Syrian refugees and rights groups have voiced concern that they could be left in permanent exile because of a proposed law which allows the Syrian government to seize abandoned properties.
The move, labelled “law number 10”, would have drastic consequences for the millions of Syrians who have fled and could mean they have no homes to return to if they ever go back to Syria.
Al Jazeera spoke to one woman named Um Ahmed, who fled Syria for Lebanon in 2013 and expressed anxiety that she could lose her home.
“I don’t know if I still have a house or if it was destroyed,” she said, adding “when we fled, we fled with nothing so I don’t have any documents with me.”
Um Ahmed’s story is not unusual, just nine percent of refugees took property deeds with them when they fled.
According to Lama Fakih of Human Rights Watch, the timeframe given to establish property right also made it impossible for those who have fled to establish their ownership.
“Many Syrian refugees no longer have valid identity documents. They will not be able to prepare the types of case files that they would need to show that they are property owners within the timeframe that is given under law number 10,” she said.
Syria’s government says that the law is needed to regenerate areas depopulated by war but opposition groups suggest an ulterior motive.
They say the law is an attempt to shift the demographic balance in key areas by populating them with supporters of the government.
More than five million people have fled Syria and a further six million have been displaced since the civil war began there in 2011.
Most fled to neighbouring countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, which are struggling to integrate such large numbers of arrivals.
Politicians in countries hosting Syrian refugees have also expressed concern that they would struggle to absorb large numbers of refugees for the long term.
Lebanese MP Alain Aoud told Al Jazeera the trend was “worrying”.
“We need things that encourage the displaced or the refugees to go back to their country, not measures to discourage them.”