Fleeing from mandatory conscription and dire living conditions | Residents move from regime-held areas to factions’ areas
As an economic hardship is striking the areas controlled by regime forces and their proxy militias, along with the chronic crises of gas, petrol and bread, many civilians desire to leave these areas and head to areas under the control of opposition factions and jihadi groups in Aleppo countryside in north-west Syria region. Accordingly, many people have attempted to smuggle themselves to these areas after paying large sums of money they got by selling their properties.
Talking to SOHR about this phenomenon, a young man known by his initials as M.M. from al-Rastan city in the northern countryside of Homs said “I left in early 2021 to north-west Syria, specifically the northern countryside of Aleppo, then to Turkey, after I had paid an estimated 1,200 USD. The main reason behind my departure was the lack of job opportunities. I could not find a job after I finished my university studies and graduated from science faculty. Also, the high prices which hindered his marriage spurred me to smuggle myself to al-Bab city in the northern countryside of Aleppo. I cooperated with a friend who introduced me to a smuggler who help people to cross from regime-held areas to rebel-held areas in return for large sums of money. I left two Aleppo countryside in March 2021, after I paid the money in two batches, a batch before I started the trip and the other batch was delivered after I had reached my destination. I later headed to another friend who hosted me for several days an arranged for another trip with the aim to help me smuggle myself to Turkey in return for paying 400 USD. I had sold me private car and borrowed money from one of my relatives before I leave my home, and my goal now is to travel to an European country.”
Reliable sources have told SOHR that most of smuggling operations are carried out via smugglers in the northern countryside of Aleppo in areas under the control of Turkish-backed factions, exactly near al-Bab city and other areas adjacent Bebl and al-Zahraa towns. These smuggling operations are carried out under complete coordination with the National Army’s factions that impose a share of 20% of the total sum of money paid to a smuggler, as a levy, in return for facilitating the smugglers’ work. These levies are delivered to commanders and officials in charge of border areas, between regime-held areas and the areas controlled by the National Army’s factions.
SOHR sources have also confirmed that smuggling operations from areas under the control of Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham in Idlib city and countryside are rare, while most of the people who flee from regime-controlled areas are young people. There are many factors behind the fleeing of these people, and the most prominent of these factors are the dire living conditions, the regime’s inability to secure the minimum level of basic needs and rights, and their fear of being driven to mandatory conscription.
The cost of smuggling operations is varying according to the state of every person who want to be smuggled from one place to another, the area he wants to travel to, and the people he knows in the areas under control of the factions, as a trip’s cost reaches 1,000 to 2,000 USD. Meanwhile, the smuggler’s task ends with the arrival of the person to the factions’ areas in Aleppo countryside.
Local sources have reported that many of people who had been smuggled to north Syria sought to continue their trip to Turkey in order to search for jobs, some preferred to reside with their families in the region, while others looked forward to moving to an European country. Sometimes, some of people are arrested while they are attempting to cross into the factions’ areas. Also, some people have been scammed by smugglers. Not to mention the arduous trip that may take days, because of the large number of checkpoints.
A journalist from Azaz city shared his point of view with SOHR saying “smuggling of people from and to areas under the control of regime forces and of factions of the National Army has become a source of good money, and smugglers prefer that kind of smuggling that smuggling from Syria to Turkey, exploiting the desire of many people to flee from regime controlled areas to the factions’ areas. This became a comfortable trafficking for these smugglers and for the commanders of the National Army and regime officers as well. Smuggling operations have been alarmingly rampant in the recent time, especially with the sanctions imposed on the Syrian regime, the Syrian currency plunge and the astronomically inflated prices with an employee’s average monthly salary not exceeding 100,000 SYL, which is not enough for only a few days. Everyone thinking of smuggling to rebel-held areas is looking forward to getting a job in north Syria region or move to Turkey or Europe in order to improve their living conditions. There are no accurate statistics regarding the people fled from regime-held areas to north Syria. However, smuggling operations take place on a weekly basis.”
It is worth noting that the living conditions in regime-held areas is deteriorating, as the Syrian pound against the US dollar has recorded 3,100 SYL, which encourages civilians to move to north Syria, as some of them believe that they will be safe from arbitrary arrests and mandatory conscription, while others think that they can improve their living conditions by seeking refuge in Turkey or a European countryside.