Cablegate: Sryia: 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report

DE RUEHDM #0165/01 0700754
P 100754Z MAR 08





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) THe following is Post's submission of the annual
trafficking in persons report. The Embassy's point of
contact is Hilary C. Dauer. Office Telephone: (963) (11)
3391-3207. Fax: (963) (11) 3391-3999. Officer spent 30
hours in preparation of the report, which is structured to
answer reftel.


2. (SBU) 27.A: Syria's opaque legal and political system
and conservative, family-centered societal values discourage
discussion of trafficking-related issues such as
prostitution. However, various organizations report that the
major influx of Iraqi refugees (perhaps up to 1.5 million)
into Syria who have not been permitted to work, have caused
significant problems of trafficking in Syria - with regard to
women and children. No government entity follows this issue
in depth; the capacity of civil society is underdeveloped,
and there are few international NGOs in Syria. One contact
at an International Organization said that while government
officials are now participating in conferences on the
subject, no proper analysis or assessment of the problem has
been conducted so far. Consequently, there are no statistics
available on the scope and type of trafficking that may exist
and very limited insight on the part of the government, the
general public, the diplomatic community and international
organizations resident in Syria into the issue. Embassies,
international organizations, individual activists, lawyers
and journalists are the best sources of information about the
number of people in Syria who are potential victims of
trafficking. Based on our sources and anecdotal evidence,
women and girls from Iraq are most at risk of being
trafficked to and through Syria for prostitution while women
from South and Southeast Asia are most at risk of being
trafficked to and through Syria for the domestic labor.

3. (SBU) 27.B: Most sources queried by post (UNHCR,
International Office for Migration otherwise known as IOM,
Asian, Arab, African and European diplomats, lawyers and
journalists) do not believe that trafficking in persons is
systematic in Syria. There is no information suggesting that
Syria is a country of origin for trafficking. Most sources,
however, assert that turmoil in neighboring Iraq has created
conditions conducive to the trafficking of Iraqi women, which
has led to increased prostitution by Iraqi women and girls in
Syria, and to the trafficking of some women and girls to
Kuwait, Dubai and Lebanon through Syria. There are no
official estimates on the number of Iraqi prostitutes here,
whether they were trafficked here or turned to prostitution
once their other economic means of support ran out, or on the
numbers of women and girls who are trafficked through Syria.
There have been some media reports, however, that put the
number of Iraqi prostitutes at 50,000, but it is unclear how
this number was conceived or how credible it is. Further
complicating the matter is that some Iraqi women and girls
who turn to prostitution out of economic desperation are then
trafficked back into Syria after they are arrested and
deported from Syria. Anecdotal reports suggest that Iraqi
gangs pray on the most vulnerable refugee families looking
for women to lure into prostitution. Some or most of these
gangs are likely to be involved in trafficking to some

4.(SBU) 27.B-continuted: Although there are reports of Iraqi
gangs being deeply involved in the connection between women
and prostitution in Syria, the anecdotal reports of how women
are trafficked into the country vary widely. Diplomatic
sources suggest that Iraqi women refugees are eventually
forced by a lack of economic means to turn to prostitution
once male heads of household are forced to return to Iraq.
Separately, in some cases, Iraqis (both men and women) bring
Iraqi women and girls into Syria, who are falsely listed as
wives and daughters on the traffickers' passports. In other
cases, a trafficker may legally bring an Iraqi woman who is
his wife through a "pleasure marriage" (which can be quickly
and easily solemnized and dissolved) to Syria and then hand
her off to the proprietor of a night club or brothel,
according to Embassy contacts in international organizations.

DAMASCUS 00000165 002 OF 007

Iraqi traffickers will also collude with elements of Syrian
organized crime to deceive Iraqi women into traveling to
Syria for a supposedly legitimate job only to end up working
in a cabaret or brothel, according to local women,s rights
lawyers. Sometimes, according to anecdotal reports,
desperate Iraqi families leave their children at the border
with the expectation that traffickers on the Syrian side will
pick them up and arrange forged documents so the young women
and girls can stay in Syria in exchange for working in a
night club or brothel. In still other cases, the traffickers
may seek new passports for the women and girls before
"selling" them to third-country nationals for employment in
the Middle East, such as in Lebanon, Dubai and Kuwait,
according to a diplomatic source. Women are also trafficked
from Somalia to work as prostitutes, although the problem is
not as widespread. Somali women are more likely to be
transited to third countries.

