Migration

Al-Bab transformed by influx of Syria's displaced

Syria

Al-Bab has taken in displaced people from all across Syria and this has contributed to the city's cultural  and social diversity.

ALEPPO, Syria — The Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Turkish Armed Forces took hold on Feb. 23, 2017, of the city of al-Bab, located in Aleppo’s northeastern countryside, during Operation Euphrates Shield. Since then, al-Bab has become a refuge for displaced Syrians from various parts of the country. The city is now home to people from different cultures and traditions, and its diversity has been manifested in a variety of economic, social, cultural and entertainment activities.

In addition to its original residents, thousands of families from various cities — including those who fled Aleppo’s eastern neighborhoods in late 2016 — presently reside in al-Bab. The displaced from parts of the country that witnessed heavy fighting and raids during offensives by the Russia-backed regime forces and by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS), also took refuge in the city. These include people from Deir ez-Zor, Abu Kamal, Mayadin, Raqqa, Palmyra, Maskanah, and other towns and villages on the banks of the Euphrates, in northern and northeastern Syria. Al-Bab is also home to hundreds of families displaced from the al-Waerneighborhood in Homs and the outskirts of Damascus.

The relative safety in areas liberated under Operation Euphrates Shield, particularly al-Bab, is a reason why the displaced have opted to move. Fleeing the siege in al-Waer, Umran Homsi arrived with his family in al-Bab in mid-2017. He said he came to al-Bab because it has become safe under Turkey’s direct protection, unlike parts of the country that are under FSA control, such as Idlib province that is still being shelled.

Homsi now works as a tailor in a small shop located on Asfour Street in the center of al-Bab. He told Al-Monitor, “I named my tailor shop Khayat Homsi [Tailor Homsi], which is the same name as my shop in al-Waer neighborhood in the city of Homs. The majority of my customers here are the displaced from al-Waer, in addition to other clients from different cities who also reside in al-Bab.”

While in al-Bab, Al-Monitor noticed that the owners of restaurants, cafes, butcheries, cellphone shops, pharmacies and grocery stores had named their shops in al-Bab after their cities, towns and villages of origin, such as Kebz al-Mayadin (Mayadin Bread) and Falafel Halab (Aleppo’s Falafel).

Hage Saleh Ayash, a 60-year-old from Deir ez-Zor, told Al-Monitor at Makha al-Furat (Euphrates Restaurant), “It has been six months since I arrived in al-Bab with my family, fleeing the battles and shelling between IS and the regime in Deir ez-Zor. Every day I come to this restaurant to smoke shisha, recall memories of my beloved city and meet with other displaced people from Deir ez-Zor.”

Al-Furat al-Kabir cafe in al-Bab is owned by one of the displaced from Deir ez-Zor. It has on its menu tea and Arabic coffee and allows customers to smoke, play cards and watch TV on big screens. The cafe is usually overcrowded at night, frequented by the young and old from Deir ez-Zor and the neighboring cities of Abu Kamal, Raqqa, Asharah and Muhasan.

Al-Monitor also met with Aref Mohammad, a photographer at Anadolu Agency, who hails from al-Bab. He said that most of the displaced who have come from different parts of Syria to al-Bab are trying to preserve their own traditions, which is reflected in their food, clothes and social relations. He noted that the people from Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa and Abu Kamal form close social bonds, like to party, go to restaurants and meet with their friends.

According to Mohammad, such cultural diversity in al-Bab has brought a new dimension to the city, in addition to the construction of a large number of residential apartments to accommodate the displaced.

However, he added that the attachment the displaced have to their own culture and traditions could impede communication between them and the city’s original residents and their integration. He stressed, however, that no incident has been recorded so far and that the new families are gradually opening up, respecting and benefitting from the city’s diversity.

Most of the displaced in al-Bab are not ready to return to their homes, as they are hostile to the regime and SDF that control the cities and towns in Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa, Palmyra, Aleppo city and other parts of Syria.

Image: Al Monitor

Article: Al Monitor