Custom Report Excerpts:
Eswatini, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution provides for freedom of movement “within the territories of the state unless restricted by a judicial decision or by the implementation of laws.” The government, ISIS, and other armed groups, however, restricted internal movement and travel and instituted security checkpoints to monitor such travel throughout the regions under their respective control. Government sieges in Homs, Damascus, rural Damascus, Deir al-Zour, and Idlib Governorates resulted in documented cases of death, starvation, and severe malnutrition (see section 1.g.). In areas under its control, ISIS restricted the movement of government supporters or assumed supporters, especially the Alawi and Shia populations. Other opponents of the government also restricted the movement of such individuals, but to a lesser extent.
The COI report issued on September 6 documented the government’s use of starvation through the implementation of siege warfare. The report stated that more than 600,000 men, women, and children remained trapped in besieged locations, and often in harsh conditions. Sieges executed by the government and its partners entailed routine denial of delivery of food, medicine, medical equipment, and other essential supplies to besieged enclaves. The government compounded these abuses with aerial targeting of civilian infrastructure, including hospitals.
In November in a report called, “We Leave or We Die: Forced Displacement Under Syria’s ‘Reconciliation’ Agreements,” AI reported that the government and its allies offered “reconciliation” agreements to communities “after prolonged sieges and bombardment and typically result not only in the evacuation of members of nonstate armed groups but also in the mass displacement of civilians.” In Daraya, according to the report, government forces blocked or restricted access to basic necessities to such an extent that one former resident described life in the area as living in “Stone Age-like conditions.”
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Both government and opposition forces reportedly besieged, shelled, and otherwise made inaccessible some Palestinian refugee camps, neighborhoods, and sites, which resulted in severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care and humanitarian assistance, and civilian deaths.
In-country Movement: In government-besieged cities throughout the country, government forces blocked humanitarian access, leading to severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care, and death. The violence, coupled with significant cultural pressure, severely restricted the movement of women in many areas. Additionally, the law allows certain male relatives to place travel bans on women.
The government inconsistently cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting IDPs, refugees, and asylum seekers. The government provided some cooperation to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
The government relied on security checkpoints to monitor and limit movement and expanded them into civilian areas. The government also barred foreign diplomats from visiting most parts of the country and rarely granted them permission to travel outside Damascus. The consistently high level and unpredictability of violence severely restricted movement throughout the country.
ISIS and opposition groups also controlled movement, including with checkpoints.
Government forces reportedly used snipers to prevent protests, enforce curfews, target opposition forces, and in some cases prevent civilians from fleeing besieged towns. According to the COI, the drive through long desert detour routes exposed passengers and drivers to arbitrary arrest, unlawful search and seizure of property, demands for bribes, and detention and execution at checkpoints administered by ISIS, the government, and other armed actors.
ISIS reportedly did not permit female passengers to traverse territory it controlled unless accompanied by a close male relative.
Foreign Travel: While citizens have the right to travel internationally, the government denied passports and other vital documents based on the applicant’s political views, association with opposition groups, or ties to geographic areas where the opposition dominated. The government also imposed exit visa requirements and routinely closed the Damascus airport and border crossings, claiming the closures were due to violence or threats of violence. Additionally, the government often banned travel by human rights or civil society activists, their families, and affiliates. Many citizens reportedly learned of the ban against their travel only when authorities prevented them from departing the country. The government reportedly applied travel bans without explanation or explicit duration, including in cases when individuals sought to travel for health reasons. The government comprehensively banned international travel of opposition members, often targeting any such individual who attempted to travel. Local media and human rights groups repeatedly stated that opposition activists and their families hesitated to leave the country, fearing attacks at airports and border crossings. In June 2016 Turkish border guards killed 11 Syrian refugees when they attempted to flee the country.