5. (SBU) 27.B-continued: The fact that Iraqi refugees are
not permitted to work has resulted in many Iraqi refugee
children working to provide for their families because the
authorities are less likely to be prevent children from
working. Anecdotal reports suggest that some children may be
put to work against their will by third parties.
Additionally, the General Federation of Trade Unions (the
only legal labor union in Syria) estimates that there are
approximately 150,000 Southeast Asian and Ethiopian domestic
workers in Syria (Note: The governments of Sri Lanka,
Indonesia, East Timor and the Philippines ban their citizens
from taking employment as domestic workers in the country,
absent formal mechanisms to regulate such employment,
although at least with regard to Indonesians and Sri Lankans,
the ban is not stopping the flow of workers to Syria.) Many
workers apparently arrive in Syria with little knowledge
about their employment conditions. Employers routinely hold
the workers' passports and require them to work long hours,
often without providing living quarters that would guarantee
personal privacy. In addition, the workers are often not
allowed to leave the residence and are subject to violence
from their employers.

6. (SBU) 27.B-continued: In addition, Post has anecdotal
evidence that several hundred Eastern European women are
employed as dancers in cabarets in unacceptable conditions,
with their employers holding their passports and restricting
the number of hours that dancers can leave the work premises.
Employers from both Syria and the women's home country
reportedly recruit the women as dancers and have them sign a
contract that stipulates a very low wage in Syria with the
understanding that they will be paid more under the table
upon arrival. Once they arrive, the dancers are made to
understand that they can earn additional money from
prostitution, especially during the three hours daily that
they are authorized to leave the club. International
Organizations have, by and large, not focused on the issue of
Eastern European woman trafficked to Syria as dancers. The
number of prostitutes may have gone down because of the
availability of so many exploitable Iraqi refugees.

7. (SBU) 27.B-continued: The SARG has taken steps that
indicate official awareness of the potential for greater
trafficking to and from Syria by creating a
counter-trafficking commission in 2005, which met three times
in 2007. The cabinet is currently reviewing the
commission,s draft counter-trafficking legislation, after
which it will go to the People,s Assembly for approval.
There are currently no estimates on when the cabinet will
forward the legislation.

8. (SBU) 27.B-continued: In 2007, the government also began
to implement Decree 81, which was issued in 2006, to regulate
the activities of domestic worker agencies. The IOM
estimates that there are now five registered domestic worker
agencies and 5,000 registered domestic workers from abroad.
In addition, in November 2007 the Prime Minister ordered all
the estimated hundreds of unregistered domestic worker
agencies shut. According to local women,s rights advocates,
the PM,s office, in conjunction with the Ministry of
Interior, has been enforcing the new regulations and there
are no reports of corruption. Yet the same sources report
that the unregistered domestic worker agencies can restart

DAMASCUS 00000165 003 OF 007

their work under the front of a legitimate business such as a
real estate agency. Decree 81 does not specify any criminal
punishment for the operators of unregistered domestic worker

9. (SBU) 27.B-continued: In January of 2008, the Ministry of
Interior, with the IOM, sponsored a three-day conference
designed to create awareness among Parliamentarians and
journalists of the problem of trafficking and train judges,
lawyers and police on how to deal with the victims of
trafficking. Finally, on December 17, 2007, the Ministry of
Social Affairs and Welfare approved IOM,s proposal to open
the first government-supported shelter for victims of
trafficking, which includes a referral system for victims of
trafficking that government agencies, international
organizations and NGOs can use.

10. (SBU) 27.C: The Interior Ministry has taken the lead on
addressing trafficking issues. It has worked most closely
with IOM in setting up conferences, exercising responsibility
to enforce Decree 81, and providing protection provisions
that allow government officials and others to refer victims
to a shelter. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Welfare
also plays a role in trafficking issues such as approving the
IOM-funded shelter and deciding which unregistered domestic
worker agencies should be shut.

11. (SBU) 27.D: Limitations on the SARG's ability to address
trafficking include a lack of reliable statistics on foreign
migration to Syria, a lack of widespread awareness about
trafficking, including among officials and law enforcement
officers, a lack of resources and technical capacities, and
corruption. Local contacts say that corruption is most
prevalent with regard to the problem of prostitution in the
Iraqi refugee community with many police officials taking
payoffs to turn a blind eye.

12. (SBU) 27.E: Ministry of Interior officials said during
the February 2007 counter-trafficking conference that they do
not systematically monitor counter-trafficking. Rather,
Ministry officials monitor, for example, prostitution-related
offenses. To Post's knowledge, none of the SARG's
assessments related to trafficking are made available
publicly or privately.


