Last Updated: Thursday, 28 August 2014, 16:05 GMT

2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Syria

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 27 June 2011
Cite as United States Department of State, 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Syria, 27 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e12ee442.html [accessed 29 August 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.

Syria (Tier 2 Watch List)

Syria is principally a destination country for women and children subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking. Thousands of women – the majority from Indonesia, the Philippines, Somalia, and Ethiopia – are recruited by employment agencies to work in Syria as domestic servants, but are subsequently subjected to conditions of forced labor by their employers. Some of these women are confined to the private residences in which they work, and most have their passports confiscated, contrary to Syrian law, by their employer or the labor recruitment agency. Contracts signed in the employee's country of origin are often changed upon arrival in Syria, contributing to the employee's vulnerability to forced labor. The Government of Ethiopia's ban on its citizens accepting employment in Syria has not stopped the flow of workers into the country. Some Iraqi refugees reportedly contract their daughters to work as maids in Syrian households, where they may be subsequently expected to perform sexual acts and are vulnerable to forced labor.

Women from Eastern Europe – particularly Ukraine – Somalia, and Morocco are recruited legally as cabaret dancers in Syria; some "entertainers" are subsequently forced into prostitution after their employers confiscate their passports and confine them to their hotels. Due to the economic desperation of Syria's large Iraqi refugee population, some women and girls suffer trafficking at the hands of their families or by criminal gangs; victims are placed to work in nightclubs, for temporary "marriages" to men for the sole purpose of prostitution, or to be sold to pimps who rent them out for longer periods of time. Some Iraqi parents have reportedly abandoned their daughters at the Iraqi side of the border with Syria with the expectation that traffickers will arrange for them forged documents to enter Syria and employment in a nightclub. In other instances, refugees' children remain in Syria while their parents leave the country in search of improved economic circumstances, leaving the children vulnerable to trafficking. Iraqi women deported from Syria on prostitution charges are vulnerable to re-trafficking by criminal gangs operating along the border. Syria is a transit country for Iraqi women and girls, as well as Southeast Asians and East Africans, subjected to conditions of forced prostitution in Europe, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and Lebanon.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some economically desperate Syrian children are subjected to conditions of forced labor within the country, particularly by organized street begging rings. Some Syrian women in Lebanon may be forced to engage in street prostitution and small numbers of Syrian girls are reportedly brought to Lebanon for the purpose of prostitution, including through the guise of early marriage. Small numbers of Syrian adults are reportedly subjected to forced labor as low-skilled workers in Qatar and Kuwait.

The Government of Syria does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the year, the government made modest anti-trafficking efforts, with the Ministry of Interior launching a 200-person anti-trafficking directorate and the government hosting an international conference on human trafficking. Despite these efforts, the government did not demonstrate evidence of increasing efforts to investigate and punish trafficking offenses, inform the public about the practice of human trafficking, or provide much needed anti-trafficking training to law enforcement and social welfare officials over the past year. Therefore, Syria is placed on Tier 2 Watch List. The government did not respond to requests to provide information on its victim protection efforts for inclusion in this report.

Recommendations for Syria: Enforce the comprehensive anti-trafficking law through increased investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offenders; finalize the Executive Order required to implement Legislative Decree No. 3 of 2010, which specifically criminalizes trafficking in persons; provide training on human trafficking to police, immigration officials, labor, and social welfare officials, including those assigned to the anti-trafficking directorate; consider assigning a significant number of female police officers to the anti-trafficking directorate and provide specific training on the sensitive receiving of cases and interviewing of potential trafficking victims; launch a nationwide anti-trafficking public awareness campaign, particularly highlighting the appropriate treatment of domestic workers under Syrian law; establish policies and procedures for government officials to proactively identify and interview potential trafficking victims and transfer them to the care, when appropriate, of relevant organizations; and designate an official coordinating body or mechanism to facilitate anti-trafficking communication and coordination among the relevant ministries, law enforcement entities, international organizations, and NGOs.

