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The Syrian Regime Perpetrates Multiple Types of Violations Against Citizens Obtaining Passports In and Outside Syria


1,168 People Arbitrarily Arrested at Immigration & Passport Departments, Including 16 Children and 96 Women, With 986 Subsequently Classified as Enforced Disappearances

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Press release: (Download the full report below)

The Hague – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today released a report entitled, ‘The Syrian Regime Perpetrates Multiple Types of Violations Against Citizens Obtaining Passports in and Outside Syria’, noting that 1,168 people have been documented as having been arbitrarily arrested at Immigration and Passport Departments, including 16 children and 96 women, with 986 subsequently classified as enforced disappearances.

The 21-page report explains that, in the years since the start of the popular uprising in Syria, the Syrian regime was in desperate need of sources of funds, having already exhausted the state’s resources in its efforts to crush the uprising. Accordingly, the regime had to devise new ways to fund itself, especially with the rapid collapse of the Syrian economy. It hit upon using the income from passports as one of these sources, especially as the need for these vital documents rose among Syrians displaced internally and abroad, not to mention among citizens who were trying to travel to other countries in search of better living conditions. As the demand for passports skyrocketed, the Syrian regime found this a lifeline to revive its hard currency reserves, so much so that the regular increases in passport prices came to resemble an ever-increasing stock price, as one can detect through the decrees promulgated by the Syrian regime.

As Fadel Abdulghany, SNHR Executive Director, says:
“The Syrian regime has exploited the Syrian people’s need for passports, a common need for all the world’s peoples. In this way, the regime has ensured that it can extort as much money as possible from the Syrian people by making the Syrian passport the world’s most expensive passport, not to mention the various pattern of degradation of human dignity, with the regime behaving as though it were paying for these passports out of its own pocket. The International community must create a legal alternative for passports in the event of internal armed conflicts, rather than leaving such a critical issue in the hands of the ruling authority, which, as in the Syrian case, may end up depriving large numbers of citizens – as much as half of the entire population – of such a vital document, or enabling the state to subject them to sadistic material and security exploitation.”

The report identifies six types of violations that Syrians suffer at the regime’s hands in their agonizing efforts to obtain passports. The first of these is the Syrian regime’s requirement for every passport applicant to first obtain security clearance. The Syrian regime imposed this requirement between 2011 and 2015 with the aim of denying dissidents access to passports in an effort to prevent them from leaving the country. While this requirement was lifted in 2015, the Syrian regime has continued to ‘weaponize’ passports as a tool of persecution to tyrannize dissidents. To that end, the names of all passport applicants are vetted and cross-checked with lists of people wanted by the regime. This puts applicants or their relatives submitting passport applications on their behalf at risk of being arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and forcibly disappeared.

Second, the report reveals that SNHR has documented no fewer than 1,912 arbitrary arrests by regime forces of citizens at Immigration and Passport Department offices across Syria between March 2011 and February 2024, with these detainees including 21 children, 256 women, and 193 individuals who had previously agreed to settle their security situation with the regime. Of these 1,912 people, who were detained in regime detention centers across Syria, 723 have been released and 21 have died due to torture and medical negligence, while the remaining 1,168, including 16 children and 96 women, are still imprisoned, with 986 currently classified as enforced disappearance cases.

Third, the report notes that civilians applying for passports have routinely been subjected to degrading and poor treatment. More often than not, the report adds, applicants must queue for many hours, without even being served. Such strategies are probably deliberate on the regime’s part, the report explains, with the objective of forcing people to pay bribes to employees or middlemen with links to security authorities so that these applicants’ paperwork will be processed more quickly. As for Syrian consulates and embassies, the report notes notable disparities between their treatment of applicants. For instance, staff at the Syrian Consulate in Geneva, Switzerland treat applicants with the standard courtesy, while Syrians visiting the Syrian Consulate in Istanbul, Türkiye, the city that houses the largest proportion of Syrian refugees, are routinely humiliated and extorted by staff members. As the report further adds, in numerous cases across many countries, Syrian citizens cannot book an appointment on their own using the online portal available due to the lack of any available appointments in the foreseeable future, with the next available appointment being one or two years from the current date. Left with no other option, these citizens are forced to go through middlemen with links to consulate staff. Furthermore, people wanted by the security authorities who are currently resident outside Syria must pay extra if they wish to renew their passports through relatives in Syria, in order to ensure that their relatives are spared the potential risks of arrests or persecution. Given the ubiquitous nature of such corruption in obtaining passports, and of the phenomena of bribes and middlemen, scams and frauds have also become the norm. Many unscrupulous individuals now prey on the insecurity and desperation of those needing passports to convey the false impression that they have links with officials at Immigration and Passport Departments or with consulate staff in order to extort money.

The report further explains that the unreasonably long waiting periods for processing passport applications, compared to other states, have complicated the legal status of many Syrians living abroad. For many, renewal of their residence and work permits is conditional upon having a valid passport. With Syrians in some countries unable to renew their passports, many have lost their jobs as a result and been asked to leave their host countries, while others faced the risk of being arrest due to having no valid residence permits. Meanwhile, the report stresses, the e-passport program adopted by the Syrian regime on August 20, 2023, has cost thousands of Syrian citizens vast sums of money, with only a handful of states recognizing those new e-passports, while most world states have, at least initially, refused to do so. This is because the regime failed to coordinate with other states and failed to notify these other nations’ foreign ministries and diplomatic missions of the changes it made to the passport system. Eventually, the regime had to treat these new passports, for which many citizens had paid large amounts of money, as ‘forged passports’.

As the report notes, between imposing exorbitant prices for passports, and extorting money from Syrians in other connected ways, passports have become a financial lifeline for the Syrian regime. There are no official figures on how much money is going to the state from the issuance of passports, since the Syrian regime does not demonstrate even the slightest financial transparency, and has absorbed the Syrian state wholesale, subjugating its resources and using its officials to further consolidate its power. The Syrian regime imposes unjustifiably and excessively high prices for issuing or renewing passports, thereby denying citizens who lack the financial means from exercising their rights to travel and freedom of movement, a blatant breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The report calls on the Syrian regime to cease its pillaging of the Syrian people’s money, to set a sensible price for passports that should cost no more than $20 in line with the world’s other states, and to issue citizens with passports valid for 6-10 years, in line with other states worldwide. The report also calls on the Syrian regime to dismiss and hold accountable those officials employed at Immigration and Passport Departments, and Syrian consulates and embassies who work covertly with mediators in providing passports in exchange for bribes, and to work on creating a functional online portal so that citizens can conveniently book appointments without having to go through, and pay middlemen.

The report also calls on the international community to pressure the Syrian regime and its allies to reduce the prices for Syrian passports, and find alternatives to the regime-issued passports, and to take into account their high prices which are simply unaffordable to citizens. The report also calls on states hosting Syrians worldwide to uncouple the renewal of Syrians’ residency permits from their possession of valid passports, in light of the fact that many Syrians who are not travelling from one county to another still need to renew their passports every 18 months simply to renew their residency or work permits in their host countries, in addition to making other recommendations.


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