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2.5. Persons perceived to be opposing the SDF/YPG

Last update: September 2020

This profile refers to different groups perceived by the SDF/YPG as opposing them. It includes, in particular, political opponents, persons with (perceived) links to ISIL (see also Persons with perceived links to ISIL),  and persons associated with Turkey and/or the SNA. In addition, it addresses the situation of Arabs and Christians in Kurdish-controlled areas.

COI summary

[Main COI reference: Targeting, 3]

Different profiles of individuals can be considered by the SDF/YPG as opposition:

a. Political opponents and supporters of opposition parties

[Main COI reference: Targeting, 3.1]

PYD is viewed as the dominant political actor in the Kurdish-controlled areas, where it exercises ultimate control. Most of the Kurdish opposition is united under the umbrella group of the Kurdish National Council (KNC).

With the establishment of PYD-run administration, many opposition parties are said to have gone into exile or have been suppressed by the PYD. PYD and the affiliated Asayish engaged in arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances and torture of political opponents, such as the members and leaders of KNC. Burning of KNC offices and blocking of political activities was also reported. In the months preceding the 2017 local elections in northeast Syria, Kurdish authorities launched a campaign of arrests of ‘illegal’ and unpermitted political parties, resulting in the closure of nearly all opposition party offices. In January 2019, the PYD-run administration allowed ‘unlicensed’ political parties to open new local offices. Due to the Turkish military offensive in October 2019, talks about a deal between the PYD and KNC have emerged.

Activists, journalists, members of human rights organisations, members of civil society who opposed their policies, individuals who refused to cooperate with Kurdish groups, civilians supporting competing political parties, and individuals perceived to be insufficiently loyal, had been arbitrarily arrested [See also Journalists, other media professionals and citizen journalists and Human rights activists]. Civilians were reportedly also targeted under the charge of cooperating with opposition factions.

b. Persons with (perceived) links to ISIL

[Main COI reference: Targeting, 3.1]

The treatment of individuals with perceived links to ISIL, including by the SDF/YPG, is addressed in a separate profile Persons with perceived links to ISIL.

It should also be noted that, while the SDF regularly claims to arrest ISIL affiliates, some of those arrested were reportedly civil activists, including activists involved in the uprising against the Assad government, and humanitarian workers.

c. Arabs and Christians in areas controlled by SDF

[Main COI reference: Targeting, 3.3]

Arabs have claimed to be marginalised in the governance of the areas where they constitute a majority, with decision-making ultimately resting in the hands of the Kurds. This imbalance of power has led to unrest in Arab tribal areas, resulting in protests in the governorates of Deir Ez-Zor, Hasaka and Raqqa. Main complaints were lack of services, discrimination, forced conscription, failure to release prisoners, deterioration of living conditions, and arbitrary arrests of civilians under the accusation of having links with ISIL or Turkey. Arab fighters that refused to join SDF claimed that they have been subjected to harassment, arbitrary arrests, and confiscations of weapons and cars. Corruption, extortion and abuses of power at the hands of SDF personnel was also reported.

Concerning the situation of Sunni Arabs in Syria in general, see the profile 2.11.1. Sunni Arabs.

In 2018, disputes between the PYD-led Kurdish administration and Christian communities over the school curriculum led to the temporary closure of schools in the cities of Qamishli, Hasaka and Al-Malikiyeh. Christian activists complained in protest that the ‘mandated curriculum denied them their own unique ethnoreligious identities’ and that it aimed to promote Kurdish nationalism. Teachers who refused to fully implement the PYD curriculum were arrested. During relevant protests, demonstrators were also arrested or disappeared by PYD forces.

Concerning the situation of Christians in Syria in general, see the profile 2.11.5. Christians.

d. Persons associated with Turkey and/or the SNA

[Main COI reference: Targeting, 3.4]

Since the capture of Afrin by Turkish forces and affiliated armed groups in March 2018, YPG and other armed groups engaged in a low-level insurgency. They reportedly conducted IED attacks, roadside ambushes, kidnappings and executions against the Turkey-backed groups that control the area and suspected collaborators, including (perceived) informants for Turkish authorities or members of the Turkish-supported civil administration of Afrin. Relatives of members of the FSA were also arrested for interrogation. In the wake of the Kurdish forces’ withdrawal from the areas captured by Turkey and SNA in the October 2019 offensive, there were also unconfirmed reports of SDF forces killing civilians for perceived relations with the SNA.

Risk analysis

Actions to which individuals under this profile could be exposed are of such severe nature that they would amount to persecution (e.g. forced disappearance, torture, arbitrary arrest). When the acts in question are (solely) discriminatory measures, the individual assessment of whether or not discrimination could amount to persecution should take into account the severity and/or repetitiveness of the acts or whether they occur as an accumulation of various measures.

Not all individuals under this profile would face the level of risk required to establish well-founded fear of persecution. The individual assessment of whether or not there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: regional specifics (who is in control of the area of origin of the applicant, if the applicant was located in any of the IDP camps), the nature of activities and degree of involvement in activities perceived by SDF/YPG as opposition, (perceived) affiliation with ISIL (see separate profile Persons with perceived links to ISIL) or Turkish-backed forces (see also 2.1.1. Members of anti-government armed groups), being known to Kurdish authorities (e.g. previous arrest), etc.

Nexus to a reason for persecution

Available information indicates that persecution of this profile is highly likely to be for reasons of (imputed) political opinion.


   Exclusion considerations could be relevant to some sub-categories of this profile, such as ISIL members and members of the SNA (see the chapter 6. Exclusion).