sit on the beach in the north­west­ern city of Latakia.—AFP

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