In case the criterion of ‘safety’ is satisfied, as a next step, it has to be established whether an applicant can:
Figure 15. Travel and admittance as requirements for IPA.
The general situation and the individual circumstances of the applicant should be taken into account when assessing whether he or she can safely and legally travel and gain admittance to Damascus City.
It should be noted that in the context of Syria and in particular the security measures related to State actors, the three requirements should be read in conjunction.
✓ Safely travel
There should be a safe route, which the applicant can practically travel through without undue difficulty, so that he or she can access the area of IPA without serious risks.
Damascus International Airport is located 30 kilometres southeast of downtown Damascus (about 30 minutes by car from the City Centre). While the airport is identified as operational, most flights have been suspended as of April 2019. Damascus International Airport is controlled by Air Force Intelligence services. Security corporation Gardaworld wrote in the end of November 2019 that the security situation at Damascus Airport had ‘improved significantly’ over the past 12 months, however, there was still an ‘elevated risk’ of collateral damage to aircrafts due to Israeli airstrikes on the Iranian presence there [Damascus, 2.2].
While the number of checkpoints in Damascus governorate is reported to be significantly reduced (by 90 %), checkpoints continue to operate on the road between the airport and Damascus City. Other checkpoints are concentrated around the central Old City and Mazzeh District; though they are mostly focused on entrances into Damascus, such as highways from Lebanon, at the airport, and on the M5 highway toward Homs. There are greater numbers of checkpoints in former opposition-held areas and still occasional ‘flying checkpoints’ by pro-government forces, mainly in areas such as Eastern Ghouta. Different forces control checkpoints in different areas of Damascus, particularly intelligence services, and especially Air Force Intelligence, as well as regular units like the 4th Armoured Division and the Republican Guard. [Damascus, 2.4]
Treatment at checkpoints was reported to include arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial detentions, torture and forced disappearances. In a survey with 350 returnees, published in June 2019, 75 % reported they were harassed at checkpoints, government offices, on the street, conscripted, or arrested [Damascus, 2.4]. Disappearances and arrests on return to Syria, including at the airport in Damascus, were reported. SNHR noted that since 2014, they documented at least 1 916 arrests of Syrian refugees who returned to Syria; of these, 1 132 were released and 784 remained detained, of whom 638 were ‘forcibly disappeared’. SNHR documented 15 cases of returnees who were reportedly killed due to torture. Cases of arrests and forced disappearances of refugees who had settled their cases with security services through consulates or committees for reconciliation were also reported. [Damascus, 2.3; IDPs and returnees, 3.5]
‘Wanted lists’ were reported to include between 1.5 and 3 million names. Sources stated that each branch of Syria’s security services had its own ‘wanted lists’ and they do not coordinate for clearing names. It was generally difficult for people to know their status with the GoS. While sources note that those with financial means and connections can find out if their name is on ‘wanted lists’, this potentially exposes them. It is also not a guarantee against difficulties, including the risk of arrest. [Damascus, 2.3]
Profiles at particular risk of arrest at checkpoints tend to be those who return to Syria without security permission or reconciliation in place prior to traveling, individuals who work or carry out activities believed to oppose the government, such as journalism, aid work, local councils, rescue workers, as well as men of military age, and those with family members who were forcibly displaced to Idlib or Aleppo. [Damascus, 2.4]
Passing through checkpoints requires identification documents. In addition to some permanent checkpoints, temporary checkpoints may also be established. Almost all checkpoints have the capacity to check a person’s background and military service status. [Damascus, 2.4]
Since the GoS have retaken some of the areas of Damascus City in summer 2018, minorities such as Christians, Shia Muslims, Alawites and Druze are generally not subjected to interrogation or checks at the checkpoints in Damascus City, unless their name and place of residence on their ID card does not indicate that they are a minority. Other sources remarked that a person’s political affiliation and perceived loyalty was of greater focus of government scrutiny than ethnicity. [Damascus, 2.4]
Insecurity is reported to have disproportionately affected women and intensified restrictions on them. They faced greater risks in access to livelihoods and security as their restricted mobility was further impacted by security and honour concerns in the conflict environment. [Damascus, 2.4]
✓ Legally travel
There should be no legal obstacles that prevent the applicant from travelling to the safe area.
According to the Syrian Constitution, Syrians enjoy freedom of movement, travel and residence inside Syria unless restricted by a ‘judicial decision or by the implementation of laws’. Syrian citizens are also allowed to travel internationally, but the government denied access to passports and civil documentation based on political views, association with the opposition, or geographical location associated with the opposition. The GoS imposed exit visa requirements and was reported to closely monitor Damascus Airport and border crossings. [Damascus, 2.1]
A new Circular of the GoS from August 2018 provided that Syrians, who left the country illegally during the war, will not encounter problems due to illegal exit; while previously, under Law 14 of 2014, illegal exit was in principle punishable with imprisonment and fines. [Damascus, 2.1.]
✓ Gain admittance
The applicant should be allowed to access the safe area by the actor(s) who control it.
It had been previously indicated that Syrians returning to Syria cannot just settle in any place under government control and that establishing residence is only possible with the approval of authorities. However, at the beginning of 2019, the Syrian Ministry of the Interior announced that it would no longer require a security clearance as a prerequisite for registering a lease with municipalities, but that a lease would be registered at the municipality and the data then forwarded to the security authorities, so that the security authorities could only raise objections afterwards. This has reportedly been implemented in Damascus.
Sources note that persons who have left Syria illegally can return without facing problems if they legalise their status at a Syrian representation abroad prior to returning to Syria. However, Syrians who return must agree to sign loyalty pledges to the government, including providing extensive background information and signed statements to cooperate with authorities, or must enter reconciliation agreements. All Syrians returning to the jurisdiction of the GoS are forced to interact directly with the security sector - including giving extensive background information that may incriminate them or their family members, with no guarantees about how information will be used [Damascus, 2.1.].