13. (SBU) 28.A: Syria has no laws that specifically
prohibit trafficking in persons, although there is a 1961
anti-prostitution law that imposes punishment and
criminalizes bringing people into the country for the purpose
of prostitution, according to an IOM-sponsored study.
Moreover, for individuals who facilitate travel of Syrian
women abroad to work as prostitutes, article 3 of Law 10 of
1961 stipulates imprisonment of one to five years and a fine
of 1,000 to 5,000 Syrian Pounds (about USD $20 to $100). If
more than one victim is involved, or if the victim is less
than 16 years old or is a paid servant, the maximum sentence
increases to seven years. Direct text follows:

"Whoever entices a male under the age of 21 or a female of
whatever age to leave the United Arab Republic (Note: Egypt
and Syria were one country at the time.) or facilitate this
or uses him/her, or accompanies him/her abroad to work in
fornication or prostitution and whoever helps with this
knowingly would be punished by imprisonment of no less than
one year and no more than five years and with a fine ranging
from one thousand to five thousand Syrian pounds, and the
maximum penalty would be imprisonment of seven years if the
crime was inflicted on two or more individuals."

14. (SBU) 28.A-continued: There are other legal texts in
Syria that could further form the basis of future legislation
to combat trafficking in persons, according to the IOM. For
instance, Section 555 of the Penal Code stipulates that,
"whoever incarcerates another person is subjected to a prison
sentence of six months to two years." Section 556 states
that, "if the incarceration lasts for more than one month or
includes torture, the sentence will include hard labor."
Decree 29 of 1970 regulating the immigration of foreigners

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states that, "any foreigner who tries to enter the country
with false documentation and anyone who may have aided that
foreigner is subject to imprisonment of three months to one
year and a fine of $10 (500 Syrian pounds) to $40 (2,000
Syrian pounds)." In practice, these laws are not enforced
against traffickers, however.

15. (SBU) 28.A-continued: In addition, the Syrian
Constitution provides for regulation of working hours.
Decree 81 of 2006 that regulates domestic worker agencies
provides general guidelines for employee contacts,
stipulating that worker rights be respected, especially
"provision of clothing, food, medicine, acceptable place for
the sleep and rest of the worker and undertaking to pay out
the monthly salary at the end of each month and
....sufficient periods for rest and annual leave and not to
abuse or beat her under the threat of judicial prosecution in
accordance with the existing laws and regulations."

16. (SBU) 28.A-continued: Finally, a security MOU signed in
late 2006 between the Syrian and Iraqi governments pledges to
counter trafficking between the two countries. Post has
heard no reports that either government has taken steps to
implement the MOU.

17. (SBU) 28.B: Post is not aware of anyone prosecuted for
trafficking people for sexual exploitation during the
reporting period. However, there is anecdotal evidence that
Iraqi gangs have been broken up and Iraqis have been deported
back to Iraq for involvement in trafficking and other
criminal activities.

18. (SBU) 28.C: There are no specific anti-trafficking
laws. However, the 2006 decree states that domestic worker
agencies that violate the degree would be punished in
accordance with article 756 of the general penal code, which
stipulates that violators may be imprisoned for an
undetermined length of time and/or fined up to 100 Syrian
Pounds (about USD two). To date there are no reports of
anyone tried or punished under the decree.

19. (SBU) 28.D: Rape and forcible sexual assault are
addressed in the 1949 Penal Code; penalties for sex crimes
were revised in 1985. The minimum sentence for rape or
sexual assault is three years imprisonment; the maximum
sentence is 15 years--or 21 years if the victim is a minor
between the ages of 12 and 15. If the victim is less than 12
years old, the minimum sentence is 15 years imprisonment.
However, the perpetrator is absolved of all criminal guilt if
he agrees to marry the victim. If the victim is too young
for marriage, the rapist receives a longer prison sentence.
For kidnapping of women, the penalty is imprisonment for
three to seven years. The penalty for deflowering a virgin
is five years. The penalty for molestation of a minor less
than 15 years of age is 18 months imprisonment

20. (SBU) 28.E: Prostitution is illegal in Syria. In
addition, the Syrian Penal Code's Debauchery Law criminalizes
prostitution of any kind. Prostitution is defined as
occurring when any person lures, seduces, induces, assists
with, or facilitates another person's commitment of
fornication or adultery (regardless of whether there was a
financial benefit). The penalty for prostitution under the
penal code is imprisonment for three months to three years
and payment of a fine of 1,000-3,000 Syrian Pounds (about
$20-60). In the past, Post has received anecdotal reports
that cabarets with dancers who double as prostitutes operate
throughout Syria with the knowledge of local police who are
bribed to ignore the problem. During the past year, however,
there were sporadic media reports of police raiding night
clubs and cabarets.

