Exclusive report | Poor living conditions, security repression and mandatory conscription among major factors forcing Syrian young people to leave Syria
Syria’s protracted war which has been raging for over a decade has contributed greatly to upturn the future of too many young people and left many obstacles and challenges, forcing them to flee from their homeland and search for a better life in other countries.
Accordingly, a new wave of mass displacement by young men from all Syria provinces, no matter which power dominated, started in the recent time in an attempt to flee from the disastrous situation in their country, including the sever economic hardship, dire living conditions and security vacuum.
The displacement of young men from Syria is attributed to several factors which are varying from one area to another whether these areas are controlled by the Syrian regime and its proxy militias, Syria Democratic Forces, Turkish-backed factions or Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham. However, several factors, including the dire living conditions and security repression, remain common in the entire Syrian geography.
In regime-controlled areas, there is growing demand for issuance of passports and visas in governmental directorates in order to travel to various countries, especially to Egypt where the Egyptian authorities facilitate the procedures of the entry of Syrian people and welcome them. In addition, Egyptian people treat the Syrian refugees very well, and they have never been bothered or opposed their participation in the Egyptian labour market.
Also, the growing displacement from regime-controlled areas to north Syria region became noticeable in the recent time, despite the large sums of money needed to be paid to smugglers, as the Syrians have been seeking to flee from astronomically inflated prices and security repression, particularly the mandatory conscription. After arriving in areas under the control of opposition factions in north-west Syria region, many of these displaced people continue their trip towards Turkey then to European countries. It is worth noting that attempts by civilians, young men in particular, to smuggle themselves from Syria into Turkish territory take place daily.
Smugglers’ ways to transport people to another area in or outside Syria vary depending on the dominating power. Meanwhile, young people face many obstacle during their way out.
On the other hand, young people face many challenges preventing them from immigration, as people who are not able to travel legally by air or by land find themselves obligated to risk their safety and lives by heading to north Syria with the help of smugglers who take large sums of money which exceed 3,000 USD each. After that, the people who manage to reach north Syria have to take a new risk by attempting to smuggle themselves again to Turkey and then to European countries.
A human rights activist known by his initials as A. K. shared his point of view regarding the most prominent reasons behind the immigration of young people, specially in the recent time, saying “the Syrian youths are known for their ambition, and they look forward to creating a bright lifestyle in their early career. Seeking for getting a bright future therefore is the most prominent motive which pushes Syrian young people to leave Syria, after the country has been plagued with significant destruction at all levels. Everyone has the right to leave the place which he cannot achieve his ambition and dreams in, and that is what exactly happening in Syria. Marriage has become an unreachable dream for the Syrian young men because of poverty, while the standards of education have become too low to suit the recent requirements, especially in the north Syria region’s universities which grant certifications that are not internationally recognized. In addition, thousands of young people are suffering from the lack of job opportunities, growing security repression and internal displacement.”
A. K. further explained, “the current environment is not perfect for a Syrian youth to enjoy a decent life which can enable him/her to achieve one’s ambition. Accordingly, immigration remains the best choice for those young people, especially since some countries, including Germany, Sweden Norway and Egypt, provide basics of a dignified life, pave the way for the new comers to get jobs and continue their studies and secure all possible factors that enable them to blend in with the new society.”
“In earlier years of the Syrian Revolution many young men had to stay in Syria due to the accelerated developments, including peaceful demonstrations calling for freedom and opposing tyranny which were followed by bombardment, destruction, killing and fierce battles. But now, Syria goes through a state of relative stability which coincides with economic collapse, soaring living costs, and repression practiced by dominating powers against young people, especially the driving of young men to mandatory conscription in regime-controlled areas and SDF-held areas, as well as the growing phenomenon of unemployment and lack of minimum levels of basic necessities. All these factors have spurred the Syrian young people to immigrate in the recent period, specifically after 2019 which experienced a major wave of displacement to north Syria region,” added A. K.
With the catastrophic situation in Syria, immigration has become the highest priority purpose of many people who are still in Syria.
In a testimony to SOHR, a displaced young man known as M. A. from west Hama countryside and now living in Kafr Takharim town in the northern countryside of Idlib, said “there is nothing encouraging people to stay in Syria. As soon as I get money, I will never stay for one more second. Everything here needs rehabilitation and reconstruction, so that the Syrian young people can get a dignified life suits their ambition. Traveling to Turkey or any other European country has become the young people’s top priority, so that they can secure a better future, away from a country that has been struggling with chronic crises during the protracted war which has been raging for years, especially since there is no a workable solution looming in the horizon. In north Syria region, there are hundreds of young graduates in all fields. However, only young men with ‘patronage’ can get jobs, regardless of scientific competence. Meanwhile, every Syrian young man, who got married two or three years ago and has become responsible for a new family, has found himself forced to search for a suitable job securing even the minimum levels of welfare for his wife and children. In the recent time, an alarming large number of young people across Syria have immigrated to other counties, and if financial conditions were better and the authorities of neighbouring countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey facilitated procedures of the entry to their land, there would be a much broader wave of displacement. Despite all obstacles the immigrants face, immigration from Syria is on the rise. No one desires to leave his homeland, and the Syrian young people would never chose to immigrate, if the right circumstances were available.”
