Syrians victims of a mafia controlling administrative services

Wednesday 15 June 202203:17 pm
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شبكات سمسرة ضحاياها المواطنون بتغطية من النظام السوري... لتمويل "النافذين" فيه

Brokering has become an established policy practiced by the Syrian regime’s institutions and services, when it comes to dealing with and providing public services to the local population around Syria. Organized brokering networks have spread to facilitate the citizens’ access to services in a number of fields, as the government fails to improve the quality of services rendered.

Many Syrians, both inside and outside the country, are forced to pay large sums of money in order to obtain administrative documents, often the regime refuses to give them official documents on the pretext they are wanted. Despite the pre-set fees for these documents, there are ‘brokers’ who, in cooperation with security and civil actors within official government departments, seek to issue these documents in return for large sums of money.

Every officer in the Syrian regime now has multiple contacts who act as brokers, sharing a cut of the profits with him in exchange for obtaining documents for deferment of military service or a service pardon. In addition, there has been a recent spread of such brokers for lawyers who exploit the needs of some families wishing to know the fate of their sons who have been detained by the regime, by paying large sums of money in exchange for their release, or to hear from them.

Vast network

These “broker” networks are run by senior officials. They have resorted to such methods of blackmailing and exploiting civilians and stealing their money for several reasons, most notably the financial hardships they have been suffering from during the years of the war, which weakened the country’s economy, and in turn transformed providing basic services to Syrians into a profitable business.

There is another type of “brokers” who do not work under the umbrella of the regime. They have taken up this profession in order to collect funds in the absence of an official supervisory role, and amid rampant insecurity and easy access to victims who easily fall into their trap, or those who are looking for someone to provide them with these services and are ready to pay the required money.

The Head of the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), Fadel Abdulghany, tells Raseef22: “One of the most important reasons that prompted the Syrian regime to expand the circle of wanted persons, is to push these people to deal with these brokering networks in order to benefit from them financially. All Syrians inside regime-controlled areas and in other regions suffer from this, in addition to Syrians living abroad. What is forcing Syrians to resort to this option and pay large sums of money, is that other countries do not recognize documents issued by the opposition, and there is no other authority that can provide Syrians with official documents.”

Growing demand for migration

These brokering operations are currently very active, especially in light of the regime’s failure to resolve the passport crisis that has been going on for years. Some brokers are also forging official seals and conducting illegal passport procedures and paperwork in exchange for large sums of money.

With the increasing migration of civilians from regime-controlled areas in search of a better life in Europe or in Arab countries, the Syrian regime began to invest in this issue. “Brokers” associated with the regime have begun exploiting and preying on the need of civilians who wish to migrate, in order to steal their money under the pretext of obtaining a passport for lawful emigration, or to secure ways to immigrate illegally.

The regime’s immigration services and passport departments are experiencing a crisis concerning the small number of passports that are being issued to citizens in comparison to the large number of applicants. The government justifies its delay in issuing the sufficient number of passports with a shortage in the raw materials that the passports are made from.

Because of the delay in obtaining passports, residents of these areas are forced to turn to “brokers” who charge large sums that range between three to four million Syrian pounds (about $1000 at the time this article is published) in exchange for speeding up their turn.

One broker reports they have relations with employees in every government institution, and each document has its price. Some brokers have strong connections with high-ranking figures who can solve any issue and produce any official document.

Abdul Salam Fares, a citizen of Aleppo, says, “I decided to get a passport in order to get out of Syria, even though I have been called for reserve duty (military service). So I went to a broker working in the passports and immigration branch in Aleppo. He gave me two options; the first is to get the passport while I am still inside Syria, and the second is to obtain it after I leave the country to Lebanon by sneaking across the border, and thus the passport can be taken from the Lebanese embassy in Beirut when it is ready. But I chose the first option because it is less costly, amounting to two thousand US dollars in total, of which 500 dollars have to be paid up front, and the remaining amount would be paid after the passport is issued in one week.”

While speaking to Raseef22, he goes on to say, “The broker asked me for a copy of my ID, my fingerprint on a small piece of paper, my signature, and a few personal photos, and his only condition was that I not use the passport inside Syria. This means that I cannot use it to leave Syria, and I cannot renew it from any of the Syrian embassies, so as not to expose the broker, and in turn expose the entire network. He also told me that, after the passport expires (it was valid for two and a half years) and after I leave Lebanon to any other country, I must destroy it and extract a new one. Here I realized that the passport was fake and that something was wrong, but either way, I had already lost the first payment.”

They are the solution

The work of brokering networks is not limited to only issuing passports. Asiyah Hawa is a Syrian residing in Lebanon and wants to travel to Turkey to work. She tells Raseef22, “The Turkish embassy in Beirut asked me for a legal document stating that I have not been convicted. I contacted a lawyer in Damascus and asked him for this document. After around ten days, the lawyer informed me that it can be done for 600 US dollars, provided that it isn’t used inside Syria. So I sent him the requested amount of money and a copy of my ID, and just three days later  the document was sent to my brother in Damascus, translated and certified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

For his part, one of the brokers, who asked to remain anonymous, explained to Raseef22 that “the Palace of Justice is teeming with brokers, and they deal with various issues concerning people’s lives. There are things that need to be dealt with through illegal ways, knowing that they are somewhat lawful. For instance, extracting graduation documents or a certificate from a university for someone who is outside the country is something that requires security approval. It can only be obtained through brokering networks linked to security agencies.”

The broker recounts how all the workers in this field have relations with employees in every government department and institution, and each procedure or document has its own price. He says, “We add 10 to 20% to the required amount. Lawyers also contact us to issue some documents. Some brokers have strong connections with high-ranking figures who can solve any issue and produce every kind of official papers.”

Brokering has become widespread among Syrians, and has shifted from a profession that was merely limited to buying and selling before the war, into unlawful profit and exploitation, especially when it comes to issuing official papers and documents.

Some resort to brokering networks to speed up their paperwork and avoid the long process of filing for them and bureaucracy of government agencies. Residents in regime-controlled areas are currently suffering from the slow progress of their paperwork, with some even encountering obstacles that have been purposefully placed by employees tied to brokering networks that take advantage of their need to obtain official papers, especially when it comes to postponing military service or releasing detainees.

The role of these “brokers” is to follow up on the issuance of these papers as quickly as possible, with the help of employees who are given bribe money. These “brokers” have been able to reap great profits from their illicit activity, according to what some have disclosed to Raseef22.

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