21. (SBU) 28.F: Post is not aware of instances in which
traffickers have been prosecuted in Syria.

22. (SBU) 28.G: In a January 2008 conference, the IOM and
the Ministry of the Interior conducted training for police,
lawyers and judges that was designed to help them better
identify and assist victims of trafficking. In addition, the
IOM conducted training in December 2007 to train Ministry of
Interior immigration officials on border management,
including a component on trafficking.

DAMASCUS 00000165 005 OF 007

23. (SBU) 28.H: The government has informally discussed
incidents of illegal migration with other governments through
their embassies in Damascus and has unofficially assisted
foreign embassies and the IOM with cases involving trafficked
individuals. At the same time, however, some embassies and
international organizations have complained that the Syrian
government has not provided adequate information regarding
immigration matters, especially the conditions at the border.

24. (SBU) 28.I: Post is not aware of any instances where
traffickers have been extradited.

25. (SBU) 28.J: Post has heard no direct evidence of
central government involvement or tolerance of trafficking.
With the increased international and domestic media focus on
Iraqi prostitution, however, the government has stepped up
its scrutiny of nightclubs and brothels, especially those
with Iraqi prostitutes. There are anecdotal reports of
police raids on some night clubs as well as ensuing arrests.
On the other hand there are also reports that, as in years
past, the police and other government agencies largely
tolerate prostitution when it occurs in a cabaret or brothel
(known as "casino" in Syria). According to contacts in
international organizations, the police do not monitor the
activities of such venues. The face of prostitution in Syria
is also changing due to the influx of Iraqi refugees working
as prostitutes. There are now anecdotal reports of Iraqi
prostitutes soliciting on the street and villas in the
suburbs being used venues for rendezvous between clients and
prostitutes who may have met in a club or brothel. The
extent to which this police tolerance of prostitution aids
and abets trafficking is difficult to discern, but such
tolerance can only make trafficking easier. One local
journalist told the Embassy that Syrian authorities will
often release incarcerated Iraqi prostitutes into the hands
of the traffickers.

26. (SBU) 28.K: Post is unaware of any examples of
trafficking-related corruption being prosecuted.

27. (SBU) 28.L: Syria does not contribute troops to
international peacekeeping efforts.

28. (SBU) 28.M: Post is not aware of any child sex tourism
in Syria. There are anecdotal press reports of citizens of
other Middle Eastern countries visiting Syria for sex
tourism, partially due to the large influx of Iraqi refugee
prostitutes. There is also anecdotal evidence that many
Iraqi prostitutes are minors. It is unclear to what extent
any visitors come to Syria solely for the purpose of having
sex with underage women.


29. (SBU) 29.A: Post has no reports of the government
assisting foreign trafficking victims, for example, by
providing temporary or permanent residency status or other
relief from deportation.

30. (SBU) 29.B: The government has limited means and does not
have dedicated shelters for trafficking victims nor does it
provide counseling or legal assistance. On December 17,
however, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor gave the
IOM approval to set-up a government-authorized women,s
shelter that will accept victims of trafficking.
Traditionally, such services were limited in Syria, and
primarily provided through religious organizations and
charity groups. In addition, Caritas, under the auspices of
the Catholic Church, funds a shelter run by nuns that offers
protection to women, some of whom are victims of trafficking.
Juvenile victims of rape or sexual assault, as well as
minors accused of prostitution, are housed in dedicated
juvenile detention facilities, which provide health care and
vocational training. Finally, some Embassies provide limited
assistance. For example, post is aware that the Indonesian
Embassy has a shelter with 10 rooms on its Embassy grounds in
the event that a woman escapes to the Embassy seeking

DAMASCUS 00000165 006 OF 007

31. (SBU) 29.C: According to Embassy sources, the SARG does
not provide funding to foreign or domestic NGOs for provision
of services to victims of trafficking, although it does
support the Syrian Women's Union's efforts to provide
emergency relief and education and training to women in Syria.

32. (SBU) 29.D: Post has anecdotal reports that some foreign
women in prison on prostitution charges have been beaten by
prison officials. On December 17, 2007 the Ministry of
Social Affairs and Welfare approved a referral system whereby
police, immigration officers, judges, and other government
officials can refer victims of trafficking to a government
authorized shelter rather than criminal prosecution. To
date, no one has been referred to the shelter as it has yet
to open.

