Samir AITA, Ahmad AL TALEB, Souhaib ZOABI
Excerpts from the key informants’ interviews.
“There is absolutely no social relationship between the residents of the camp and the residents of the neighboring towns. They are a society that is only concerned with trade, profit, and gain by any means. They look at us with a very superior look. They never consider the conditions we have experienced from bombing, killing, and destruction… They do not know our areas. Most of the time, they are busy with their economic activities, so they never follow or care about the news. They constantly monitor the exchange rate of the local currency and its changes. They never realize that our displacement has increased their trade, profits, and real estate prices. This is while we used to own farms and land in hundreds of dunams”… « There is hate between the two communities« … The neighboring localities “has a view of condescension on the IDPs, as if they were inferior to them, knowing that the majority of the camp’s residents are well educated and cultured”… »We are a community whose first and last concern is to seek and obtain daily living« … “Marriage dowry in the cities amounts around US$ 10,000, while ours never exceeds US$ 200”… “Our relations with the neighboring communities are marked by the exploitation of the young people needing work, with daily salaries insufficient to cover daily needs”… “We have become certain that we are victims of the interests of colonial powers, which forced us to think only about our daily living”… » “Services and aid depend primarily on nepotism. Our real needs are not assessed« .
- In all areas of control, the internally displaced populations (IDPs) are mostly in poverty and strongly dependent on aid, judged everywhere insufficient and ill-organized, while work opportunities are rare and low-paid. Their livelihood is maintained in some cases by remittances.
- The IDPs in the camps are completely dependent on neighboring towns – more than the closer villages – as sources of provision of goods and services and as places of paid labor for livelihood.
- In-kind food distribution has created significant practices of reselling part of the distributed baskets to wholesalers against cash. This continued even when the in-kind distribution had been replaced by vouchers. The vouchers are sold at discounted prices against cash. This has impacted the prices of basic goods and discouraged local production.
- In-kind food and services distribution for a long period provided by a myriad of NGOs, donor-driven, with little apparent cohesion and organization, has created a « political economy » of aid. Donors are still dealing with aid as if it were an emergency without shifting, after 11 years, to a more sustainable approach to the livelihood of the displaced.
- Several NGOs coordinate their aid distribution activities with the “Salvation Government” of “Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham” (HTS, formerly Al Nusra Front), despite the classification of HTS by the United Nations as a “terrorist organization ». This includes Turkish, French, and British-based or sponsored NGOs. German and US-based or sponsored NGOs seem to work mostly in Northern Aleppo.
- Irregular aid distribution and meager work opportunities led many young people to join combating factions for salaries.
- The IDPs linked to combating factions that were displaced following disengagement agreements are directly managed by Turkish authorities and NGOs. They typically live in better conditions than the rural population displaced by the conflict. But their access is strictly restricted.
- In several aspects, the results of the livelihood surveys and inquiries in the studied camps showed differences from those reported by UN agencies; this suggests the need for further detailed investigations.
- Job opportunities are rare and with menial salaries in almost all camps. They generally are in construction and crafts on a daily basis. Seasonal agricultural activities are also observed, mainly for women. Few cases of production-sharing agreements with land owners in agriculture are observed.
- Child labor and schooling dropout are reported in all camps. Schooling and health services are poor and largely insufficient in all camps.
- One of the key issues for the IDP camps is the absence of public or semi-public transportation to neighboring localities. This absence hinders the possibility of obtaining work opportunities, as well as the possibility of shopping at lower prices. It constitutes also a major impediment to schooling, be it elementary, secondary, or university.
- In most camps, the economic relations of the IDPs with the neighboring hosting communities are described as bad. The IDPs have a significant resentment against their exploitation in aid and low-paid jobs, while the hosting communities got enriched because of their presence. This is particularly visible in NWS camps.
- The IDPs have weak social relations and no integration within the hosting communities (rare common marriages for example), while they have a certain degree of internal social cohesion, especially in small camps or within each district of large camps. Strong bonds quickly build up within the IDP communities due to the common suffering.
- The social relations between the camps’ IDP population and their hosting communities strongly depend on the origin of the IDP population, urban, rural, or semi-nomad, and on their ability to sustain their livelihood independently. Rural-urban divide and regional differences strongly affect these relations.
- The IDPs of the Yazibagh camp which have some economic independence are best integrated with the hosting communities.
- Rarely, governance structures had been promoted in the camps to represent IDPs’ interests and needs towards the ruling authorities and the NGOs. And when they exist, they don’t result from a « democratic » process. In best cases, they emerged from traditional leadership, mostly coopted by ruling authorities or NGOs. In all cases, the IDPs don’t have significantly a say in aid and service provision. Cases of cronyism and favoritism are common.
- Strict « political » control is applied to the IDP population by the ruling authorities, in particular in GOS, SDF, and HTS areas. In Northern Aleppo, the « political » control of the Turkish-backed factions seems looser.
- The IDPs are losing hope of a return to their original localities. The fear of repression and military service is not the only reason, but also the destruction of their original settlements and the lack of means to restart economic activity. Most IDPs are only hoping to improve their present dire conditions.
- Most IDPs wish for a « political solution » in Syria, with the end of the war, the departure of foreign troops, and an honest Syrian authority capable of rebuilding the country, bringing security and dignity. However, most of them have lost hope of returning from displacement and want better conditions where they are.