Damascus, Aleppo and other Syrian cities are no longer attracting outsiders as they have been during the last few years. The situation that the country is going through has made many Syrian families leave the large cities to return to their rural origins.
Hundreds of Syrian families packed their belongings and returned to their rural villages in the various provinces fueled by a sense of insecurity and fear of sectarian reprisals. Public and private-sector employees have applied to have their jobs and their children’s education transferred to their home villages because staying in the cities under the current circumstances would be dangerous to them and to their families.
Abu Samer and his family fearfully await the approval of his request to transfer near the city of Tartous. The family, which came to the area of Mezze 86 from the Tartous countryside decades ago, no longer feels safe. Abu Samer, a government worker, said, “It’s been about a year since my daughters stopped moving around alone. I try to accompany them because I fear that they will be exposed to danger ... Coexistence, which we had become accustomed to for years, is now very fragile. Our stay here has become cumbersome for us and we no longer feel safe, so I think that in such circumstances going back to the village is the best solution for my family.”
He explained, “I started renovating the old family home in the Tartous countryside and I will move there as soon as they approve my transfer request. I hope it is not delayed because the conditions are getting worse by the day.” With regard to what he would do if his request was denied, he said, “I will quit my job or I will try to get leave without pay in the hope that security conditions improve.”
Thousands of families from various Syrian provinces had previously settled in Damascus, which attracted the rural population like other world capitals. But what is unique to Damascus is that most newcomers settled into small communities within the city, sections that are not completely integrated with their surroundings. Examples of these communities are the areas of Aash al-Woro and Mezze 86, which are predominantly Alawite, the mainly Christian neighborhood of al-Dowailaa and the Druze community in Jaramana. Families that settled outside of such communities were more successful at integrating into their surroundings. Those integrated families feel more closely attached to the city's social fabric, if they have not become entirely part it through intermarriage.
Abu Wissam, an employee in the Civil Status Department and who lives in Aash al-Woro, said, “I have lived here for 12 years with my family, who came from the Latakia countryside. I have recently moved my family to the village after I failed to transfer my work to the province of Latakia ... Personally, I can no longer bear the idea of living alone and I am seriously thinking of quitting work and going back to the village because my constant commuting to the village is putting me in danger. Moreover, the transportation costs between Damascus and Latakia are consuming a significant portion of my salary.”
Mia, an employee at a private shipping company, said, “The company is liquidating its business and by the end of the month my family and I will be forced to return to my village in the province of Latakia. The job was the only reason that made me stay in Damascus for all this time in spite of the dangers, since we are viewed as regime supporters. If I lose my job I would no longer have a reason to stay ... Damascus is no longer immune to hostilities and skirmishes between security forces and other groups.This is what frightens us and motivates us to leave in these circumstances. For weeks now, my husband has been looking for a tenant to rent our house. If we don’t find anyone, we will lock it and move to the village. Both of our families are pressuring us to leave Damascus because they fear [for our safety].”
The big cities appear to be the arenas where the struggle between the regime and the opposition forces will be decided. In the last few weeks, there were violent confrontations between the two sides in the cities, which made many families choose to flee. Even though this population movement is happening voluntarily and not under coercion, many still consider it as a thinly-veiled, forced displacement.