There were reports ISIS destroyed Syrian passports and legal records and produced its own passports, not recognized by any country or entity. These policies disproportionately affected children, because many left the country before obtaining a passport or identification card. Additionally, Syrians born abroad to parents who fled the conflict and remained in refugee camps generally did not have access to Syrian citizenship documents. In 2015 the government began allowing Syrians living outside of the country, whose passports expired, to renew their passports at consulates. Many who fled as refugees, however, feared reporting to the government against which they may have protested or feared the government could direct reprisals against family members still in the country.
Women over age 18 have the legal right to travel without the permission of male relatives, but a husband may file a request with the Interior Ministry to prohibit his wife from departing the country.
ISIS explicitly prohibited women from foreign travel.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
The government largely did not facilitate humanitarian assistance for IDPs and provided inconsistent protection. During the year violence continued to be the primary reason for citizens to leave the country, with much of the violence attributed to government and Russian aerial attacks. Years of conflict repeatedly displaced persons; each displacement depleted family assets and eroded coping mechanisms.
By the last quarter of the year, the United Nations estimated there were more than 6.3 million IDPs in the country. The government generally did not provide sustainable access for services to the IDP population and did not offer IDPs assistance or protection. UN humanitarian officials reported that most IDPs sought shelter with host communities or in collective centers, abandoned buildings, or informal camps.
In September the United Nations reported that some humanitarian organizations operating in Raqqa continued to assert concerns about IDP screening procedures carried out by the SDF. (see section 1.g.).
The SARC functioned as the main partner for international humanitarian organizations working inside the country to provide humanitarian assistance in both government- and opposition-controlled areas. Access difficulties–including those imposed by the government, ISIS, and opposition groups–hindered the delivery of aid to persons in need. NGOs operating from Damascus faced extensive bureaucratic obstruction when attempting to provide relief to populations in need. The SARC and UN agencies sought to increase the flow of assistance to opposition-held areas to meet growing humanitarian needs. The government routinely disrupted the supply of humanitarian aid to rebel-held areas, particularly medical assistance (see section 1.g.).
The humanitarian response to the country was one of the largest in the world, coordinated through a complex bureaucratic structure. The crisis inside the country continued to meet the UN criteria for a Level 3 response–the global humanitarian system’s classification for response to the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises. Cross-border operations from Turkey and Jordan provided humanitarian assistance for Syrians. Additional assistance came through cross-line operations originating from Damascus. Since the International Syria Support Group’s Humanitarian Task Force began advocating for expanded access in February 2016, the United Nations assisted persons in 17 besieged areas. Assistance reached many besieged and hard-to-reach towns several times. Despite these efforts, however, the Assad government continued to hinder UN access, and many communities continued to suffer and surrender to the government’s tactics.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR and UNRWA were able to maintain limited protection areas for refugees and asylum seekers, although violence hampered access to vulnerable populations. In coordination with both local and international NGOs, the United Nations continued to provide such individuals essential services and assistance.
UNHCR estimated that at least 95,000 persons, mainly Yezidi Iraqis, entered the country following ISIS attacks on Sinjar District in Iraq, beginning in 2014. Many initially fled to Mount Sinjar but managed to evacuate the mountain with the assistance of military strikes led by the Western coalition and support from Syrian Kurdish groups, which transported many Yezidis into the country. The majority of these persons returned to Iraq through the Iraqi Kurdistan Region; however, as of early December, UNHCR had received an estimated 28,000 Iraqis in Syria’s al-Hasakah Governorate.
Employment: The law does not explicitly grant refugees, except for Palestinians, the right to work. While the government rarely granted non-Palestinian refugees a work permit, many refugees found work in the informal sector as guards, construction workers, street vendors, and in other manual jobs.
Access to Basic Services: The law allows for the issuance of identity cards to Palestinian refugees and the same access to basic services provided to citizens. The government also allowed Iraqi refugees access to publicly available services, such as health care and education, but residency permits were available only to those refugees who entered Syria legally and possessed a valid passport, which did not include all refugees. The lack of access to residency permits issued by authorities exposed refugees to risks of harassment and exploitation and severely affected their access to public services. The approximately 54,000 non-Palestinian refugees in the country faced growing protection risks, multiple displacements, tightened security procedures at checkpoints, and difficulty obtaining required residency permits, all of which resulted in restrictions on their freedom of movement. UNHCR reported a rise in sexual- and gender-based violence and child protection concerns among refugees, including child labor, school dropouts, and early marriages.
Approximately 190,000 Kurds in the country are not entitled to Syrian nationality under the law. The government considers the Kurds to be foreigners, which denies them access to services. Following the 1962 census, approximately 150,000 Kurds lost their citizenship. A legislative decree had ordained the single-day census in 1962, and the government executed it unannounced with regard to the inhabitants of al-Hasakah Governorate. Anyone not registered for any reason or without all required paperwork became “foreign” from that day onward. In a similar fashion, authorities recorded anyone who refused to participate as “undocumented.” Because of this loss of citizenship, these Kurds and their descendants lacked identity cards and could not access government services, including health care and education. They also faced social and economic discrimination. Stateless Kurds do not have the right to inherit or bequeath assets, and their lack of citizenship or identity documents restricted their travel to and from the country.
In 2011 President Assad decreed that stateless Kurds in al-Hasakah Governorate, who were registered as “foreigners,” could apply for citizenship. UNHCR reported that approximately 40,000 of these remained unable to obtain citizenship. Likewise, the decree did not extend to the approximately 160,000 “unregistered” stateless Kurds. The change from 150,000 to 160,000 reflected an approximate increase in population since the 1962 census.
Children derive citizenship solely from their father. Because women cannot confer nationality on their children, an unknown number of children whose fathers were missing or deceased due to the continuing conflict were at risk of statelessness. Mothers could not pass citizenship to children born outside the country, including in neighboring countries operating refugee camps.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of foreign travel, emigration, repatriation, but the government imposed some restrictions.
The government rarely cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, or other persons. There were some cases of refoulement.
In-country Movement: The government prohibits foreigners, except diplomats and international aid workers, from traveling within a 15-mile zone along the borders with Afghanistan and China in the Khatlon Region and the Gorno-Badakhsan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) unless they obtain permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Officials did not always enforce the restrictions along the western border with Afghanistan, although the government continued to require travelers (including international workers and diplomats) to obtain special permits to visit the GBAO. The government also continued to enforce a policy barring Afghan refugees from residing in urban areas.
Foreign Travel: On May 14, border guards with the State Committee on National Security stopped Fayzinisso Vohidova, a prominent human rights attorney, at the Tajik-Kyrgyz border as she was departing for Kyrgyzstan to attend her nephew’s funeral. Border guards detained her for eight hours, claiming there was a “defect” in her passport and that she “had no right to leave Tajikistan.” In the weeks preceding her detention, security services interrogated Vohidova on several occasions after she made critical remarks concerning the government’s imprisonment of Buzurgmehr Yorov, a human rights lawyer. Vohidova alleged the problem with the passport was a pretext to prevent her from leaving the country.
The government abused international law enforcement mechanisms, such as Interpol Red Notices, in an attempt to locate and repatriate into its prison system Tajik dissidents living abroad. Such dissidents are detained on the basis of politically motivated extremism charges. On October 8, Mirzorakhim Kuzov, a senior IRPT leader, was detained by Greek police at Athens International Airport during his transit after attending a human rights conference in Warsaw, Poland. He remained detained at year’s end.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: The government in some cases forced asylum seekers or refugees to return to countries where they may face persecution or torture. During the first seven months of the year, the government deported 11 asylum seekers and refugees to Afghanistan. The deportees included refugees whose status was revoked based on violation of the law prohibiting such persons from residing in urban areas as well as cumbersome preconditions that preclude a claimant from registering as a refugee. The cases of revoked status were under appeal in court with the support of UNHCR. The deportations took place despite the incomplete appeal processes. In some cases there was risk of refoulement.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Nevertheless, the process for making asylum status determinations remained uncertain and lacking transparency, and administrative and judicial procedures did not comply with international standards. Although not required by law, government officials required refugees and asylum seekers to obtain a visa and a valid travel document before entering the country. Government officials without due process detained and deported individuals not in possession of a visa.
