Last update: February 2023
This profile refers to men who have refused or evaded conscription, including those who have not yet been confronted with conscription. It also includes reservists who may be called into military service.
For information on military service and definition of ‘draft evader’ see 4.2.1. Military service: overview.
Following the outbreak of COVID-19 and the cessation of major military operations in Syria in early 2020, SAA military recruitment activities reportedly slowed down. However, the SAA was regularly calling up new conscripts and reservists. In October 2021, a circular was issued announcing the conscription of male Syrians of compulsory military age. [Targeting 2022, 2.3, p.39; Military service, 2.3, p. 15]
According to reports, a specialised officer decides who will be drafted into the army as a soldier. Draft evaders would not be treated differently in the army than regularly recruited soldiers, as the individual qualification of the conscript is more important. However, there is further information that arrested draft evaders as well as returnees who did not pay their exemption fee were immediately sent to the army and most often to an active war zone. Furthermore, it is reported that conscripts who did not pay their exemption fee were first detained for a few weeks and then sent to the army. Draft evaders returning after some years abroad were reported to be punished with imprisonment. According to various sources, it was likely that people were first detained for some time and sometimes even tortured before being recruited and sent to fight. [Targeting 2022, 2.4, p. 42]
Conflicting information exists on how the GoS considers draft evasion. On the one hand, it was reported that draft evasion was seen as disloyalty or even political dissent towards the GoS and that persons who refuse military service are considered cowards and traitors by the authorities. In a war situation, military field tribunals with summary execution are possible, as draft evasion is regarded as betrayal of the nation. On the other hand, a source noted that the GoS does not necessarily consider draft evaders to be opponents of the government in general, knowing that many people have fled only to avoid death and not because of an oppositional attitude. [Targeting 2022, 2.7, p. 46]
Regarding recruitment methods, it was reported that the GoS sent out notices to the homes of men who had reached military service age, requesting them to register. In addition, the names of men called up for military service were recorded in so called ‘wanted lists’ and in central databases, which were also accessible to officers at checkpoints and at the border. There is information that, even if the authorities were not actively searching for draft evaders most of them were recruited at checkpoints, for example when travelling between or around cities. As a result, there are reports of draft evaders hiding for years and not leaving their homes. Paying bribes was reportedly a common method of evading military service, e.g. to have one’s name removed from wanted lists or to be waved through checkpoints. [Targeting 2022, 2.3, p. 39; Military service, 2.4, p. 21]
In July 2021, the Military Police and the Military Security Service were said to have conducted patrols in the city of Aleppo in order to get hold of over 14 000 potential recruits. People who were drafted into the army and did not show up at their conscription centres reportedly faced punitive measures, such as being required to serve longer than standard military service terms, an additional prison sentence or the duty to pay a fine. [Targeting 2022, 2.3, p. 40, 2.7, p. 47]
According to sources from January and June 2022, men from former opposition-held areas were especially enlisted as reservists, including those over the age of 42. Further sources from January and February 2022 reported that they had knowledge of cases of returnees who were called up to serve as conscripts or reservists. [Targeting 2022, 2.3, p. 40]
According to the Syrian Military Penal Code (Articles 98, 99), draft evaders are punished with one to six months of imprisonment in peacetime, after which they have to complete their military service in full. In wartime, draft evasion is a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison and individuals have to complete their military service. In the reference period, military conscription was reportedly a reason for arrest. In April 2022, there was information that draft evaders who had not been involved in any opposition activities were detained for a short period and then sent to military service. Returnees were reportedly also at risk of being detained and/or being re-enlisted. It is also assumed that all prisoners in Syria are tortured and that soldiers could be treated even worse. According to one source, even a conviction under the anti-terror law for draft evaders is possible. Regarding the personal background of draft evaders, it was reported that the sanctions, such as the risk of being imprisoned and drafted into the army, are similar for all of them, even for the privileged ones, for example from Alawite families or with contacts to the regime. [Targeting 2022, 2.7, p. 48]
A legislative amendment of February 2021 empowered the Ministry of Finance to immediately confiscate and sell the property of individuals who reached the age of 43 without having completed their compulsory military service or having paid the exemption fee, without providing notice or giving the individual an opportunity to challenge the decision. According to reports in February 2021, 42-year-old draft evaders were threatened not to be exempted from military service if they did not pay the exemption fee in cash. Otherwise, their assets, or even those of their relatives, would be confiscated. Following the public outcry, the Syrian Foreign Ministry clarified that relatives would not be affected. However, a report published in August 2021 stated that the Ministry of Finance had frozen the assets of individuals and their family members on the basis of the recent amendments. [Targeting 2022, 2.1, p. 38]
There are also reports of family members of those evading military service and deserters facing retaliation by GoS. Concerning family members of draft evaders, reports range from pressure and harassment to house searches, interrogations and arrests, with sources noting that family members of draft evaders from former opposition-held areas have been more severely harassed [Military service, 4.1.2, pp. 34-35, 4.2.1, p. 38]. However, according to a source from April 2022, family members of draft evaders do not face any repercussions from authorities [Targeting 2022, 2.7, p. 48].
