Trafficking in Persons Report 2012 - Syria

SYRIA (Tier 3)

Since March 2011, the Syrian government has deployed its security forces to violently repress anti-government demonstrators; at the end of this reporting period, an estimated 9,000 people have died since the protests began. Due to the increasing lack of security and continued inaccessibility of many parts of the country, it is not possible to conduct a thorough analysis of the impact of the ongoing conflict on the scope and magnitude of Syria’s human trafficking situation. Reports indicate that an unknown number of trafficking victims have fled the country as a result of widespread violence that has plagued many cities, including the capital Damascus, as well as a devastated economy; however, according to international organizations, some trafficking victims remain trapped in Syria.

Prior to the political uprising and violent unrest, Syria was principally a destination country for women and children subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking. Thousands of women – the majority from Indonesia, the Philippines, Somalia, and Ethiopia – were recruited by employment agencies to work in Syria as domestic servants, but were subsequently subjected to conditions of forced labor by their employers. Some of these women were confined to the private residences in which they worked, and contrary to Syrian law, most had their passports confiscated by their employer or the labor recruitment agency. Contracts signed in the worker’s country of origin were often changed upon arrival in Syria, contributing to the worker’s vulnerability to forced labor. At the end of the reporting period, media reports suggested that undocumented Filipina domestic workers continue to be sent to Syria after transiting Dubai; these workers continue to be particularly susceptible to conditions of forced labor. The Government of Ethiopia’s ban on its citizens accepting employment in Syria did not stop the flow of workers into the country. Some Iraqi refugees reportedly contract their daughters to work as maids in Syrian households, where they may be raped, forced into prostitution, or subjected to forced labor. At the end of the reporting period, the UN reported uncorroborated allegations that the Syrian opposition was using Syrian children as soldiers.

Traffickers prey on Syria’s large Iraqi refugee population, with some Iraqi women and girls exploited by their families or by criminal gangs; victims were sent to work in nightclubs, placed into temporary “marriages” to men for the sole purpose of prostitution, or sold to pimps who rent them out for longer periods of time. Some Iraqi parents reportedly abandoned their daughters at the Iraqi side of the border with Syria with the expectation that traffickers would provide forged documents for them to enter Syria and work in a nightclub. In other instances, refugees’ children remained in Syria while their parents left the country in search of improved economic circumstances, leaving the children vulnerable to trafficking. Iraqi women deported from Syria on prostitution charges are vulnerable to being trafficked or re-trafficked by criminal gangs operating along the border. After political unrest escalated, the Iraqi refugees that remained in Syria reported being unable to find work in the informal sector, coerced into taking part in anti-government protests, and harassed by Syrian authorities, all of which increase this vulnerable population’s susceptibility to trafficking.

Syria has been a transit country for Iraqi women and girls, as well as Southeast Asians and East Africans who have been subjected to conditions of forced prostitution in Europe, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and Lebanon. Prior to recent unrest, women from Eastern Europe – particularly Ukraine – Somalia, and Morocco were recruited legally as cabaret dancers in Syria; some “entertainers” were subsequently forced into prostitution after their employers confiscated their passports and confined them to their hotels.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some economically desperate Syrian children are subjected to conditions of forced labor within the country, particularly by organized street begging rings. Some Syrian women in Lebanon may be forced to engage in street prostitution and small numbers of Syrian girls are reportedly brought to Lebanon for the purpose of prostitution, including through the guise of early marriage. Small numbers of Syrian adults are reportedly subjected to forced labor as low-skilled workers in Qatar and Kuwait. Syrians, as well as foreign migrant workers in Syria, that fled the country during the widespread violence may be further vulnerable to conditions of forced labor or forced prostitution in countries to which they have fled.

The Government of Syria does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. On June 1, 2011, the Syrian government issued an executive order requiring the implementation of Decree No. 3, which prohibits human trafficking. In conjunction with IOM, it also initiated a short-term public awareness campaign and distributed an anti-trafficking memorandum to all police units. Despite these efforts, the government did not demonstrate evidence of increasing efforts to investigate and punish trafficking offenses, provide protective services to victims, widely inform the public about human trafficking, or provide much needed anti-trafficking training to law enforcement and social welfare officials; it was unclear whether the anti-trafficking directorate was fully operational during this reporting period. The government also did not respond to requests to provide information on its anti-trafficking efforts for inclusion in this report. Furthermore, as civil unrest and violence intensified, the government allocated the majority of its time and resources towards violently suppressing popular protest, further endangering trafficking victims and other vulnerable populations that remained in the country.

