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4.1.4. Civilians originating from areas associated with opposition to the government

Last update: February 2023

This sub-profile refers to civilians from areas associated with opposition to the government, in particular (former) opposition-held areas in Dar’a, Rural Damascus, Idlib, Latakia, Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Quneitra. It addresses the situation of civilians from recaptured areas as well as, briefly, areas which continue to be under the control of anti-government armed groups.

COI summary

The government’s territorial gains over the course of the Syrian conflict were followed by continued arbitrary arrests and detention [Targeting 2020, 1.2.3, p. 21]. Arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances of alleged opposition supporters took place in recaptured areas [See e.g Recaptured areas,, p. 29; Security 2020,, p. 73,, p. 193,, p. 207]. Persons in reconquered areas were reported to be in constant risk of military conscription raids as they were likely to be considered as having an anti-government opinion [Targeting 2022, 1.2.3, p. 26]. Residents of areas that had undergone reconciliation with the GoS were specifically targeted with arbitrary arrests, particularly in Dar’a and Rural Damascus [Targeting 2022, 1.1.1, p. 19].

GoS treats individuals from former opposition-held areas with a heavy degree of suspicion. The intelligence agencies created a wide network of informants and surveillance to ensure that the government kept a close watch of all aspects of Syrians’ everyday life and restricted criticism of the GoS [Targeting 2020, 1.1.1, p. 15]. The scrutiny of individuals from former opposition-held areas is the highest in Damascus, given the concentration of security personnel in the city as well as the importance of the capital to the government. The GoS also restricted the access of civilians that wished to return to Damascus and Rural Damascus and unlawfully demolished houses of residents [Targeting 2020, 1.2.3, p. 23]. GoS engaged in practices of seizing lands and properties of its opponents, redistributing these assets among members of the security services and local pro-GoS militias [Targeting 2022, 1.2.3, p. 23]. Persons in GoS-controlled areas whose origin is from areas controlled by anti-government groups may also be perceived as disloyal [Targeting 2022, 1.2.3, p. 25].

Furthermore, civilians were arrested for communicating with their relatives or friends in rebel-held territory or abroad and they were prevented from establishing further contact [Targeting 2020, 1.1.1, p. 15]. GoS also punished family members of alleged opposition supporters by applying a number of laws that violate their individual property rights. Women with familial ties to opposition fighters were reportedly detained for intelligence-gathering purposes or retribution. [Targeting 2020, 1.2.3, p. 21]

There were also reports of deliberate targeting of civilians in areas held by opposition groups. Starting in February 2019, ground offensives and airstrikes on areas controlled by anti-government armed groups escalated significantly, with reports pointing to the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, markets, mosques, residential areas, agricultural resources. [Security 2020,, p. 34, 2.1.3, p. 59]

Risk analysis

Acts reported to be committed against individuals under this profile are of such severe nature that they amount to persecution (e.g. arbitrary arrests, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance).

The individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: regional aspects (who is in control in the area, whether it was considered an opposition stronghold, etc.), and level of perceived support or collaboration with anti-government forces, familial ties or other connection to suspected  members of anti-government armed groups and/or political opposition members, perceived support for the government, ethno-religious background (e.g. being Sunni Arab), 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.

See other topics concerning persons perceived to be opposing the government: