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Cablegate: Acs in Syria - Deceived, Detained and Deported

VZCZCXRO5410
OO RUEHTRO
DE RUEHDM #1155/01 3401518
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 061518Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4417
INFO RUEHAM/AMEMBASSY AMMAN 7155
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO 3493
RUEHLB/AMEMBASSY BEIRUT 4804
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0606
RUEHYN/AMEMBASSY SANAA 0302
RUEHKU/AMEMBASSY KUWAIT 1280
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 5387
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 0296
RUEHTV/AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV 2041
RUEHJM/AMCONSUL JERUSALEM 1528
RUEHMS/AMEMBASSY MUSCAT 0084
RUEHMK/AMEMBASSY MANAMA 0630
RUEHAD/AMEMBASSY ABU DHABI 1350
RUEHDI/AMCONSUL DUBAI 0147
RUEHDO/AMEMBASSY DOHA 0451
RUEHTU/AMEMBASSY TUNIS 2913
RUEHAS/AMEMBASSY ALGIERS 0416
RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT 0603
RUEHCL/AMCONSUL CASABLANCA 0885
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 0027
RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH 7907
RUEHJI/AMCONSUL JEDDAH 2687
RUEHTH/AMEMBASSY ATHENS 0311
RUEHPNH/NVC PORTSMOUTH 6413
RUEAHLC/HOMELAND SECURITY CENTER WASHINGTON DC
RUCNFB/DIR FBI WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 DAMASCUS 001155

SIPDIS

ATHENS FOR DHS
DEPT FOR INL/HSTC
DEPT FOR PRM
DEPT FOR CA/EX
DEPT FOR CA/FPP
DEPT FOR CA/OCS/CI
DEPT FOR CA/OCS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958
TAGS: PHUM PREF CVIS ASEC KFRD KCRM KOCI KWMN SY
SUBJECT: ACS IN SYRIA - DECEIVED, DETAINED AND DEPORTED

1. (SBU) Summary. American Citizen Services (ACS) staff at Embassy
Damascus had twenty cases of detention and/or abandonment of US
citizens in the fourth quarter FY-2007. Six cases involved women
fleeing their families due to abuse or to avoid arranged marriages.
Four cases, some still ongoing, were families abandoned without
documentation and therefore unable to leave Syria. Ten were
detention cases by Syrian police or security forces. Embassy
Damascus has begun more specific tracking of ACS cases by category,
and will send quarterly updates on our activities. End Summary.


----------------------
FLEEING THEIR FAMILIES
----------------------

2. (SBU) Embassy Damascus saw six cases of flight or attempted
flight in the last quarter (July-September) of FY2007. Four of
these cases involved young women being forced into marriages by
their fathers; one case is a 16-year old girl physically abused by
her father; and one is a mother of three children who also falls
under our "abandonment" category (see next section).

3. (SBU) Complicating these cases are elements of Syrian law that
effectively turn wives and daughters into property, denying them the
rights of free movement and of personal choice. Syrian men may
place travel bans on women in their family of any age and on
underage male children. Once a travel ban has been filed,
permission to travel must be given by a male member of the
requesting family; e.g., a wife would need permission from her
husband, husband's brother, or husband's father. The ban may be
filed regardless of the nationality of the traveler. These bans
mean that, even with a valid US passport, the traveler is unable to
obtain the necessary exit stamp to leave Syria.

4. (SBU) Fortunately, two of the cases turned into success stories.
US-born sisters, aged 19 and 21, were being forced by their father
into marriages with their first cousins - arrangements for which it
was estimated he would receive a sizeable payment. Consular staff
ensured that both women had valid passports and cash for their
escape, and helped them get exit stamps before a travel hold was
placed on them. ConOff notified Embassy Beirut that the sisters
might get across the border and contact them. When the sisters were
able to break away from the family and cross the border into
Lebanon, Embassy Beirut assisted their departure to the US.