Recommendations for Syria: Implement the comprehensive anti-trafficking law through increased investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offenders; provide training on human trafficking to police, immigration officials, labor, and social welfare officials, including those assigned to the anti-trafficking directorate; ensure that the anti-trafficking directorate is fully operational, continue to assign a significant number of female police officers to the directorate, and provide specific training on how to receive cases and interview potential trafficking victims with appropriate sensitivity; launch a nationwide anti-trafficking public awareness campaign, particularly highlighting the appropriate treatment of domestic workers under Syrian law; establish policies and procedures for law enforcement officials to proactively identify and interview potential trafficking victims, and transfer them to the care of relevant organizations; and designate an official coordinating body or mechanism to facilitate anti-trafficking communication and coordination among the relevant ministries, law enforcement entities, international organizations, and NGOs.


The government made limited progress in addressing human trafficking through law enforcement measures during the reporting period. Inadequate law enforcement training remained a significant impediment to identifying and prosecuting trafficking crimes in Syria. Moreover, the significant unrest during the reporting period substantially hindered any anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. In June 2011, the Syrian government issued an executive order outlining the implementation of its comprehensive anti-trafficking law, Decree No. 3, which provides a legal foundation for prosecuting trafficking offenses and protecting victims, but does not provide a clear definition of human trafficking. This law prescribes a minimum punishment of seven years’ imprisonment, a penalty that is sufficiently stringent though not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Some activities continued as part of the Ministry of Interior’s 200-person specialized anti-trafficking directorate, which was tasked in 2010 with investigating cases, raising public awareness, cooperating with foreign entities, training law enforcement, and tracking and annually reporting on the government’s anti-trafficking efforts. While this anti-trafficking directorate carried out some of these tasks and reportedly hired some female officers during the reporting period, the directorate did not have a coordination role and it is unknown whether it was fully operational in 2011. Moreover, the directorate provided no information on its investigations or prosecutions of suspected trafficking offenses. In June 2011, the Ministry of the Interior issued a memorandum that was disseminated to all police stations, which mandated the referral of potential cases to the government’s anti-trafficking directorate. In the previous reporting period, there were reports of collusion between low-level police officers and traffickers, particularly regarding the trafficking of women in prostitution; during the last year, there was no evidence that the government addressed complicity through investigations.


The government made no discernible efforts to identify and protect victims of trafficking during the reporting period. By the end of the reporting period, IOM had identified at least 95 Filipina domestic workers believed to be trafficking victims trapped in Hama and Homs, cities experiencing extreme violence at the hands of the government. While the Philippine embassy attempted to negotiate with the employers of the domestic workers for their release, there were no reports that the Government of Syria assisted the embassy in these efforts to identify and protect the workers, including possible victims of domestic servitude. In contrast with the previous reporting period, the government did not refer any trafficking victims to NGO-operated shelters. The government also failed to institute any systematic procedures for the identification, interview, and referral of trafficking victims. As a result, victims of trafficking may have been arrested and charged with prostitution or violating immigration laws before being deported or punished. The government neither encouraged victims to assist in investigations or prosecutions of their traffickers nor provided foreign victims with legal alternatives to their removal to countries in which they may face hardship or retribution.


During the past year, the government made minimal efforts to prevent trafficking or to substantially raise awareness among the general public or government officials. In collaboration with IOM, the government launched a one-week media campaign in mid-2011 that included posters, radio spots, and television public service announcements on trafficking issues; however, most of the population continues to have little or no awareness of human trafficking, and the issue remained a taboo topic. In mid-2011, the anti-trafficking unit established and operated a hotline for reporting suspected cases of human trafficking and attempted to circulate it through brochures and posters throughout major cities. The government provided no information on the number of calls the hotline received or investigations that may have resulted from hotline assistance. The status of the government’s national plan of action against trafficking, which was drafted in early 2010, is unknown. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Syria is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

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