33. (SBU) 29.E: Prostitution is not legal in Syria.

34. (SBU) 29.F: In many cases victims of trafficking, who are
increasing from the Iraqi refugee community, were arrested
and charged with prostitution and/or violating immigration
laws. In almost all cases the victims were subject to
deportation. In some cases embassies and consulates of the
victim,s country helped ease the way for their return to
their home country.

35. (SBU) 29.G: Post is not aware of any examples of victims
participating in the investigation and prosecution of
traffickers. Decree 81 requires domestic worker agencies to
put down a USD one million guarantee, which some contacts
assert could be used for a victim restitution program.

36. (SBU) 29.H: In addition to the government-approved
shelter that will open under the guidance of IOM later this
year, another shelter is run under the auspices of the
Catholic Church. The shelter provides assistance to many
women and children who are the victims of a myriad of
different deprivations, some of whom are victims of
trafficking. Currently, the government does not provide
resources to the victims of trafficking.

37. (SBU) 29.I: During a January 2008 conference, the IOM,
under the auspices of the Ministry for the Interior, provided
training to judges, lawyers and police on how to recognize
and deal with victims of trafficking. Post has no reports of
Syrian embassies abroad providing assistance to Syrian
victims of trafficking.

38. (SBU) 29.J: Post has not received any reports of Syrians
being trafficked abroad.

39. (SBU) 29.K: Both the IOM and the UNHCR work with victims
of trafficking. Both organizations provide funds to shelters
while the IOM provides both training and awareness to
government officials who may come into contact with victims
of trafficking. The Syrian government provides no funding to
assist victims of trafficking. In November of 2007 the
UNHCR, IOM, UNICEF, United Nations Food Protection Agency
(UNFPA), the NGO Bon Pasteur, and the Syrian Arab Red
Crescent (SARC) formed an interagency Working Group on Sexual
and Gender Based Violence (SBGV). The group meets monthly to
address some issues related to trafficking. Some contacts at
International Organizations say they are hopeful to cooperate
more closely with the SARC and the Syrian Women,s Union in
the future to address trafficking issues.


40. (SBU) 30.A: During IOM's January 2008 conference the
Director of the Criminal Security Department, Mohammad Ali
Saleh said, "Such crimes (human trafficking) don,t
constitute a common phenomenon nationally." During the same
conference, however, the country director for the IOM noted
the high level of cooperation they have received from
relevant Syrian government bodies in formulating a draft law
on trafficking.

41. (SBU) 30.B: As mentioned in section 30A, the Ministry of
the Interior/IOM conference aimed to spread awareness not
only among government officials in the police, immigration

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and the judiciary but also among parliamentarians and
journalists. To date, there have been no public information
campaigns aimed at the general public.

42. (SBU) 30.C: The Syrian government, through the Ministry
of Social Affairs and Welfare, must approve the licensing and
approve any assistance international NGOs provide to victims
of trafficking. Moreover, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
must approve any foreign funding for NGOs working in Syria.
As mentioned in section 30A, SGBV Working Group was formed in
November 2007 and aims to coordinate action between
international organizations, NGOs and the
government-controlled Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

43. (SBU) 30.D: The government monitors Syria's borders
closely, particularly after the imposition of visa
restrictions on Iraqis in October 2007, but shares
immigration and migration statistics with non-SARG officials
selectively. Post is not aware of current screening for
potential trafficking victims at the border. In 2007, IOM
conducted training of Ministry of Interior immigration
officials in 2007. The training contains a
counter-trafficking component.

44. (SBU) 30.E: Following IOM's September 2005 workshop, the
SARG issued decree 5114 on the creation of a government
committee to formulate a comprehensive draft law to combat
trafficking in persons and to draft a set of rules to
regulate agencies that recruit foreign workers to Syria. The
afore-mentioned SGBV Working Group attempts to coordinate
action between the Syrian government, UN agencies and NGOs to
aid victims of trafficking as well other female victims of
violence. Post is not aware of any other
anti-trafficking-in-persons working group or single point of
contact within the Syrian government. Post is not aware of
the existence of an anti-corruption task force.

45. (SBU) 30.F: Post is not aware of a government-run
national plan to address trafficking in persons. However,
the government has recently approved as many as 15 licensed
international NGOs, many of who have plans to work on the
issue of exploited Iraqi women and children.

46. (SBU) 30.G: Post is not aware of any steps the government
has taken to reduce demand for commercial sex acts.

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