Haddid is an author of a recent report about compulsory military service in Syria and the dangers Syrians face because of it. It is important to know what exactly is going on and how dangerous it is in Syria so that immigration policies of European Union can reflect that kowledge.
Compulsory military service during wartime is what every government does, how is it different in Syria?
Syrian Arab army was heavily used by the government against Syrian population at different points in time and that is the reason why so many people are escaping or refusing to join. Both of those options are illegal in Syria and these people will be arrested if the government catches them. This is the reason why so many Syrians cross the border and refuse to go back.
How was Syrian Arab army used against Syrian people?
People who leave the army usually say they left because they were forced to loot, extort or even kill people from their own communities. But if we look at Syrian history it is clear that the army has been used against Syrians even before the war. For example, to stop any protests from hap
pening or to pit neighborhoods against each other. The Ba’ath party of Syria has huge intelligence service and their informants are spread out across the country, reporting back on their local communities.
Government of Syria has put in place amnesties encompassing those who refused to serve. What are these amnesties saying and does the government abide by them?
They did put forth series of amnesties but aren’t abiding by them. If there is an opposition-held area, they have an amnesty saying they’ll make sure that if everyone would peacefully leave no one would be arrested. Obviously this hasn’t been respected. They would capture opposition-held area, arrest people and then draft them into Syrian Arab army fighting on the front lines as a form of punishment. There was another amnesty put forth saying that anyone who evaded military draft would be pardoned and have a chance either to enlist or pay an exemption fee. That also hasn’t been the case. We know of a lot of people who have been arrested when they came back to Syria.
Men have reported that they are afraid to go through certain checkpoints even after they served the army because they could be pulled and enlisted again against their will. So by enlarge all these amnesties that the government put in have been nullified by their own actions. This is dangerous because some European entity can think the situation in Syria is safe now and force refugees to go back.
For example, Dutch court has recently stripped 94 Syrian refugees of their visas and said they can go back to Damascus. Since things have quiet down a little bit in Syria, there are conversations happening in Europe which are resulting in a lot of push-backs of Syrian immigrants.
However, our research shows that military conscription is still a huge concern and a lot of people can’t go back because they face immediate arrest or conscription into the army because of this law.
On the other hand, it is important to mention that European highest court ruled that military conscription is a basis for asylum in Europe because it puts people in danger. However, presence of companies like Frontex and push-backs that are happening around Europe speak against that decision. Military conscription is a small part of a huge conversation about why these push-backs have to stop.
There is a prevailing racist argument in Europe that says since there are more male immigrants from Syria than female, they are sent here to spread Muslim beliefs and “take European women”. Would you agree that military conscription is actually far more logical explanation why there are so many men fleeing the country?
I would agree with you. I don’t see why it’s illogical to think that there would be more male asylum seekers then female in this case. Issue of military conscription isn’t a small one. When you talk to Syrians about it they are seriously scared and it really does affect them. I understand why no one facing this issue would go back to Syria.
For how long does the service in military last? Are there people fighting the war indefinitely?
That’s something weird that’s happening. Lets say you’re drafted into army because of military conscription law. Usually you are only drafted for 6 months and up to 2 years. But, we are seeing people who are not discharged by the army, who are still fighting, which goes against mandatory conscription law. We are seeing people who are being drafted even though they are younger than 18 and older than 42, which is also going against aforementioned law. So there are people who are waiting to be discharged since the war started. They have done their service, they want
to leave, but they’re kept there as a form of retainment of manpower.
From what I could gather from your report, people can pay exemption fees that grants them immunity from joining the army. Can you tell us more about this?
Exemption free is based on the amount of time living abroad. If you lived abroad for one year, you need to pay 10,000 dollars, if two years, 9,000 dollars and so forth. If you want to be exempt from the army and you live in Syria you either need to show that you are the only son in family or that you are the only one providing income. Also, you don’t have to fight if you are a student, so a lot of them are failing classes on purpose.
Is this policy discriminatory along the class lines?
You could fairly make that argument because refugees rarely have 10,000 dollars to spare. You could also argue that people are able to pay bribes for weather they’ll join the army or not.
At the end of the report Haddad lists quite a few policy recommendations for different entities with political influence on immigration. For European countries offering asylum, report recommends to respect the principle of non-refoulement and to organize legal routes to Europe for people in need. UNHCR should allocate more resources to establish monitoring system that enables conditions for a safe, voluntary and digniFfied return of displaced Syrians. Government of Syria should offer amnesty for military draft avoiders. In the end, humanitarian practitioners, donors and NGOs should incorporate an understanding of how the effects of military conscription impact lives, well-being and livelihood opportunities of Syrian men and their relatives into humanitarian protection programming.
Since Haddad mentioned Frontex, it is important to note that the human rights organization Mare Nostrum has published a comprehensive report describing how more than 9,000 people from Greece have been forcibly pushed back into Turkey in the past year, preventing them from exercising their right to seek asylum, security and protection. In addition to the Greek Coast Guard, as the main actor behind these illegal and systematic pushbacks, the report states that the European Border and Coast Guard Frontex was involved. Frontex also has a problem with transparancy since it was revealed that they falsly reported to the public that they were not meeting with lobbyists, when in reality they were holding a series of meetings with them, at least half of which were not entered in the EU Transparency Register. In addition, another report provided a detailed overview of the frauds Frontex made, since lobbyists of the armed and security surveillance industry played a major role in shaping their approach to border protection, which involved ignoring fundamental human rights.
The issue of military conscription in Syria and dangers refugees face is also important for Croatia since there are many instances of police violence against refugees and pushbacks happening. By assessing treatment of refugees in Croatia in the past year, Center for Peace Studies has written the following:
“We witnessed the escalation of violence and inhumane treatment of refugees in May, when photos were published showing the physical mark
ing of refugees with orange spray all over their heads, which the refugees testified was committed by the Croatian police during inhumane and illegal expulsions from Croatia. The Center for Peace Studies has filed a criminal complaint on suspicion that Croatian police officers have grossly violated their legal powers by abusing their position to torture, humiliate and illegally expel victims, including children. In addition to inflicting bodily injuries, material damage, suffering and mental pain, the victims were threatened with naked life with violence that reached as far as hitting people’s heads with the door of a police vehicle and shooting at them.
…Due to the violent and illegal expulsion, two cases are currently pending against Croatia at the European Court of Human Rights. The first is the family of the tragically deceased six-year-old girl Madina Hussiny, and the second includes the expulsion, illegal detention and inhumane treatment of a 17-year-old Syrian boy by Croatian police, who was expelled to Bosnia and Herzegovina despite the fact that he was seeking asylum in Croatia.”