Amnesty International urges Syrian authorities to safeguard housing rights in Holeb (Aleppo) amid earthquake aftermath

HOLEB, Syria — Amnesty International called on Syrian authorities to protect the right to housing for residents of earthquake-affected residential buildings in Holeb (Aleppo). The statement comes amidst growing concerns over alleged unlawful demolitions of structures deemed unsafe in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes that struck the city on 6 February. Additionally, there have been reports of bureaucratic obstacles hindering residents’ efforts to repair their damaged homes.

The international human rights organization expressed its concerns regarding the manner in which building-safety measures have been conducted, fearing that these actions might exacerbate the hardships faced by thousands of earthquake survivors in Holeb.

Diana Semaan, Amnesty International’s Syria researcher, stressed the importance of respecting people’s right to adequate housing. She emphasized that demolishing residential buildings without proper explanation or due process is a violation of international human rights law and standards. The authorities, according to Semaan, are obligated to consult with residents, provide reasonable notice, financial compensation, or alternative housing options to ensure that no one is rendered homeless prior to conducting demolitions.

Amnesty International’s report, based on interviews with humanitarian workers and residents, as well as media articles and UN reports, highlights the challenges faced by the people of Aleppo even before the recent earthquakes. The city had already endured extensive damage during the unlawful bombing campaigns conducted by Syrian and Russian forces from 2012 to 2016. In 2016, the Syrian government regained control of eastern Holeb after a prolonged siege and bombardment, leading to the forced displacement of tens of thousands of civilians.

One of the key concerns highlighted in the report is the alleged unlawful demolitions of buildings in Aleppo. The governor of Holeb announced that 13,000 families were impacted by the earthquakes, with 220 buildings already demolished and 303 awaiting demolition due to safety concerns. However, Amnesty International received information suggesting that the assessments by engineering committees, responsible for evaluating structural safety, may not be thorough, leading to unwarranted demolitions. Furthermore, residents have reportedly been denied the opportunity to challenge these decisions and have been given insufficient time to remove their belongings.

Residents have also claimed that those whose homes were demolished are not being provided with alternative housing or compensation. This situation has become particularly alarming since the UN reported in April that the government was closing most temporary shelters used to provide emergency accommodation for earthquake survivors.

International human rights standards stipulate that even when eviction is justified, it must be carried out in strict compliance with international human rights law. Authorities must engage with residents in genuine consultation, provide adequate information, written notice of evictions, and alternatives to housing, while also compensating for losses. The primary objective is to ensure that no one is left homeless and vulnerable to further human rights violations due to demolitions.

In addition to unlawful demolitions, residents have faced obstacles in repairing their damaged homes. Allegedly, the authorities failed to inform them about how to contact committees responsible for evaluating their homes’ safety. Furthermore, residents have complained about the lack of financial support from the government for repairing their homes. Obtaining permits for rehabilitation has been challenging, especially for informal buildings, which constitute the majority of structures in the earthquake-affected areas.

According to a 2022 report by the International Crisis Group, permits for repairs are typically granted to those with connections to power, such as security forces or militias, leaving many residents without the means to rebuild their homes.

Residents from the Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood, which has been under blockade by the Syrian government, have reported that the government restricted aid entry to the area and imposed high fees and taxes at security checkpoints for those attempting to bring in construction materials.

Amnesty International’s message is clear: instead of imposing bureaucratic requirements on residents trying to rebuild their earthquake-damaged homes, the Syrian authorities must ensure that all residents receive adequate technical and financial support, without discrimination.

The international community continues to closely monitor the situation in Holeb, with a growing focus on the need for humanitarian assistance and the protection of basic human rights for the affected population.