5. (SBU) In two additional, unrelated, cases, 16- and 22-year old
women were able to escape from their family homes and flee before
the marriages took place. It is not uncommon for these women to be
kept prisoner literally by their relatives. The 22-year old eloped
with her fianc - the one of her choosing, not her father's - and
was able to leave the country as "control" of her travel transferred
from her father to her husband with the logistical assistance of the
Section. The 16-year old reportedly ran away with her Syrian
boyfriend. Her parents reported it as a kidnapping, and the couple
were eventually caught and arrested after a period on the lamb.
Both the girl and her family maintained contact with ConOff, and the

DAMASCUS 00001155 002 OF 005


girl even called ConOff in the middle of the night to be talked out
of suicide. Upon being returned to her parents, the young woman
told ConOff the entire affair was a misunderstanding, that she was
now fine, and that perhaps she could marry the young man when she
turned 18.

6. (SBU) Not all cases come to a clear resolution. One 16-year old
AmCit daughter of divorced Syrian parents fled her father's house
after physical abuse that included beating and having chunks of her
hair torn out when she resisted. She is now living with her mother
in violation of a Syrian order granting custody to the abusive
father. ConOffs have met with the Syrian Attorney General about the
case and continue to follow the girl's welfare and whereabouts.

-------------------
ABANDONED AND ALONE
-------------------

7. (SBU) Fourth quarter (July-September) FY2007 saw four reported
cases of abandonment, three of which involved children. Abandonment
is becoming increasingly common in Syria. The most usual scenario
encountered is that of a mother and her children lured to Syria
under false pretenses by a dual-national AmCit husband. He then
takes away their passports and other documents, effectively
stranding them in Syria. The husband may remain with his family
here, but more often he goes back to the US or to some third
country. In some cases, the wife and children live with their
in-laws; in others, the family is left to fend for themselves. Even
if the wife is an AmCit, there are limits to what ACS staff may do,
because of the legal system and travel ban possibilities in Syria.
Equally tragic are the Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) wives who have
not yet naturalized in the US. Returning Resident petitions may be
filed, but the expense (currently USD 400 for the filing and USD 380
for the new immigrant visa foil) is often a severe hardship on
families with already depleted resources.

8. (SBU) During this quarter, Post assisted three AmCit and LPR
women who had been abandoned with AmCit and/or LPR women. In these
cases, Post counsels the women at length -- sometimes over a period
of months -- on how to replace their documents and possibilities for
departure. We also contact neighboring posts of destination to
prepare them to receive the families if they can indeed depart
Syria. Unfortunately, none of these three has yet been able to
leave.

-------------------------
DETENTION AND DEPORTATION
-------------------------

9. (SBU) In the last quarter of FY2007 (July-September), ten AmCits
experienced SARG jails firsthand. Nine of them have since been
released; the tenth will likely be in prison for years to come.
Syrian police and security services are not known for their
leniency. They have a pattern of locking up first and asking
questions later. There have been instances where witnesses to a
possible crime - against whom no allegations of any kind are ever

DAMASCUS 00001155 003 OF 005


filed - have been held for several days without access or redress.
All detainees in this time period were men, and four of them were US
citizens with no claims to Syrian dual-nationality. These four were
either deported or encouraged to leave prior to their originally
scheduled departure dates.

10. (SBU) Our current detainee, a 46-year old dual national, has
been charged with the fatal shooting of his neighbor. A trial date
has not been set, and he feared his son would become the victim of a
revenge killing. In addition to regular ACS services, such as
providing attorney information, ConOff assisted him in filing an IV
petition for his son, who has since traveled to the US and taken up
residence with his brother.

11. (SBU) One man was held overnight when, during a visit to his
non-AmCit brother in a local prison, he insulted one of the prison
guards. He may have also made insulting remarks about Syrian
President Bashar al-Asad, which is a crime under Syrian law. He was
released the next day. Similarly, another dual national was held
overnight on what turned out to be "false impersonation charges" and
was released the next afternoon. For these cases, we provided
advice and attorneys' names to the families, but did not become
involved directly.

12. (SBU) In some instances, dual-national businessmen refuse to
take the seemingly logical step of simply leaving the country. One
such man has been arrested several times on what he says are
trumped-up charges meant to intimidate him into dropping a property
dispute which he is winning. Each time he is held for several days
and then released. Another businessman was held for four months on
internet piracy charges. In each case, despite knowing that they
are in danger of re-arrest at any time, they chose not only to stay
in Syria but also to continue the business activities that led to
their arrests. Although the Consular Section tracks the AmCits'
whereabouts, we can do nothing more if our advice to leave the
country goes unheeded.

