Syrians fleeing from danger now face a greater danger
German authorities recently discovered that an Islamic funeral home was selling dead peoples’ passports to Syrians
Only 24 hours after a newly released United Nations backed-report indicated a Syrian family is displaced every 60 seconds, a powerful car bomb ripped through the Syrian side of the Bab al-Salam border crossing shared with Turkey, killing at least 43 people and injuring at least another 80 more, including an unknown number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast that targeted the Karaj Sajou area in the northern province of Aleppo, but for months the territory has been held by Islamist rebels competing with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group. On February 20, at least 24 people were killed and 100 more injured - mostly children according to USAID - when a car bomb targeted an IDP camp in the same area. Three days before that attack, at least six people were killed and at least 45 others were injured when an explosives-laden vehicle was detonated at the same border crossing.
Need for greater protection
The most recent car bombing attack underscores the need for greater protection for fleeing Syrians as well as those that remain - often due to lack of official documentation and overwhelmed neighboring countries - in Syria’s border towns; these pockets of fleeing but trapped civilians remain a bullseye for both the Assad regime and various radical factions.
The international community’s inability to comprehensively implement an effective strategy to help fleeing civilians prove their identity is just one of many collective failures. But for security and humanitarian purposes, this is nonetheless an issue that must be a top priority in the ongoing “Friends of Syria” talks.
German security forces recently discovered that an Islamic funeral home was selling dead peoples’ passports to Syrian nationalsBrooklyn Middleton
Morally, the imperative to strategize and create a way to account for fleeing Syrians, proving their identity as civilians is, of course, obvious for humanitarian purposes. In Turkey, where refugee camps should serve as a model for neighboring countries, a Syrian passport allows Syrian refugees to obtain Turkish residence permits - nothing short of a lifeline. Syrians attempting to enter Turkey without proper documentation are typically at the mercy of Turkish border officials who are no doubt overwhelmed with pressure to curb the influx of Syrians as the current number of Syrian refugees in Turkey is now at a staggering 742,816.
And for security purposes, the need is equally as important.
In Hannah Lucinda Smith’s piece, “Syrians, pick your passports” she discovers that in war-torn Syria, passport forgery is a thriving business; in an interview with a fake passport maker she writes: “He started buying blank passports and renewal stamps from a corrupt regime official. They are indistinguishable from the ones issued by the regime: Youssef boasts that one of his customers even managed to travel to Iran—a staunch ally of Damascus—on one of his passports.” While forged passports could literally be the ticket to fleeing the conflict for myriad families - with a record number of Islamist fighters flocking to Syria - they also add to mounting regional security risks posed by the ongoing conflict.
Meanwhile, outside of Syrian borders, German security forces recently discovered that an Islamic funeral home was selling dead peoples’ passports to Syrian nationals attempting to flee the country for upwards of $6,830 and in yet another incident of passport forgery, upwards of 74 asylum-seeking Syrians, including 21 children, were detained in Lisbon for holding forged Turkish passports in December 2013. With the U.N. calling Syria the, “fastest evolving displacement crisis in the world” desperate measures like these to obtain documentation to flee are likely to continue to be made.
In addition to continuing to support neighbouring countries’ efforts to provide basic humanitarian aid and structures for Syrian refugees, the international community must work harder to better document Syrian families whose lack of valid identification remains a primary barrier to leaving Syria; the ramifications of not doing so are deadly for IDPs in border areas and a major risk for international security.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst reporting from Israel. Her work has appeared in Turkish and Israeli publications including The Times of Israel and Hürriyet Daily News. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as the emerging geopolitical threats Israel faces as it pursues its energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. She is currently researching Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups to complete her MA in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.
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