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Last update: November 2021

[Main COI reference: Military service]

Male citizens between the age of 18 and 42 are obliged by law to perform their military service. Career soldiers can be called to service up to the age bracket of 48 to 62, depending on the rank. Registered Palestinians residing in Syria are also subject to conscription and usually serve in the ranks of the SAA-affiliated Palestinian Liberation Army. After completing compulsory military service, former soldiers can be called up for reserve service. The age limit is less dependent on the universal draft than on the government’s mobilising efforts and local developments. In January 2021, sources indicated that Syrian authorities focused recruitment on men between the ages of 18 and 30, while older people tended to avoid the recruitment more easily [Military service, 2.1, 2.3]. A source had noted that the age limit for reserve service can be increased if the person possessed specific qualifications, such as in the case of doctors, tank drivers, air force personnel, artillery specialists and combat equipment engineers. While there were some rare reports of recruitment under and above the legal age, most sources were not aware of such practices.

Conscientious objection

According to Article 46 of the Constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic, ‘compulsory military service shall be a sacred duty and is regulated by a law for all men over the age of 18 years’. The right to conscientious objection is not legally recognised and there are no provisions for substitute or alternative service. The GoS reportedly views the act of conscientious objection as high treason. Only Christian and Muslim religious leaders are exempt from the military based on conscientious objection, although Muslim religious leaders are required to pay an exemption fee. [Military service, 2.2]

Exemptions and deferrals

The law permits exemptions from military service for the categories of individuals as described below. However, the process for obtaining an exemption was assessed to include more limitations and more variation on case-by-case basis. In practice, the exemptions are generally implemented, but an increasing level of arbitrariness and corruption has been reported. There are also reports that returnees have been conscripted despite promises that they would be exempted. [Military service, 3]

The following are possible exemptions and deferrals according to the law:

  • Only sons: The only male child of his parents can be exempted from military service. The exemption is also applicable if the parents of the only son are divorced, or if one or both parents are deceased. In addition, an only son will be exempted if he has half-brothers or has become an only male child as a result of the death of one or more of his brothers. Legislative Decree No 33, issued on 6 August 2014, which amends a number of articles of Legislative Decree No 30 of 2007 on the mandatory military service law, altered the number of sons per family who may postpone military service, with the numbers becoming as follows: ‘1 may postpone if 2-4 brothers were performing mandatory, voluntary, or reserve military service, 2 if there were 5-8 brothers in the military service, and 3 if there were 9 or more brothers in the service’. Before the amendments, only one son could postpone. A family’s only son can still benefit from the exemption regulation, but the GoS has been tightening controls on this. Instead of renewing the exemption every two years, the person concerned is obliged to renew it every single year until his mother reaches the age when she is not expected to be able to give birth to another child (approximately by the age of 50, according to the source). According to several sources, between January and March 2020, the GoS has implemented the provision of exempting sons from military service in practice. However, some sources noted that they would not exclude the possibility that this exemption is not always applied in areas formerly controlled by the opposition. [Military service, 3.1]

  • Medical cases: Reliable information concerning medical reasons for exemption from military service is difficult to obtain. However, there are reports that even older and obese men, who in the past would have been exempted relatively easily, were conscripted if required by the authorities. It was also noted as probable that a person would not be given an exemption unless his medical condition was very clearly visible. A source also pointed out that in some cases it was possible for an individual to get an exemption based on medical grounds if a bribe was paid. Some sources indicated that those who suffered from a serious mental illness, had a disability, or became disabled while serving in the army were either exempted from military service or assigned to an administrative position. However, other sources indicated that soldiers with mental disorders, continued to serve in the army. [Military service, 3.2]

A new decree from November 2020 stipulated that men in Syria, who have been or will be assigned to an administrative position for medical reasons (‘khadamat thabiteh’), could pay an exemption fee of USD 3 000. In this case, however, they were not entitled to state housing and cooperatives and were not allowed to borrow from public Syrian banks for five years. Information on the medical criteria and the practical implementation of this amendment had not been found. [Military service, 3.4.1]

  • Students: Students at universities may, under certain conditions, be exempted from military service, although a 2017 change in law made it more difficult for university students to continue deferring their conscription. Amendments made to the Military Service Law in July 2019 by Legislative Decree No.12 introduced more restrictions on the age limits allowed to start different levels of education, as well as the number of study years during which students are permitted to request exemption from military service. Persons who have reached the age of 27 are usually not granted a deferral by the military police. Students applying for a deferral from military service face more scrutiny than before, while students without proper documentation are conscripted immediately. According to a report from February 2020, university students still benefitted from the deferral of military service while studying. However, the source noted that Syrian men from former opposition-controlled areas were not allowed to defer their military service by attending university. [Military service, 3.3]