Risk analysis 5
Several different elements need to be addressed with regard to the risk of persecution for draft evaders:
- the general risk of committing excludable acts in relation to Article 9(2)(e) QD
- the treatment of draft evaders in practice
- the situation of conscientious objectors
Even though the level of violence has decreased in recent years, in the case of the ongoing armed conflict in Syria, various excludable acts continued to be committed by the Syrian Armed Forces. Taking this into account, in conjunction with the fact that the individual recruits and reservists generally have no control over their role within the armed forces, neither with regard to their place of deployment nor with regard to the assignment of specific tasks, well-founded fear of persecution in relation to Article 9(2) (e) QD would in general be substantiated.
In addition to being sent to active fighting, acts reported to be committed against draft evaders are of such severe nature that they would amount to persecution (e.g. arbitrary arrest along with other forms of mistreatment such as physical violence and, the risks associated with the treatment in detention facilities, including torture). Taking into account the arbitrariness of such treatment, well-founded fear of persecution in this regard would also in general be substantiated.
Regarding the fact that there are no provisions for alternative service, and there is no right to conscientious objection except for Christian and Muslim religious leaders, well-founded fear of persecution would also in general be substantiated for other persons who have evaded conscription on grounds of conscience.
Therefore, in the case of draft evaders, well-founded fear of persecution would in general be substantiated. While certain exemptions from military service are envisaged in law, their application in practice lacks predictability. Taking into account that amnesty decrees are limited in time and do not remove the obligation to perform military service, they would also generally not impact the level of risk associated with draft evasion.
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. In the case of conscientious objectors, persecution may also be for reasons of religion.
See also EZ, para. 61 and fourth point of operative part:
Article 9(2)(e) in conjunction with Article 9(3) of Directive 2011/95 must be interpreted as meaning that the existence of a connection between the reasons mentioned in Article 2(d) and Article 10 of that directive and the prosecution and punishment for refusal to perform the military service referred to in Article 9(2)(e) of that directive cannot be regarded as established solely because that prosecution and punishment are connected to that refusal. Nevertheless, there is a strong presumption that refusal to perform military service under the conditions set out in Article 9(2)(e) of that directive relates to one of the five reasons set out in Article 10 thereof. It is for the competent national authorities to ascertain, in the light of all the circumstances at issue, whether that connection is plausible.
EZ, para. 61 and fourth point of operative part
- 5See also CJEU, Andre Lawrence Shepherd v Bundesrepublik Deutschland, C‑472/13, judgment of 26 February 2015 (Shepherd), and EZ v Federal Republic of Germany, represented by the Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, C‑238/19, judgment of 19 November 2020 (EZ).
See other topics concerning persons who evaded or deserted military service:
- 4.2.1. Military service: overview
- 4.2.2. Draft evaders
- 4.2.3. Military deserters and defectors