[Main COI references: Security 2020, 2.12; Recaptured areas, 3.2 ]
Dar’a governorate is located in southern Syria, bordering the governorates of Quneitra, Rural Damascus and Sweida. It also shares an international border with Jordan to its south. The governorate is divided into three districts: Dar’a, Izra’ and As Sanamayn. According to 2016 estimates by the Syrian Central Bureau of Statistics, the population of Dar’a governorate was approximately 845 000. The M5 motorway which runs through the governorate and connects Damascus to Jordan and to Aleppo, as well as its proximity to the Golan Heights, give Dar’a its strategic importance. These characteristics have also traditionally made it one of the most militarised regions in Syria.
As of the beginning of 2020, sources indicate that Dar’a governorate is under the nominal control of the GoS. In practice, the region is subjected to a complex web of political control with multiple, overlapping, uncoordinated branches of the security and military. According to the UN, territories ‘currently under the effective control’ of GoS and its forces are those taken by military operations, including 80 % of eastern and northeastern rural Dar’a, areas of western rural Dar’a, and parts of Dar’a City, while ‘the rest of Dar’a is under effective control of former non-State armed groups, including those that agreed to the “reconciliation deals”’.
In addition to Russia exerting great influence in Dar’a, Iran-backed groups and Hezbollah are also active in the southern and western parts of the governorate.
Since 2018, a number of new opposition armed groups have also emerged in Dar’a.
ISIL and an affiliated local group have a limited presence in Dar’a, with increased activity reported in the south. There are also reports of increased presence and recruitment efforts by other extremist groups in parts of the governorate.
Despite the GoS having officially re-established control, the security situation in Dar’a remains volatile, with overlapping presence of multiple, often competing security actors. Dissatisfaction with the implementation of reconciliation deals also contributes to ongoing tensions.
The security situation in Dar’a gradually deteriorated in the second half of 2019, and further escalated in early 2020. Reports mainly point to assassinations of GoS collaborators and former rebel commanders who have reconciled, attacks on checkpoints and asymmetric attacks, frequently committed by unidentified perpetrators. Heavy clashes have taken place between GoS and opposition armed groups, notably in March 2020, when the Syrian army launched an operation to secure greater control over As Sanamayn, which resulted in heavy shelling of the city and prompted retaliatory attacks and clashes in different areas of the governorate. IED, booby traps and unexploded remnants of war continue to injure and kill civilians and in particular children. From March through mid-October 2019, ISIL claimed to have conducted 8 insurgent attacks in Dar’a governorate [Security 2020, 1.4.6].
ACLED recorded 343 security incidents (average of 7 security incidents per week) in Dar’a governorate in 2019, the majority of which were coded as battles. In the first two months of 2020, the number of security incidents in the governorate was 83, amounting to an average of 10 security incidents per week.
During 2019, security incidents occurred in all districts of the governorate, with the largest overall number being recorded in the district of Dar’a.
In 2019, VDC recorded a total of 96 civilian fatalities and SNHR recorded a total of 97 civilian fatalities in the governorate. Compared to the official figures for the population in the governorate as from 2016, these represent approximately 11 civilian fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants.
According to UNOCHA’s data for 2019, there were about 90 000 spontaneous returns, mainly from within Dar’a, and 21 IDPs flowed out of the governorate during the year. A different source has pointed out that since the summer of 2019 and up to September 2019, 25 000 people have left Dar’a and Quneitra through smuggling networks reportedly due to fears of detention, conscription, and deterioration of public services.
The UN reported that there has been little improvement in the rehabilitation of Dar’a’s infrastructure as of May 2019, noting that electricity and water remained unreliable and unevenly distributed, and that many civilians were unable to return due the widespread destruction and damage to their homes, as well as problems of looting. Access to water, housing, education, and basic needs in the governorate was reported to be difficult for many residents. Reconstruction has mainly concentrated on the strategically important M5 motorway, while other road networks remained heavily damaged. The existence of multiple security checkpoints in Dar’a also significantly restricts the movement of civilians and high levels of lawlessness contribute to the general instability in the governorate.
Looking at the indicators, it can be concluded that ‘mere presence’ in the area would not be sufficient to establish a real risk of serious harm under Article 15(c) QD in the governorate of Dar’a, however, indiscriminate violence reaches a high level, and, accordingly, a lower level of individual elements is required to show substantial grounds for believing that a civilian, returned to the territory, would face a real risk of serious harm within the meaning of Article 15(c) QD.