There is a plenty of posts on social media posted by smugglers who help Syrian people to sneak from regime-controlled areas into north Syria region and into Turkish territory in return for large sums of money. Meanwhile, tens of people react with such posts, asking about the ways and prices of such smuggling operations.
Another man known by his initials as A. M. working as a smuggler who helps civilians, especially young people, to flee from regime-held areas and areas under the control of Turkish forces in return for money talked to the Syrian Observatory, saying “in the recent time, Syria experienced a major wave of immigration from regime-held areas due to the dire living conditions there. Despite the high cost of the trip, as a share of money has to be given to regime officers, pro-regime influential individuals and the factions in north Syria as levies, many civilians in regime-held areas communicate with me daily to help them flee from their areas. Many of these people do not prefer to stay in north Syria, as they desire to reach Turkey or any other European countries.
Talking about the prices of smuggling operations, A. M. said, “the cost of transporting people from regime-controlled areas to north Syria is 2,500 to 3,500 USD each, and those who want to continue their way to Turkey have to pay an additional sum of money of 600 to 3,000 USD each. While there are several other ways to transport people who want to sneak into European countries with a cost of an average 3,500 USD each. Smuggling operations of people living in north Syria cost much less. As I have also received offers from people who wanted to leave SDF-held areas, I once transported a whole family from al-Qamishli city to al-Bab city, and they are preparing themselves now to depart to Turkey.”
R. M. is another young man from Jabal Shashaboo in the western countryside of Hama has shared his experience with SOHR. The man said, “I managed to reach Germany and join my brother who had left to Germany a few years ago, exactly in 2019. I started to learn German and got along well with the German people. Now, I continue my education in a German school, after I have suffered greatly in Syria due to the war and joining one of the factions for a short time, before moving to Turkey.
The young man added, “when I was serving in the armed faction, I struggled with a psychic conflict and felt that I lost my future, as I had to devote myself to serve that group. I started to feel that I deserved a better future, so I abandoned the armed group whose operations confined only to fight for influence. I live now in a centre of the Arab Family Services in Germany and depend on subsidies granted by the government. I am also thinking about getting married and having a family. I am so sorry that I am away from my homeland, but the current circumstances have made the Syrian people shoulder extra burdens, which affected the youth much greater.”
Regarding the legal immigration, social media activists circulated a photo on August 28, showing sever overcrowding in Damascus international airport, exactly at the departure hall, as tens of civilians were waiting for their flights to leave Syria. Meanwhile, the administration of the airport denied the recent overcrowding, claiming that the photo was taken before 2011.
In the same context, several pro-regime newspapers and media websites circulated a report on the fact that the Immigration and Passport Directorate in the capital, Damascus, received a large number of applications by civilians who wanted to issue passports, which led to delaying the delivery of the new passports and ignited a state of dissatisfaction among the people who desired to immigrate from Syria.
Beside the dire living situation, there are many key reasons behind the immigration of young men from regime-controlled areas, including the mandatory conscription imposed by the regime army which throw young recruits into raging frontlines and fierce battles.
A man from Hama city known as A. S. who is a father of two sons, one of them is liable for mandatory conscription, while the other has been defected from the regime army, has told SOHR “I chose to immigrate to Turkey with my sons, after my elder son had defected from the regime army by getting an official leave in mid 2011. We headed to north Syria region, then to Turkey. I have settled in Turkey for ten years for fear of my sons being driven to the regime army and throwing them into battles. After we had come to Turkey, my sons and I started to work in vegetable business, and we have already improved our living situation, as I could buy a house in the Turkish city of al-Rayhana and a car.”
The man has confirmed that the decision of immigration was in the sons’ best interest, after their safety and lives were at risk.
According to Syrian regime’s laws, young men aged 18 and above are liable for mandatory conscription dubbed the “Service of the Flag” which lasts for one year and a half, as well as additional years defined by the Ministry of Defense under “reserve duty”.
It is worth noting that many Syrian young male and females who have immigrated to Arab and European countries could prove themselves in several practical and scientific fields, and they managed to excel in schools and universities in these countries. Many young people have also participated in the economic renaissance of the countries they immigrated to and played key roles in the labour markets there.