Last Updated: Friday, 26 December 2014, 13:50 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Syria

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 11 July 2007
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Syria, 11 July 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4696388d14.html [accessed 27 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

In May, Syria arrested eight Ahwazi Arabs from Iran, ultimately deporting five back to Iran. Four were refugees registered with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and another had been before he obtained Dutch citizenship. In March 2007, it arrested six more Ahwazi Arabs, releasing five whom UNHCR had registered as refugees in April. It released no information on the sixth detainee, who Iran had sentenced to death in absentia. Syria reportedly deported 50 Iraqis who fled Lebanon (see below) back to Iraq. On other occasions, UNHCR prevented the deportation of registered asylum seekers.

In April, Syria allowed nearly 300 Palestinians from Iraq stranded on the Iraq-Jordan border to enter the country, but confined them to El-Hol refugee camp. It closed its border to Palestinians from Iraq in May, stranding a group of about 350 who remained at the Al-Tanf border crossing where, in November, the Iraqi Guard abducted three young men and two minors while they were near the Iraqi Borderline Centre, held them for ten days, and physically abused them. By February 2007, the number of stranded refugees had risen to nearly 700, about 360 at Al-Tanf and nearly as many just inside the Iraqi side of the border.

Although border officials turned back several hundred Palestinians, Syria eased visa restrictions to allow entry to nearly 200,000 people fleeing the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon during July and August. This included 180,000 Lebanese, 13,000 nationals of other countries, and 4,000 Palestinians. The vast majority returned when the violence ended, and a September survey found only 2,000 Lebanese still in Syria.

By the end of the year, Syria hosted some 800,000 Iraqi refugees. There were about 452,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria, of whom 442,000 registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). UNHCR also recognized 3,300 refugees from Somalia, Sudan, Iran, and Afghanistan as well as from some other African countries, along with 5,000 asylum seekers.

The 1973 Constitution prohibited the extradition of "political refugees" because of "their political principles or their defense of freedom," but Syria did not have a procedure for granting asylum. UNHCR registered about 39,000 Iraqis in Syria under its temporary protection regime and performed refugee status determinations for those it deemed most urgently in need of resettlement. It granted individual recognition to 22 Iraqis during 2006, and 63 left the country for resettlement. There were serious backlogs in refugee hearings in early 2007. More than 80 percent surveyed in 2005 said they would apply for refugee status if UNHCR were granting it.

Arab nationals, including refugees and asylum seekers, could enter Syria freely and stay for three months, after which time they had to request a residence permit from the Syrian Department of Immigration and Passports. Many simply left the country and reentered regularly, but this was difficult for poorer Iraqis and those with the greatest fear of return, and many had to live clandestinely. In 2005, the Ministry of Interior informed immigration offices that they could deny visas to nonresident men aged 18 to 30 for a variety of reasons, including for traveling alone or suspicious travel abroad.

In 2004 and 2005, the Government introduced immigration regulations that stipulated that Syria would not permit aliens that it expelled to return without permission from the Minister of Interior.

A 1956 law provided that "Palestinians residing in the Syrian Arab Republic territories are considered as Syrians by origin in Syria, in all matters pertaining to the laws and regulations," but it did not include rights to naturalize or to vote. In April, Syria agreed to accept 181 Palestinian refugees from Iraq who had been living in tents on the Iraq-Jordan border for about a month after Jordan refused their entry.

Syria deprived some 300,000 stateless Kurds of citizenship, passports, and birth certificates, thus disqualifying them from property or business ownership, voting rights, and public sector employment. In addition, they could not travel outside of Syria, and those who left could not reenter. Syria did not require military service on their part.

Detention/Access to Courts

Syria reportedly detained some 50 Iraqis who fled Lebanon during the Israel-Hezbollah conflict and held them until they agreed to deportation to Iraq. It also held eight Ahwazi Arabs before deporting five of them to Iran and releasing three. In March 2007, it arrested six more Ahwazi Arabs and deported two.