  • Paying an exemption fee: According to Law 30/2007, Syrian young men residing abroad, including registered Palestinians from Syria, can pay a fee (‘Badal al-Naqdi’) to get an exemption from compulsory military service and they are not to be called up again. Since 2007, this decree has been amended several times, latest in November 2020. Until then, the exemption fee applied to a male living abroad for no less than four years. The fee was USD 5 000 before the war and rose to approximately USD 8 000 later. The November 2020 amendment set new amounts for the exemption fees depending on the length of stay outside Syria: men who stayed abroad for one year, two years, three years or four years are required to pay USD 10 000, USD 9 000, USD 8 000 or USD 7 000 respectively to obtain an exemption. The number of years of residence is calculated for the period either before or after the person reached the age of military recruitment. Those whose length of stay exceeded five years after reaching military age must pay a penalty of USD 200 per year in addition. Furthermore, individuals who were born outside Syria and have continuously resided there until reaching the age of 18 can pay USD 3 000, while others who resided abroad for more than ten years can obtain an exemption by paying USD 6 500. Those exceeding 25 years will have to pay USD 8 000. Not only persons who left the country legally, but also those who left illegally can be exempted from their military service obligations. The deadline for paying the fee is three months after receiving the call for conscription. Such arrangements are reportedly being implemented in practice, but they in no way constitute a guarantee against forced conscription. The use of exemption fee is often linked with corruption, bribery and discretionary application. [Military service, 3.4]


Amnesty laws have been issued on several occasions since March 2011 to grant draft evaders or deserters amnesty from prosecution, including in 2018, 2019 and in 2020. However, military service would still have to be completed and those who were part of the armed opposition or dissented against GoS were excluded from the amnesty. In order to benefit from the amnesty, draft evaders or deserters had to turn themselves in within a certain period of time following the issuance of the decree. In October 2018, a circular was issued that forbade the arrest of reservists. Those reservists could still be called up again in the event of war or a state of emergency. Despite the amnesty, the GoS issued new lists of persons called for emergency military service, which contained 400 000 names, including a large number of youths whose names had just been removed from the list by virtue of the amnesty measure. [Military service, 4.3]

Legislative Decree No. 6 of 22 March 2020 specified that the maximum grace period was three months for those who fled within Syria and six months for those who fled outside the country. Several sources stated that little to no information was available on the implementation and scope of the general amnesties. Very few individuals would be interested in using the amnesty law, the main reasons being that it did not pardon them for fulfilling the military service. Other sources also mentioned that there was distrust among the population, because the GoS reportedly did not respect prior amnesties and reconciliation agreements, e.g. by arresting and detaining Syrians or by sending them directly to military service. [Military service, 4.3]


According to Law No 35/2011, which amended the military conscription Law No 30 of 2007, military service lasts between 18 to 21 months. However, since the outbreak of the conflict, most conscripts have not been discharged even after their compulsory military service has been fulfilled and had to continue their service.  Limited demobilisation campaigns of conscripts and reservists have been reported since 2018. In late March 2020, two administrative orders were issued, ending the service of certain categories of kept-in-service conscripts and called up reservists as of 7 April 2020. Two additional orders were reportedly issued in November 2020, terminating the service and recall of certain reservist categories. In January 2021, the Syrian Ministry of Administrative Development announced that more than 10 000 demobilised soldiers and reservists had passed exams to enter top tier public service jobs. [Military service, 2.6].

Regional specifics

In the recaptured territories, men of military age must also perform compulsory military service. Although reconciliation agreements usually gave them a six-month grace period once they had clarified their situation with the security forces ('taswiyat al-wada'), reports document the arrest, detention and forced conscription of individuals before this grace period expired. Many ‘reconciled’ men, including deserters and draft evaders are said to have joined pro-government forces such as the Russian-led Fifth Corps or the National Defence Forces (NDF), or other elite forces such as the Fourth Armoured Division. According to the reports, they were subjected to pressure to join these units in order to receive better salaries, to stay in their home regions and not be perceived as opponents of the government. [Military service, 2.3.1]

In Sweida governorate, the Druze military-age men, who were largely protected by a tacit agreement with the Syrian authorities, have been under increasing pressure to serve in the army since mid-2018. By January 2021, some 50 000 people were reportedly wanted for conscription. Attempts to recruit were often repelled by the local community. [Military service, 2.3.2]

As for the areas controlled by the SDF in north-east Syria, recent reports assume that recruitment is taking place, but mainly on a voluntary basis [Military service, 2.3.3].


All conscripts are potentially at risk of being sent to the frontlines. Deployment reportedly depends on the army’s need for manpower as well as the conscript’s individual qualifications, his background or his experience in fighting. However, there is information that conscripts from reconciled areas are disproportionately often deployed to the front shortly after their enlistment and with minimal combat training as a form of punishment for their disloyalty to the regime. Several sources indicated that reservists are also deployed to the frontlines, although in smaller numbers. [Military service, 2.5.1, 2.5.2]

   Military service in Syria may trigger exclusion considerations. In terms of what excludable acts military service may involve, see The Government of Syria and associated armed groups under 6. Exclusion.