ALEPPO — A large number of displaced Syrians arriving from Idlib province and the western and southern Aleppo countrysides have reached the city of al-Bab in the northeastern countryside of Aleppo, after escaping the military operation launched by Syrian regime forces and their allied fighters who took over large opposition-held areas. The air and ground bombings of villages and civilian towns in the countrysides of Idlib and Aleppo forced thousands of families to flee in the largest wave of displacement in record time.
Al-Bab, which is under the control of the Turkish-backed armed opposition in the Operation Euphrates Shield area, is considered one of the largest cities in the area and has undergone a great urban expansion during the past two years, qualifying it to receive more people. This is why a large number of displaced people chose it as their destination. But they still face many difficulties, the most important of which is being able to find housing due to the increased demand and the lack of housing for rent, while some landlords exploit the situation and require large sums.
Families are forced to sleep in temporary shelters established by the local council in the city, and activists are working to help the displaced cover living expenses until they find housing that suits their financial capabilities, which seem very pricey in light of the displacement crisis.
Al-Monitor visited a number of displaced persons arriving from the Idlib and Aleppo countrysides. Mohammed Abdullah, who left the city of Saraqeb in eastern Idlib in mid-January — that is, a few days before the regime forces took control of the city Feb. 6 — told Al-Monitor, “After we arrived in the city of al-Bab, I spent an entire week trying to find a house that suits my financial capabilities. Finally, I found an apartment for me and my family of eight for $100 a month, the equivalent of 100,000 Syrian pounds. The landlord stipulated that I pay six months of rent in advance, so that is $600 at once.”
Omar Ahmed, displaced from the city of Darat Izza in the western countryside of Aleppo, told Al-Monitor, “I had to rent an apartment that is still under construction, and it lacked a lot such as windows and doors. Within 10 days of our stay in the apartment, the lessor completed construction.”
Ahmed added, “The apartment is small and not enough for my family of 10. I pay a monthly rent of $50, the equivalent of 50,000 Syrian pounds.”
The head of the Real Estate Offices Syndicate in al-Bab’s local council, Ahmed Taleb, told Al-Monitor, “The expensive rent in al-Bab is due to several reasons — most notably, the high demand due to the increase in the number of displaced people arriving in the city, while some landlords are exploiting the demand crisis and the low exchange rate of the Syrian pound against foreign currencies.”
“The number of real estate offices in the city has recently increased, and work in this field has become active due to the demand for housing. There are some well-off families who opt for buying apartments instead of renting, and others have rented under-construction apartments since the important thing [for many displaced] is to take shelter under harsh weather conditions,” Taleb added.
Mohammed Hajjar, owner of a real estate office that rents homes in al-Bab city, told Al-Monitor, “I expect to see an expansion of construction in al-Bab during the coming period, especially residential apartments, with the aim of renting them and investing in the real estate sector, which seems profitable in light of the great demand for housing and the increasing number of displaced people coming here from other Syrian areas.”
Ali Abdul Karim al-Mawhoub, 63, from the Idlib countryside, told Al-Monitor, “My family and I arrived in the city of al-Bab in mid-February, and we have yet to find a suitable house for rent; we now live in a shelter in the city. The rental rates are high, and I could not find an apartment or a house for less than $100 per month. I cannot afford such a rental since we are all unemployed now that I have lost my farmland and my house in the Idlib countryside.”
Meanwhile, Zakour al-Hamad, who owns a real estate office in the city of al-Bab, told Al-Monitor, “Indeed, the prices of houses and apartments in al-Bab are high, especially those with a large area, and their rental prices reached $200, the equivalent of 200,000 Syrian pounds. The larger the apartment and the more room it has, the higher the monthly rental.”
Hamad noted, “Greed and renting homes at high prices is not a general case here in al-Bab. There are a number of homeowners who have given me their names and addresses in order to offer them to the displaced for free. But the number of housing available in the city is not enough for this large number of displaced people coming from Idlib and the countryside of Aleppo.”
Photojournalist Mustafa Batheesh from al-Bab, who is working with a group of activists for the relief of displaced people, told Al-Monitor, “We have established several temporary shelters in the city to house the displaced people, whose numbers are constantly increasing in light of the continuous waves of displacement. Most of the shelter centers were established thanks to donations collected from the people of the city.”
Mohammed al-Hallaj, director of the Response Coordination Group, a humanitarian nongovernmental organization working in Idlib, told Al-Monitor the number of displaced people from the countryside of Idlib and Aleppo reached 933,000 people — 200,000 men, 324,000 women and 513,000 children.
He said they headed toward camps, cities and towns in the operations Olive Branch and Euphrates Shield areas in northern Aleppo, and al-Bab is one of the cities that have received large numbers of displaced people.
Hallaj noted that life has become almost impossible in the areas being bombed by regime forces by land and air, but people still face difficulties in the areas they are displaced to as well.