In addition to the general situation in the area of potential IPA, the assessment whether it is reasonable to settle in that part of the country should take into account the individual circumstances of the applicant.
The individual considerations could relate to certain vulnerabilities of the applicant as well as to available coping mechanisms, which would have an impact in determining to what extent it would be reasonable for the applicant to settle in Damascus.
Please note that this is a non-exhaustive list:
■ Civil documentation [Main COI reference: Damascus, 2.5]: As mentioned before, civil documentation is essential to meet the criterion of travel and admittance. It is also required for freedom of movement in general, and the lack of civil documentation results in inability to register births, marriage, death, to access basic services such as healthcare and school registration, to claim property, and to access humanitarian aid.
■ Gender [Main COI reference: IDPs and returnees, 4.1]: There have been initial findings that women refugees may be returning at a larger scale than men, which has been attributed to men’s fear of conscription and the high death rates caused by the conflict. On the other hand, sources reported that many women living in Lebanon do not want to return because they would have to leave their husbands or sons behind or, when returning together, see them conscripted in the army.
It has been reported that IDP returnees and refugees returning to their place of origin generally face a number of challenges in obtaining basic information to bolster their decision. This lack of information affects women more than men, increasing their risk of exploitation and abuse.
The absence of civil registration and documentation has also proven to be particularly harmful to women and girls. The lack of civil documentation leads to lack of legal identity, without which asserting claims during civil proceedings concerning various types of affairs such as divorce, custody, property ownership and criminal matters becomes problematic. In addition, the lack of civil documentation can also stop women from enjoying their legal and/or traditional rights provided by their marriage contracts and block the access to other rights and services, including humanitarian aid.
Displaced women and girls without male support or protection, specifically those living in camps and shelters, are more susceptible to violence than men and boys, including sexual violence, child marriage and movement restrictions. Women have also been coerced into marrying men at distribution centres, or distribution staff, for a short period of time - for sexual purposes - in order to receive assistance. Decline in international funding further reduces women’s access to health services. Displacement and refugee life have negative consequences on women’s mental health, often triggered by lack of food and livelihood opportunities, in addition to social burdens such as having to ensure care and education for their children. Women’s access to mental health services is less in comparison to men.
■ Age [Main COI references: IDPs and returnees, 4.2; Damascus, 3.6]: Young age as well as elderly age could significantly limit the applicant’s access to means of subsistence such as through employment, making him or her dependent on other providers. Therefore, this element should be seen in conjunction with the available support by family or a broader support network. In the case of children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration, for example, with regard to access to basic education.
In August 2019, UNICEF reported that 2.6 million children in Syria were displaced as a result of the conflict. The upheaval resulting from displacement has diminished the capacity of many host communities to absorb and provide services to large numbers of IDPs, including children’s access to education. This has led to an increase in the level of children dropping out of school and increase in child labour and child marriages. According to the UNOCHA Humanitarian Needs Overview 2019, in the governorate of Damascus, more than 470 000 children were found to be in need.
■ Support network [Main COI reference: Damascus, 5]: Sources report that it is important for returnees to go back to their area of origin where they can rely on their social network and tribe and that those returning from abroad lack such a safety net if they go to an area where they do not originate from. As the socio-economic divisions have been exacerbated by the war, finding employment in Damascus is reported to be increasingly difficult without wasta - nepotism or clout.
■ Professional and educational background and financial means [Main COI reference: Damascus, 3.7]: The professional background of the applicant, their level of education and available financial means should be taken into account when assessing the reasonableness of IPA, and in particular the access of the applicant to means of basic subsistence. University graduates in Damascus are mostly able to find an employment, even if not in their field of study. Moreover, some space for a new workforce has opened because a large number of skilled labour has left the country during the conflict. Unskilled workers are reportedly also able to find a job. However, sources generally report that salaries are insufficient to meet needs and individuals often take up second employment. It has been noted that, although commodities are widely available from both local and imported sources across various district markets in Damascus, the ‘vast majority’ of the population cannot afford the high prices.
■ Ethnoreligious and linguistic background [Main COI reference: Damascus, 1.1]: While accurate and updated information on the ethno-religious composition of Damascus is not available, there are reports that there is presence of Alawites, Druze, Twelver Shia, Ismaili, and Christians. Many districts and neighbourhoods of Damascus and its environs are formed according to the ethnicity and/or religion of their inhabitants, with Kurds largely residing in the districts of Rukn al-Din and Barzeh and poor informal settlements, for example in the Wadi al-Mashari neighbourhood in Dummar.
■ State of health [Main COI reference: Damascus, 3.5]: The healthcare system in Damascus is overstretched with the demand from local population and patients from other governorates. Therefore, the health status of the applicant is an important consideration when assessing the reasonableness of IPA for those who require medical treatment, also taking into account that their state of health may affect their ability to work. For those with disabilities, access to basic subsistence such as through employment would be further limited.
These factors would often intersect in the case of the particular applicant, leading to different conclusions on the reasonableness of IPA. In some cases, more than one element of vulnerability would confirm a conclusion that IPA is not reasonable for the particular applicant (e.g. a family with a child with disabilities), while in other cases, they would balance each other (e.g. a woman with a university degree and connections which could assist her in finding employment in Damascus).