Syria regime auctioning off refugees' land in Idlib's Khan Sheikhoun, emptied after sarin gas attack

Syria regime auctioning off refugees' land in Idlib's Khan Sheikhoun, emptied after sarin gas attack
The Syrian regime is auctioning land belonging to refugees in the northwestern Idlib governorate for 'agricultural use', backed by a controversial property law that gives it the right to confiscate land from displaced persons
2 min read
07 October, 2022
Idlib province is still largely under the control of rebel and Islamist groups, many backed by Turkey [Getty]

The Syrian regime will auction farmland belonging to refugees in a northwestern province, despite telling families they could return to their hometowns.

The announcement earlier this week was made by Idlib Governor Thaer Salhab, who said lands which the Syrian government wants to sell off for agricultural use belong only to people "in hiding".

Salhab said the owners could return to invest in their land after completing "legal requirements", denying earlier reports that the plan was to relocate families already living in their properties, regime-owned Al Watan newspaper reported.

Land in the villages of Maarat Al-Numan and Khan Sheikhoun were put up for auction on Tuesday, which were recaptured by the regime in 2019 and 2020 after a brutal offensive that saw most people flee their homes for opposition areas.

The Syrian regime heavily bombed the area and uses sarin nerve gas on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, killing an estimated 100 civilians.

Despite southern Idlib falling to the regime in 2019 and 2020, the north is run by rebel and Islamist groups, many backed by Turkey.

Millions of Syrians have fled areas controlled by the regime, while others have also fled regions captured by Islamist extremists.

Calls by the regime for internally displaced Syrians to return to their lands are not trusted, as many fear they could be accused of belonging to an opposition group and detained, in prisons where torture and death are routine. Countless returnees have been disappeared on their return to Syria.

In 2018, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad approved changes to a controversial law that would allow the regime to seize the homes and businesses of citizens who fled the country's war - mostly following brutal government bombing - now in its 11th year.

If the homeowners could not prove ownership, the property would be transferred to the local government.

Human Rights Watch blasted the law, saying the regime passed legislation in order to seize private property, displace residents and discourage refugees from returning to their homes.

The law has raised concerns that this could be an attempt to change the religious and ethnic demographics in the mainly Sunni Muslim, conflict-ridden nation.