After spending seven years outside Syria, seeking a livelihood that he did not earn in his country, Hussein returned from the United Arab Emirates to his home country last July, taking advantage of the summer vacation, thinking that it will be a real “breathing space” for him after years of estrangement.
Hussein Y. (from Aleppo) went with his wife and children to Damascus, his hometown where he grew up and spent the days of his youth. His vacation continued in Damascus for two full months, and the time limit on his residency documents in the UAE was approaching, so he had to leave.
Performing military service twice
During his first trip to Beirut, and from there to the UAE, Hussein was shocked by the security authorities at the land border with Lebanon who told him that he could not travel unless he had a travel permit from the recruitment division of the Ministry of Defense in the Syrian government.
Hussein told Rozana Radio about the difficulty he faced: “I did not know I had to get a travel permit, because this procedure was not required before and nobody told me about it when I arrived in Damascus. I found myself forced to leave my wife and children travel alone, because if they stayed with me, it would make it impossible for them to enter the UAE, as the deadline on the residency documents there is approaching and residency will be canceled in just two days.”
Hussein returned to Damascus to contact his managers in the UAE to renew his residency documents. He had to check with the Embassy of the Emirates in Beirut to have the entry visa with the new exit and return proof number.
He had to forget his next difficult trip in Beirut because a harder time awaits him in Damascus. He would visit the recruitment division several times and wait for hours in the crowded queue there.
The Immigration and Passports Department in Syria imposed on September 2 obtaining “travel permit” from the recruitment branches in the provinces for males between the ages of 17 and 42 when leaving the country, in return for paying 50,000 Syrian pounds for the bank as exit insurance. This decision opened a new door to bribes and uncovered a new method of corruption followed by officials in the Ministry of Defense.
Hussein talked about the bribery request in the recruitment division he visited for travel permit: “My recruitment division in Aleppo and the military service record book are not there after my family house was burned in 2012, so I went to the General Military Recruitment Division in Damascus (where I completed my military service).”
Hussein was surprised by the response he had received in the "Intermediate" Recruitment Division, which told him that the papers of his military service and other papers were damaged, as happened to many others in several Syrian governorates. He knew that he would not find a solution in the Central Military Recruitment Division in Aleppo.
“They told me that because of the war, all the recruitment divisions in Aleppo countryside and the rest of the regions were connected to a central recruitment division in Hananu. They knew through correspondence that my name did not exist and there are no information about my military service,” he clarified.
Hussein was in a state of confusion and was very upset with his new situation. On the one hand, his residence documents in the UAE were about to expire, and on the other, he could not get out of Syria and return to his work because he is a detainee inside the country.
Hussein soon discovered during his difficult day that what the “Intermediate” Recruitment Division officer presented to him is an innovative means of fraud and a fraudulent way adopted by influential personalities in the Ministry of Defense to earn money.
"While I was in the recruitment division, where ideas took me to a standstill, a staff member in the division approached me and told me that he could get my travel permit, even without military service papers or any papers proving my military service.”
Hussein added that the recruitment division officer informed him that the requested travel permit could be issued, not with the declared amount “50,000 Syrian pounds,” but rather would cost “350,000 Syrian pounds,” seven times the amount he had to pay.
Hussein did not find another option to break the deadlock. He was forced to accept and agree immediately, in return for paying half of the amount before starting any action to obtain the travel permit, to complete the other half after receiving the permit that would be like a license to release him in his own country and allow him to return to work.
Only two days later, Hussein got the travel permit, as if he followed the necessary procedures, but this did not actually happen. The officer of the recruitment division only contacted his partners in Aleppo and asked for the travel permit without official proof. The bribe he was forced to pay was the key to the solution that the Defence Ministry forced him to resort to.
Sources in Damascus told Rozana Radio that what is happening in the recruitment divisions, especially bribery , whether in Damascus or the rest of the Syrian governorates, can only be described as a "brokering" process that takes place through a wide network of relations between employees of the Ministry of Defense and their partners in different civil sectors who enjoy a great confidence.
The Syrian war drove hundreds of thousands of young Syrians out of the country, who escaped and refused to take part in the conflict and kill their compatriots. The lists issued by the Ministry of Defense for the past few years identifying the names of the young people required to perform compulsory and reserve military duty did not miss any of them.