13. (SBU) Consular staff recently repatriated a young man who had
been held incommunicado for six weeks. Although of Syrian descent,
his family had never registered him with Syrian authorities, so he
is not officially a dual national. During his detention, Embassy
Damascus sent repeated diplomatic notes emphasizing the danger of
refusing access to an AmCit with a known heart condition. While the
case has a happy ending, in that the man was released and
repatriated, his experience is likely to leave psychological trauma
that could require professional attention.

14. (SBU) Our most recent four cases involve AmCit men with no
claims to dual nationality of any kind. Two of the men were
traveling together, and told ConOff they were collecting license
plates from every country in the world for an automotive museum.
They were arrested by plainclothes officers when they tried to
purchase Syrian license plates - a crime under Syrian law - in the
local marketplace, and allegedly proceeded to fight the officers and
resist arrest. They said they did not speak Arabic, did not realize
they were under arrest, and feared they were being kidnapped. They

DAMASCUS 00001155 004 OF 005


were released after several hours, but their passports were kept by
the police, so they came to the Embassy to report the situation.
ConOff was able to determine which police station was involved, meet
with the officer in charge of the station, and get the passports
back within two hours of the initial contact. (Note: The officer
told ConOff that a diplomatic note had been sent via the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs to inform Embassy Damascus of the incident and
return the passports. As of this writing one month later, the MFA
still has not passed that letter to the Embassy. End Note.) The
two travelers moved up their departure plans and left Syria without
further incident.

15. (SBU) The two deportation cases appear to be related but we
cannot be entirely sure. A 20-year old student was sharing an
apartment with a Syrian man and a British woman when the Syrian was
arrested for selling marijuana at the local university. He denied
the charges and said he was only buying it for his American
roommate, information that led to the arrest of the American
student. ConOff went to the drugs-crime holding station and
insisted on access even though lower-level officers denied an AmCit
was being held there. Once the General in charge of the station
arrived, ConOff was able to see the young man and obtain Privacy Act
waivers and contact information for his family in California. An
OCS trust was set up and a local attorney was engaged by the family.
When the matter came to the courts, the judge released the AmCit on
condition he be deported within three days. (Note: Drugs crimes in
Syria are taken extremely seriously, and this young man was facing
up to three years for possession of marijuana. Had he been charged
with intent to distribute, it would have carried the death penalty.
End Note.) As is par for the course in Syria, the deportee must pay
for his own transportation, and in this case an OCS trust was used.
Fast action by Embassy staff got a ticket arranged in time to put
the student on a plane that evening, rather than have him spend the
upcoming weekend in a holding cell without food, water, or sanitary
facilities. He was deported after spending a week in Syrian jails,
where he said he saw not only neglect but also deliberate
mistreatment and torture of other detainees.

16. (SBU) A potentially related deportation involves a friend of
the student deported on drugs charges. This 22-year old AmCit had
been living in Syria for several months. He had applied for his
residency card and had met the student via mutual friends. During
the drugs case, ConOff learned that the Syrian police were looking
for this other AmCit, though they knew him by a different name.
ConOff advised him to cut short his time in Syria but he chose to
stay. A few weeks later, he contacted ConOff via cellular phone
text message to say he was being detained by immigration
authorities. Fortunately, they never connected him with the drugs
matter, but gave him three days to leave the country. No specific
reason was ever given for this decision. ConOff ensured the AmCit
had all the information he needed and he opted to make his own
departure arrangements.

-------
COMMENT
-------

DAMASCUS 00001155 005 OF 005

17. (SBU) Comment. We reiterate the fact that the SARG's opaque
bureaucracy and competing security services results in the Embassy
never being advised of detentions and frequently cannot gain access
to detainees. If Consular staff have good relations with
working-level officials, access at the local station can sometimes
be obtained, but speed is essential. Embassy Damascus has begun
more specific tracking of ACS cases by category, and will send
quarterly updates on our activities.

CORBIN

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