The Legal Side of Going Home: Housing, Land and Property Law for Syrian Refugees in Jordan
AMMAN, Jordan – Longing descriptions of return to Daraa, Homs, Aleppo and Damascus are common among the 600,000 registered Syrian refugees in Jordan, whose return to a peaceful Syria is a hope shared by Syrians and Jordanians alike. But what are the legal implications of doing so? How does property restitution law work in a post-conflict context? If and when people return home after war, how do they resettle and reclaim lands, and how does law play into it?
These are the questions that ARDD-Legal Aid and a team of legal trainers from the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) asked 60 Syrian lawyers of the Syrian Lawyers Initiative (SLI) in their housing, land and property law training from May 21-22. After 6 months of legal and civil society training, the lawyers have moved from broad human rights concepts and details of Jordanian law to deeper engagement of their legal knowledge within an international context.
Over two days of training in Amman, ARDD-Legal Aid challenged SLI participants to consider the legal aspects of going home. The workshop reframed the notion of return in a rights-based framework of international conventions, laws and norms, drawing on comparative examples from the former Yugoslavia and Iraq, among others, to spark discussion of what could happen in Syria.
“Return to Syria may be far away, but we want to think long-term,” said ARDD-Legal Aid project officer Louise Julin. The SLI project builds Syrian refugee lawyers’ capacity to understand Jordanian law so they can provide helpful, accurate advice to their community here, Julin said. But it also aims to equip them for rebuilding a future Syria based on rule of law, human rights and a strong civil society, she added.
“Property is a main issue both during and post-conflict,” said NRC legal officer Emad Quraan. The training’s objective was educational, Quraan said, introducing SLI participants to terms like land tenure, access and secondary occupation, as well as the international legal conventions, declarations, laws, norms and rights related to property issues. “Refugees must know about their rights, in order to access and enjoy them,” he said.
Many refugees don’t trust that they have the right to access justice, NRC legal adviser Sarah Ghanem said. “Refugees have rights, but don’t think they can access them in courts.” While raising refugees’ awareness of their rights, Ghanem said, the training also gave them practical advice. Refugees should ask for written documentation rather than oral lease agreements with their landlords, for example, and keep title deeds to their old homes if they want to return.
“Not everything will be perfect at the end of the conflict,” Ghanem said. “There is no quick solution that wipes everything away.” But the law is and will be a critical tool for social stability, and Syrian lawyers can start using it right now.