It is worth mentioning that the main reason prompting young Syrian people to escape participating in this slaughter was also the one to urge Syrian expatriate returnees to double back immediately. During all these years, their country has not been trying to give them a warm welcome, instead it pushed them into enormous abyss where they would suffer and rot.
Well-off must pay bribes
Hussein's case was not the only one. He said: "I asked the employee who received the bribe whether it would allow me to travel.
He reassured me saying that many people coming from different governorates have been in the same situation, and this was the only solution left for them to preclude the problem of being detained inside their country."
Rozana Radio interviewed "Hisham T."; another case who talked about the blatant extortion he has been subject to when checking the recruitment division.
"I went to Deir ez-Zor Military Recruitment Division earlier this month. They told me that my name is not listed in their records at all, but I assured them that I served my military duty, and I had a document proving that, in addition to the military service record book," Hisham said.
However, they accused him of providing forged documents. The employee told him: "Our records are not mistaken." He screamed at Hisham, forcing him to withdraw, because he found no solution or responsiveness to his problem.
Hisham stood puzzled at the lobby of the Recruitment Division. He was surprised when one of the staff members responsible for issuing travel permits approached him and said: "I want to advise you. You have to go to Damascus, you will certainly get the travel permit.
However, you have to pay 200,000 Syrian pounds instead." Hisham deplored the employee’s recommendation and wondered why he shall be forced to pay three times the official declared amount, as long as he provides all the required documents that give him the right to legitimately acquire travel permit.
The employee's answer clearly communicated the tendencies, intentions and means of the staff of the recruitment divisions in the Syrian governorates, which ranged between blackmail and public corruption. "You said you will have to return to work in Saudi Arabia; that means you are well-off expatriate. We only asked you a very small amount of money," the employee said.
At the end, Hisham was forced to yield to the extortion of the Recruitment Division in Deir ez-Zor. He asked the employee to make the necessary procedures and calls to communicate with the person responsible for bribery at the Intermediate Military Recruitment Division. Meanwhile, he traveled to Damascus to meet that person, who is responsible for the corruption network and receiving bribery, in order to close the deal and pay the required amount of money.
It took Hisham three hours only to acquire the travel permit then, which would take him more than two days in regular conditions.
During the past seven years, Syrians struggled with obtaining "official papers and documents," including the identity card, passport and the military service record book. In light of this situation, Damascus claimed the existence of many cases of forgery or illegal process people followed to acquire these documents.
According to a report issued in February by the Russian news agency Sputnik, these cases of fraud require huge amounts of money as every employee one deals with in the government departments needs to receive bribery.
The report pointed out that forgery is the easiest option for people, because of the speed of obtention of the document. However, this step may succeed or fail; meaning that the party that requests the papers may find out that they are forged.
As for the theft of the stamps, a source from the Syrian Immigration and Passport Department told Sputnik at the time, that as a result of the Syrian state's loss of control over many areas, all the stamps of many government bodies had been stolen, leading to the spread of gangs of forgery of papers and official documents.
Unlike Hisham, who had succumbed to the blackmail he was subjected to, Anwar B. had strongly refused to pay any bribe. He had been recruited in the army for nearly 7 years until he was discharged after a "war wound” which he had previously had, forcing him to leave Syria to Jordan where his family lives.
The former military officer had become able to apply to obtain a passport from the Immigration and Passport Department in Damascus like any civilian. However, he had to visit his recruitment division in order to obtain travel permit.
After obtaining his passport, he went immediately to obtain his release document. However, his old friends informed him of a shocking news: "You cannot travel. The military police will arrest you, as you are convicted of theft."
Anwar replied: "How was I released, got a passport, and had not been arrested, neither by the military police nor by any other party?" His old friends had to remain silent as culprits.
An officer in the room had then asked Anwar to talk to him separately, and told him: “Do not worry; I will manage things up. But, you have to satisfy the guys, in return for receiving permission to travel tomorrow, and without bearing the burden of going to the bank to pay the 50,000 Syrian pounds."
