Trafficking in Persons Report 2010

SYRIA (Tier 2 Watch List)

Syria is principally a destination country for women and children who are subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically conditions of forced labor or forced prostitution. Thousands of women, mostly from Southeast Asia and East Africa – particularly Indonesia, the Philippines, Somalia, and Ethiopia – are recruited to work in Syria as domestic servants but are subsequently subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude by their employers. Contracts signed in the employee’s country of origin are often changed upon arrival in Syria, contributing to the employee’s vulnerability to forced labor. Some of these women are confined to the private residences in which they work, and most have their passports confiscated, contrary to Syrian law, by their employer or the labor recruitment agency. The Government of Ethiopia’s ban on its citizens accepting employment in Syria has not stopped the flow of workers into the country.

Women from Eastern Europe – particularly Russia and Ukraine – Somalia, and Morocco are recruited legally as cabaret dancers in Syria; some “entertainers” are subsequently forced into prostitution after their employers confiscate their passports and confine them to their hotels. Due to the economic desperation of Syria’s large Iraqi refugee population, some women and girls are forced into prostitution by their families or, in some cases, by criminal gangs. Iraqi families arrange for young girls to work in nightclubs, to be temporarily “married” to men for the sole purpose of prostitution, or to be sold to pimps who rent them out for longer periods of time. Desperate Iraqi parents have in the past reportedly abandoned their daughters at the Iraqi side of the border with Syria with the expectation traffickers will arrange forged documents to enter Syria and employment in a nightclub. In other incidences, refugees have abandoned their children in Syria when leaving the country in search of improved economic circumstances, leaving the children vulnerable to trafficking. Syria is a growing child sex tourism destination for citizens of Middle Eastern countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Syria is also a transit country for Iraqi women and girls, and Southeast Asians and East Africans, subjected to conditions of forced prostitution in Europe, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Lebanon. Anecdotal evidence suggests some economically desperate Syrian children are subjected to conditions of forced labor within the country; this problem does not appear to be systemic or involve government complicity.

The Government of Syria does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period, the government published an anti-trafficking law, enacted two decrees to better protect foreign domestic workers, and opened a second shelter for trafficking victims in partnership with a local NGO. Despite these significant efforts, the government did not demonstrate evidence of increasing efforts to investigate and punish trafficking offenses, inform the public about the practice of human trafficking, or provide much-needed anti-trafficking training to law enforcement and social welfare officials over the past year; therefore, Syria is placed on Tier 2 Watch List.

Recommendations for Syria: Enforce the new comprehensive anti-trafficking law through increased investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offenders; consider amendments to clarify and strengthen the definition of human trafficking contained in Legislative Decree No. 3; provide training on human trafficking to police, immigration officials, labor, and social welfare officials; launch a nationwide anti-trafficking public awareness campaign, particularly highlighting the appropriate treatment of domestic workers under Syrian law; establish policies and procedures for government officials to proactively identify and interview potential trafficking victims and transfer them to the care, when appropriate, 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 clear progress in strengthening its anti-trafficking legal framework during the reporting period. It did not, however, make significant efforts to investigate or punish trafficking offenses, or respond to requests for information on cases pursued by judicial and law enforcement agencies. Inadequate law enforcement training remained a significant impediment to combating trafficking crimes in Syria. In January 2010, the government published a comprehensive anti-trafficking law, Legislative Decree No. 3, which provides a legal foundation for prosecuting trafficking offenses and protecting victims, but does not lay out a clear definition of human trafficking. This law prescribes a minimum punishment of seven years’ imprisonment, a penalty sufficiently stringent, but not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law was scheduled to take effect on April 11, 2010, allowing relevant ministries time to develop protocols and standard operating procedures for carrying out its mandates; operational protocols were at the earliest stages of development at the end of the reporting period. There were no reports of authorities using existing statutes, including a statute prohibiting forced prostitution, to prosecute trafficking crimes during the reporting period. There were reports of low-level cooperation between trafficking offenders and local police elements during the year, particularly regarding the monitoring of women in prostitution.

During the year, the government made modest progress in protecting trafficking victims, while demonstrating improved partnerships with NGOs and international organizations to identify and provide services to victimized women and children. As it did in Damascus during the previous reporting period, the government donated building space for a trafficking victims’ shelter in Aleppo, which opened in January 2010. These two shelters, operated by local NGOs, offered legal, medical, and psychological counseling services to approximately 30 female trafficking victims in 2009. The government continued to lack procedures for identifying potential victims among vulnerable populations; as a result, victims of trafficking may have been arrested and charged with prostitution or violating immigration laws before being deported or punished. There were reports, however, that some women arrested on such charges and subsequently identified as victims of trafficking were referred to shelters; this is a positive development. In 2009, for example, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor referred 21 Asian labor trafficking victims to the shelter in Damascus. Despite this, referral of victims to shelters remained ad hoc and inconsistent, at times requiring lobbying from NGOs or international organizations to secure their release from detention centers. In limited cases, immigration authorities worked with foreign embassies, international organizations, and NGOs to establish the identity and citizenship of victims and provide needed assistance. The government did not encourage victims to assist in investigations or prosecutions of their traffickers and did not provide 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 modest efforts to prevent trafficking. It did not conduct any campaigns to educate government officials or the general public about trafficking. In early 2010, the government began drafting a national plan of action against trafficking. In March 2009 and in partnership with IOM, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor co-hosted a conference on preventing the exploitation of and providing protective services to abused domestic workers. In 2009, the government monitored public and private-sector industries through surprise inspections to ensure no children under the age of 15 were employed, but did not release statistics on the results of these inspections. While the work of domestic servants is not covered under Syria’s labor law, newly promulgated Decree 27 of March 2009 and Decree 108 of December 2009 provide stricter regulations concerning domestic worker recruitment agencies and guidelines for employment contracts; enforcement of these decrees could prevent forced labor. These decrees allow the Prime Minister’s Office to revoke an agency’s license if it: fails to repatriate domestic workers at its own expense; imports domestic workers under the age of 18 or under false pretenses; or physically abuses, tortures, or exploits a domestic worker. In addition, they require employment contracts be issued by the Ministry of Interior and contain standardized regulations regarding the provision of monthly paychecks, clothing, food, medicine, living quarters, and time off. Beyond prosecuting clients and brothel proprietors, the government took no specific actions to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Syria is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

Associated documents

  • Document ID 1072789 Related / Associated
  • Methodology associated with Trafficking in persons report 2010

    Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 (Periodical Report, English)