The government processed asylum applications through the National Refugee Status Determination Commission and granted applicants documents to regularize their stay and prevent deportation. Formal notifications of administrative and legal decisions provided little insight into the rationale for adjudications. In some instances, when denying claimants refugee status, officials cited, in broad terms, a lack of evidence of persecution in the refugee’s home country or “malpractice” on the part of refugees applying to renew their status, such as violation of the prohibition of living in big cities, including in Dushanbe. Unofficially, some refugees claimed authorities could deny cases if sufficiently high bribes were not paid.
The government continued to place significant restrictions on claimants, and officials continued to enforce a law decreed in 2000 prohibiting asylum seekers and refugees from residing in the capital and all major cities in the country. Security officials regularly monitored refugee populations. Asylum seekers and refugees regularly reported to UNHCR that security officials harassed them, often for allegedly lacking personal identification, and attempted to extort money. Police subjected them to raids if they were believed to be residing in prohibited areas.
During the year increased government scrutiny of persons living in areas annexed to Dushanbe, coupled with the retroactive application of Government Resolution 325, a law that prohibits refugees from living in major urban areas including Dushanbe, led to a significant increase in administrative cases brought against refugees. As a result, up to 40 refugees and their families were at risk of penalty or deportation.
The law stipulates that refugee status be granted for as long as three years. Since 2009 the Department of Citizenship and Works with Refugees, under the Passport Registration Services within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, has had responsibility for refugee issues. Refugees must reregister yearly to receive an extension of refugee status. According to government statistics, the country had 2,185 registered refugees, 98 percent of whom were Afghan. An additional 141 asylum seekers, mostly Afghan, were seeking refugee status.
Freedom of Movement: Refugees are not permitted to live in major urban areas, including Dushanbe, according to Government Resolution 325, restricting their ability to find work and go to school.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers are legally entitled to education and health services alongside local citizens. The Ministry of Education allowed Afghan parents to send their children to local schools without paying fees. UNHCR partners provided books, school uniforms, and some language classes to these children. The law provides registered refugees with equal access to law enforcement, health care, and the judicial system, although in practice refugees did not always have equal access. Vulnerable refugee families received assistance with medical expenses. Refugees were subjected to harassment and extortion. In such situations UNHCR’s legal assistance partner assisted clients in obtaining judicial redress while providing training and awareness-raising sessions to local authorities to strengthen their understanding of refugee rights.
Durable Solutions: Following the amended Constitutional Law on Nationality adopted in 2015, the government removed provisions for expedited naturalization, leaving refugees on equal standing with nonrefugee foreigners when applying for citizenship.
In April the government adopted by-laws to the 2015 Constitutional Law on Nationality that provide practical guidance on its implementation. Since the nationality law outlines only a general framework on citizenship issues, there was a need to clarify procedures for applicants and government officials. The by-laws’ implementing regulations set clear guidance on required documents to be submitted, mandate responsibilities for each government agency accepting and processing those documents, create a decision-making mechanism and authority on nationality-related issues, outline responsibilities of government agencies to provide within a specific time frame information on decisions made, and describe the rights of applicants to appeal to courts decisions and actions of government agencies. The adopted by-laws are designed to provide a more transparent and effective process of nationality-related cases as well as an overall greater effectiveness in reduction of statelessness in the country.
UNHCR jointly with the government and NGO partners continued to implement a project to identify and find solutions for stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality in three pilot provinces of the country (Khatlon, Soghd, and Districts of Republican Subordination). As of July 31, 27,809 stateless persons and persons at risk of statelessness had been identified and registered; 13,607 of those registered used the assistance to confirm their citizenship. Some registered individuals, however, struggled to achieve a durable solution because they lived in remote areas and lacked the financial means to pay for transportation and fees associated with confirming their citizenship. In May UNHCR jointly with its NGO partners developed vulnerability criteria and procedures to assist the most vulnerable stateless persons and persons at risk of statelessness with meeting the costs associated with confirming citizenship.