However, Anwar's refusal and his threat to file a complaint against them for asking for bribes forced the military officer to repent of what he had asked Anwar to do, promising him to manage things up normally. However, he asked Anwar to come at the beginning of the following week; by that time, he would have enough time to persuade his colleagues in the Division to turn a blind eye to Anwar.
Unfortunately, an evil intention was hiding behind that promise. Anwar’s brother said in an interview with Radio Rozana that when his brother went on the agreed date, a security patrol was waiting for him at the door of the Division and took him to a place unknown to his family since 20 days ago.
His family has then started asking the mediation of those who are close to the security services, to reveal the place and fate of their son. However, they have not received any convincing news until the hour of publication of this investigation.
Compulsory recruitment and precautionary summoning raise concerns among Syrians, while unofficial sources have been spreading the news that recruitment divisions will stop granting travel permission to Syrians wishing to leave their country in the upcoming period, under the instructions of the General Conscription Directorate, with the aim of scheduling and finalizing the names of those required for the reserve service.
Explicit violations of the Constitution
The Ministries of Defense and Interior have violated the Syrian Constitution by imposing travel restrictions on citizens, who would obtain travel permits only from the recruitment divisions, according to lawyer Firas Haj Yahya.
When asked about the circular issued by the Immigration and Passports Department, Yahya explained to Radio Rozana: "Article 38 of the Syrian Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to move inside or leave the country’s territory unless he is prevented from doing so under a decision from the relevant court or by the Public Prosecution, or in implementation of the public health and safety laws. The same article also guarantees Syrians’ right to return to the country."
Despite its adoption under a presidential decree, Article 48 of the National Service Act contravenes Article 38 of the Constitution of the country. Article 48 states: "Syrians and those under their power, who are completely 17 years of age and not more than 42 years of age, shall not be allowed to leave the Syrian Arab Republic without the prior consent of General Conscription Directorate, its areas and its affiliated divisions."
Yahya continued: "Accordingly, the legislator does not have the right to issue laws prohibiting people from traveling or restricting freedom of movement, unlike in Article 48 of the National Service Act, which requires the prior approval of the General Conscription Directorate to allow traveling."
The lawyer added, during his talk about another case of constitutional violation, that the Constitution provides for the principle of non-retroactivity of administrative and other decisions. "These include travel time limit and its amendments, which have been made under several decisions involving all the charged people without putting an end to the negative reaction effects of these decisions, which involved old and new charged people." Yahya added: "What happened after the abolition of this decree is a real irony and indiscretion legislation through the issuance of laws and legislations and their subsequent withdrawal and cancellation, by exempting those who are already exempted."
Haj Yahya believes that jurists could not make a distinction between the several committed constitutional violations, in terms of multitude and legislative mediocrity.
Collection of people's funds
This approach followed by the Syrian government is part of a series of economic measures to loot the Syrian currency from the pockets of Syrian citizens, explained Syrian financial consultant and economic researcher Younes al-Karim to Radio Rozana.
Al-Karim pointed out that the Syrian government suffers from the problem of printed currency paper, since it no longer owns enough printed currency, following Russia’s refusal to print a new currency, after printing it for the Syrian government since 2012. He believes that Damascus is concerned about the aggravation of inflation in Syria, which means that inflation might devour the whole Syrian currency. It is also concerned about international sanctions on Syria and Russia because of the currency’s printing in Moscow.
The economic researcher added that "there is a quantity of printed currency in the Gulf, Turkey, in areas out of Syria’s control, and in the hands of the merchants of Damascus. Therefore, the government is afraid to print a new currency which could lead to a major economic collapse." Al-Karim continued: "There is a fear of a greater economic collapse, which means wasting the idea of reconstruction. If the economy is very weak and collapsing, there will be no reconstruction."
Local newspaper al-Watan pointed out last month that the decision issued by the Ministry of Defense was immediately implemented without any announcement or prior warning. This caused confusion at the border posts and at the airport. The passengers had not been informed about the decision before a specified period. Hundreds of them were prevented from leaving the country, making them lose their travel bookings and the money they paid, and some even lost their businesses.
In contrast, local media reports stated that all males born in 1976 to 2001 must obtain a travel permit from the recruitment divisions, explaining that the new decision includes those who have served or been deferred from the national service, while the decision does not apply to those who are the only males in their families or exempted from military or reserve service.