Prosecution

The government made limited progress in implementing its anti-trafficking statute during the reporting period. Inadequate law enforcement training remained a significant impediment to identifying and prosecuting trafficking crimes in Syria. Syria's comprehensive anti-trafficking law, Legislative Decree No. 3, which was published in January 2010 and took effect in April of the same year, provides a legal foundation for prosecuting trafficking offenses and protecting victims, but does not lay out a clear definition of human trafficking. This law prescribes a minimum punishment of seven years' imprisonment, a penalty that is sufficiently stringent though not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Following the passage of this statute, the Ministry of Interior dedicated significant resources to launching a specialized anti-trafficking directorate in June 2010, which is tasked with investigating cases, raising public awareness, cooperating with foreign entities, training law enforcement, and tracking and annually reporting on the government's anti-trafficking efforts. The directorate opened an office in Damascus, hired over 200 staff members, and established working relationships with Interpol and IOM; the nature of its day-to-day activities is unknown. The directorate's effectiveness in investigating and charging trafficking crimes, as well as officially identifying victims, was hindered by the government's delay in issuing the Executive Order containing implementing procedures for Legislative Decree No. 3; prosecutions and victim protection were unable to proceed without this formal step.

The government provided limited information on its investigation or prosecution of suspected trafficking offenses. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government prosecuted 45 cases under Legislative Decree No. 3 in 2010: 11 in Damascus, 20 in the Damascus countryside, five in Aleppo, one in Deir al-Zour, three in Hama, one in Edlib, and four in Hassakeh. It is unknown whether these cases constitute human trafficking or reached conclusion by the end of the reporting period. Local observers, however, knew of only three investigated trafficking cases in Aleppo during the reporting period, which they claim cannot be effectively prosecuted until the release of the Executive Order. There were reports of collusion between low-level police officers and traffickers, particularly regarding the trafficking of women in prostitution; the government provided no information on its efforts to address this problem.

Protection

During the year, the government made modest progress in protecting trafficking victims, while continuing its partnerships with NGOs and international organizations to identify and provide services to victimized women and children. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor and other government ministries continued support of two shelters for trafficking victims, one in Damascus and the other in Aleppo, by sharing some staffing costs and dedicating funds to the creation of a database to track cases. These shelters, operated by local NGOs in buildings and on land donated by the government, offered legal, medical, and psychological counseling services to 160 women and three girls in 2010, some of whom were trafficking victims; at least 12 of these cases were Iraqi victims of forced labor or prostitution. The government failed to institute a systematic identification, interview, and referral process to address the protection needs of trafficking victims; the lack of an Executive Order providing a clear definition of a victim of trafficking continued to hinder official identification of victims, including by the government-supported shelters. As a result, victims of trafficking may have been arrested and charged with prostitution or violating immigration laws before being deported or punished. There were reports that some women arrested on such charges and subsequently identified as victims of trafficking by NGOs were referred to shelters, though such releases from detention remained ad hoc, inconsistent, and at times required lobbying from NGOs or international organizations. Male-dominated police units continued to be insensitive to issues such as rape and sexual abuse – practices to which trafficking victims are typically subjected – discouraging many victims from coming forward. The government neither encouraged victims to assist in investigations or prosecutions of their traffickers nor provided foreign victims with legal alternatives to their removal to countries in which they may face hardship or retribution.

Prevention

During the past year, the government made modest efforts to prevent trafficking. It conducted few campaigns to educate government officials and the general public about trafficking; most of the population has little or no awareness of human trafficking and the issue remains taboo to discuss. In June 2010, the government hosted an Interpol Global Trafficking in Human Beings Conference in Damascus, under the patronage of the prime minister. The status of the government's national plan of action against trafficking, which was drafted in early 2010, is unknown. The government monitored public- and private-sector industries through surprise inspections to ensure no children under the age of 15 were employed, but did not release statistics on the results of these inspections. In August 2010, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor reportedly instituted a new provision to address child begging that requires beggars to be fined between $500 and $1,000; it remains unclear if the child beggar is responsible for paying the fine or if an investigation is undertaken to determine and punish the party responsible for encouraging or forcing the child to work. While the work of domestic servants is not covered under Syria's labor law, Decree 27 of March 2009 and Decree 108 of December 2009 provide regulations concerning domestic worker recruitment agencies and guidelines for employment contracts; their enforcement could prevent forced labor. However, there were no signs that these laws were enforced. Syria is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

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