The town of Hajin in Deir az-Zor province came to wider media attention in late 2018 as it was one of the last remaining strongholds for the Islamic State in eastern Syria. It was captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with the support of the U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State. Hajin remains under SDF control till this day, though much work is needed for reconstruction.
To learn more about the present situation in Hajin, I recently conducted an interview with 'Safhat Hajin al-Rasmiya' ('Official Hajin Page'), a local outlet that covers news in Hajin. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: How is the services and humanitarian situation in Hajin?
A: The services situation is below average. There are a few services like: cleaning workers, although they do not cover a quarter of Hajin, and a new fire services unit with a car that has a reserve water storage tank. Only one water station operates. It [Hajin] lacks many services: removal of rubble, the expansion of the cleaning operation, electricity, operation of all the water stations. The sewage needs repair for many areas, while the area it does cover is very small. The humanitarian situation is very bad with the suspension of jobs and collapse of the Syrian pound, and the presence of many IDPs in Hajin.
Q: So there are only private generators for electricity?
A: Yes, and at elevated prices: 3000 Syrian pounds for the ampere and 6 hours operation.
Q: And the inhabitants must buy water from tankers?
A: Yes, and at a price of no less than 2000 Syrian pounds for the storage tank.
Q: Are there any projects in the town?
A: Currently the organization Insaf lil-Tanmiya is working on the project of the Hawamah water station.
Q: How is the security situation in the town?
A: Currently stable, not devoid of small and rare problems between the traffic police or Asayish and some of the inhabitants.
Q: Are there problems of Da'esh [Islamic State] cells?
A: Until now nothing has arisen of this sort. There was once a coalition raid on a house. They took from it two youth accused of belonging to Da'esh.
Q: In general the SDF forces deal with the inhabitants well?
A: In general well. The matter is not devoid of excesses and small problems.
Q: What are the main challenges in terms of services and the humanitarian situation?
A: The challenges: the area is in a catastrophic situation, and has been exposed to great destruction, requiring great support and reconstruction.
Q: And do the people of Hajin prefer the SDF government to the regime?
A: The employees who have jobs with the regime, go to work there and return. As for those who do not have work with the regime, they are residing here. I have asked people here if they prefer the SDF government. The majority said yes the local inhabitants prefer the current situation, but the people want the current situation to be developed as it is the best of situations that have come upon the area in 10 years.
Q: The hospital in Hajin is still out of service?
A: Still. Awaiting some organisation to renovate it.
Q: So if someone needs an operation, where must he go?
A: There are three private hospitals for the surgeries.
Q: So hospitals where you must pay for the operations.
A: Yes: expensive prices as well.
Q: Finally what is the proportion of the inhabitants who have returned to Hajin since its liberation?
A: Approximately 90%- apart from the exiles outside the land [i.e. outside Syria].*
*(Update 7 June 2020): Looking back at the original Arabic text of the interview on account of some debate about this final remark, I realise now that I had misunderstood the original words. The meaning is in fact that 90% of the original inhabitants have returned apart from the exiles. As the interviewee clarified today:
'I mean that a proportion of 90% of those inside Syria have returned. 10% are still IDPs based inside Syria for multiple reasons: living with the regime, living in the towns of northern Syria. Possibly he [i.e. the one outside Hajin but within Syria] has work and does not want to leave it, or does not have a house to return to as his house is destroyed.'