Prisons in Syria were often severely overcrowded, and authorities often denied inmates sufficient food. Syria did not allow independent monitors to investigate conditions, but it occasionally allowed foreign diplomats to visit detention facilities. Detainees had no legal recourse for false arrest.

Police conducted random inspections for residence permits, exposing refugees without them to extortion in lieu of deportation. Residence permits were only available from the Department of Immigration and Passports, which required proof of employment and a fixed address. Those of most Iraqis were expired.

The 1973 Constitution limited to citizens the principal of equality before the law, but extended to all its due process protections in criminal matters.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Syria confined about 300 Palestinians who fled Iraq in El-Hol refugee camp, but otherwise permitted Palestinian and other refugees to move freely throughout Syria and to choose where they wished to live. Most resided in and around Damascus. A little over a quarter, some 119,000, lived in 13 camps established for Palestinian refugees.

A 1963 law entitled Palestinian refugees to Syrian travel documents if they had registered with the General Administration for Palestinian Arab Refugees and held Syrian provisional identity cards. The documents were valid for six years, renewable at Syrian consular offices abroad, and provided for return to Syria without a visa. Additionally, Palestinians could travel between Syria and Lebanon using state-issued identity cards, and were also entitled to Arab League travel documents.

The 1973 Constitution limited to citizens its rights to freedom of movement.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Generally, Iraqis could not work legally in Syria because they lacked work permits. The process for acquiring work permits was extremely difficult, and the Government rarely granted them to refugees. Non-Palestinian refugees were generally dependent on low-paying jobs in the informal sector without legal protection. Unemployment rates among Iraqis were over 80 percent for women and over 50 percent for men. Iraqi girls as young as 12 engaged in prostitution, and gangs and even family members trafficked Iraqi women and girls.

Syria, however, permitted Palestinian refugees who had lived in the country for ten years to work with rights nearly on par with Syrians, but a 1956 law barred them from jobs with the Government.

A 1959 law required non-Arab foreigners to obtain work permits from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour and residence permits in order to work. With permits, they received the same insurance, vacation, and workers compensation as nationals, but were reluctant to assert claims because authorities could revoke their permits at any time. A 2001 law allowed Syrians legally to employ foreign domestic workers with a streamlined process. This was the only option for many asylum seekers to work and have residence permits, albeit with few labor protections. They could not switch employers without the Ministry of Interior's prior permission.

A 1952 decree allowed registered Palestinians to hold title to one house or one plot of land, but they could own more in unregulated residential and rural areas. Syria did not allow foreigners to own any arable land. In cases where these limitations interfered with Palestinians' running businesses, Syria allowed citizens to purchase property with control by Palestinian refugees through binding agreements.

The 1973 Constitution limited to citizens its guarantee of the right to work, but not its property protections. It limited to "the popular sectors" the right to organize trade unions.

Public Relief and Education

UNHCR was able to help only a few of the neediest Iraqi refugees. This included providing housing for single women and income-generating activities for female-headed households.

Palestinian refugees generally used UNRWA health services, which made referrals to Syrian hospitals unnecessary. UNHCR and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provided only the neediest Iraqi refugees with free or subsidized medical services, and nearly three quarters of Iraqis had to pay for their own. Since January 2005, Syria restricted the public health system to emergency services and childhood vaccinations.

Iraqi refugee children could attend Syrian public schools if their parents had passports, but parents without current residence permits feared to enroll their children as it might heighten their visibility to the authorities. Most schools were already at capacity anyway. School fees and the need to obtain proper Iraqi documentation led to high dropout rates, and Iraqi refugee families often expected their children to work long hours to earn money. As many as 30 percent of Iraqi children did not attend school. Primary education was mandatory for Palestinian children, who could enter UNRWA elementary schools as well as Syrian elementary schools. The 1973 Constitution provided for free primary education as a right and did not limit it to citizens. It limited to citizens, however, its provisions for social insurance and health services. Syria strictly controlled NGOs – especially those aiding the stateless Kurds or focusing on human rights violations.

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