- Introduction to the situation in Syria
- The implications of leaving Syria
- Actors of persecution or serious harm
- Refugee status
- Subsidiary protection
- Actors of protection
- Internal protection alternative
- Common analysis
- 1. Introduction to the situation in Syria
- 2. The implications of leaving Syria
- 3. Actors of persecution or serious harm
4. Refugee status
- General remarks
- 4.1. Persons perceived to be opposing the government
- 4.2. Persons who evaded or deserted military service
- 4.3. Persons with perceived links to ISIL
- 4.4. Members of and persons perceived to be collaborating with the SDF and YPG
- 4.5. Persons perceived to be opposing the SDF/YPG
- 4.6. Persons fearing forced or child recruitment by Kurdish forces
- 4.7. Persons associated with the Government of Syria
- 4.8. Journalists, other media professionals and human rights activists
- 4.9. Doctors, other medical personnel and civil defence volunteers
- 4.10. Ethno-religious groups
- 4.11. Women and girls
- 4.12. Children
- 4.13. LGBTIQ persons
5. Subsidiary protection
- 5.1. Article 15(a) QD: death penalty or execution
- 5.2. Article 15(b) QD: torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
5.3. Article 15(c) QD: indiscriminate violence in situations of armed conflict
- 5.3.1. Preliminary remarks
- 5.3.2. Armed conflict (international or internal)
- 5.3.3. Qualification of a person as a ‘civilian’
- 5.3.4. Indiscriminate violence: general approach
- 5.3.5. Serious and individual threat
- 5.3.6. Qualification of the harm as ‘threat to (a civilian’s) life or person'
- 5.3.7. Nexus/’by reason of’
- 6. Actors of protection
- 7. Internal protection alternative
- 8.1. Relevant circumstances
- 8.2. Guidance with regard to Syria
- Annex I. Abbreviations and glossary
- Annex II. Country of origin information references
Last update: February 2023
This profile refers to the topic of recruitment under the ‘Duty of Self-Defence’ and the topic of child recruitment by Kurdish forces.
‘Duty of Self-Defence’ and forced recruitment
[Main COI reference: Targeting 2020, 3.3, pp. 42-43, 4.1, pp. 46-47, 4.2, pp. 47-48]
Compulsory recruitment continued in 2021 based on the conscription law passed by the Kurdish Administration in June 2019 about the ‘Duty of Self Defence’ [Targeting 2022, 5.3, p. 64]. Geographically, the law applies to the areas of northern and eastern Syria under the control of the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration.
‘Conscription’ is mandatory for all male residents, including Syrian nationals and stateless Kurds, living in the territories under the Autonomous Administration. A May 2021 amendment expanded eligibility for conscription to those aged between 18 and 31 years [Targeting 2022, 5.3, p. 64]. Syrians from other parts of the country who have resided in the area longer than five years are obliged to join as well. Men serve in the YPG, while women can join the YPJ on a voluntary basis.
While under the Kurdish Administration law, members of ethnic and religious minorities are obliged to serve, the law was reportedly not enforced, and they rather joined on a voluntary basis.
The ‘Duty of Self-Defence’ has to be completed by the age of 40 years and it usually lasts six months. In the case of conscientious objection to join the Kurdish forces or arrest because of refusal to join, the ‘Duty of Self-Defence’ would be 15 months as a punitive measure. Late enlisters are obliged to serve for an additional month.
Deferrals can be granted by the Self-Defence Duty Department for: students, recent returnees to Syria, and persons with siblings younger than 18 years and a passed away or handicapped father. Exceptions to the ‘Duty of Self-Defence’ include medical reasons, disabilities, family members of martyrs holding a proving certificate thereof, or only sons. There is conflicting information as to whether the payment of a fee can exempt an individual from the ‘Duty of Self-Defence’, however according to Article 10 (2019) the payment of guaranty (kafāla) does not exempt from the mandatory service. Lists of people wanted for service in the YPG were issued in 2015.
SDF and YPG have used forced recruitment in addition to the ‘conscription’ system, in order to supplement their numbers. There were documented cases of arbitrary arrest for recruitment despite applicable postponements for education or medical reasons. The individuals recruited received basic training and were subsequently sent to the frontlines. Following the May 2021 amendment, large-scale campaigns by the SDF in various Arab-majority communities to arrest and forcibly recruit men and women aged between 18 and 31 years were reported. SDF units reportedly pursued young men in their homes and arrested anyone who refused to comply with these decisions. [Targeting 2022, 5.3, p. 64]
There were also reports that the SDF was asking returning families to volunteer one man per family to join YPG, which deterred some families from returning to their homes. Some families chose to move from the areas under SDF in order to avoid reprisals, including arrest, for not accepting recruitment.
[Main COI reference: Targeting 2022, 5.3, pp. 64-66; Targeting 2020, 4.3, pp. 54-57]
The SDF and its components, particularly the YPG, continued to recruit and use children in large numbers in 2021 and 2022.
Groups linked to the PKK such as the Kurdish Revolutionary Youth Movement and the Kurdistan Women Union (KWU) were also reported to recruit children in their ranks including through kidnappings.
IDP camps were a source for recruiting children, on some occasions without the permission of their families. Parents usually had no contact with their children once they were recruited and only found out from authorities that their children were in training. After the training period, children were deployed in combat operations. The adoption by the SDF of an UN action plan to end the recruitment and use of children in conflict in June 2019 reportedly led to a decrease in cases of recruitment and use of children for 2020, while an increase of those cases has been reported for 2021.
See also the subsection 4.12.2. Child recruitment concerning child recruitment by other groups under 4.12. Children.
SDF/YPG are non-State armed forces, therefore, non-voluntary recruitment by SDF/YPG, even if imposed under the ‘Duty of Self-Defence’, is considered as forced recruitment. Forced recruitment and child recruitment are of such severe nature that they would amount to persecution.
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: gender, age, falling within an exception ground, ethno-religious background, being in an IDP situation, etc.
For men of recruitment age, see also 4.2.2. Draft evaders in relation to the GoS military service.
Nexus to a reason for persecution
While the risk of forced recruitment as such may not generally imply a nexus to a reason for persecution, the consequences of refusal, could, depending on individual circumstances, substantiate such a nexus, among other reasons, to (imputed) political opinion.
In the case of child recruitment, the individual circumstances of the applicant need to be taken into account to determine whether a nexus to a reason for persecution can be substantiated. For example, in the case of children who refuse to join the Kurdish forces, persecution may be for reasons of (imputed) political opinion.