By Vincent Lyn
Syria’s status as one of the most dangerous countries worldwide has persisted since the start of the conflict in 2011, and this year, in 2023, it occupies the third spot, just behind Yemen and Afghanistan.
It is noteworthy how the U.S. and U.K. travel advisories compare in terms of describing Syria. While many aspects are similar, the U.S provides an exceptionally detailed summary. Nevertheless, it is safe to assume that a mere 1% of individuals would consider venturing into the country after reading it. Despite my firsthand visits to Syria, I cannot help but feel disheartened by the persistent and unwarranted paranoia exhibited by the U.S. and U.K. governments in their ongoing sanctions against Syria.
Although sanctions are intended to focus on particular entities or individuals, they can unintentionally have far-reaching consequences, impacting the general population and worsening humanitarian crises. While humanitarian exemptions are often incorporated into sanctions frameworks to alleviate these effects, their application and efficacy can vary, leading to severe and long-lasting repercussions, as is the case with Syria.
Travel Advisory: October 5, 2022
Do not travel to Syria due to terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, armed conflict, and risk of unjust detention.
Country Summary: The U.S. Embassy in Damascus suspended its operations in February 2012. The Czech Republic serves as the protecting power for the United States in Syria. The U.S. government is unable to provide any emergency services to U.S. citizens in Syria.
Syria has experienced active armed conflict since 2011. No part of Syria is safe from violence. Kidnappings by armed groups, unjust arrests and/or detentions, the use of chemical warfare, shelling, and aerial bombardment of civilian centers pose significant risk of death or serious injury. The destruction of infrastructure, housing, medical facilities, schools, and power and water utilities has also increased hardships inside the country.
The U.S. government particularly warns private U.S. citizens against traveling to Syria to engage in armed conflict. U.S. citizens who undertake such activity face extreme personal risks, including kidnapping by armed groups, unjust arrests, injury, or death. The U.S. government does not support this activity. Our ability to provide consular assistance to individuals who are injured or kidnapped, or to the families of individuals who die in the conflict, is extremely limited.
Protests and demonstrations are quelled by government forces through aggressive tactics and protestors, activists, and political dissenters are routinely detained without access to legal representation or communications with friends and family.
Terrorist groups are active in Syria. Parts of Syria have experienced recent increases in incidents of bombings, IEDs, and assassinations. Fighting on behalf of or providing other forms of support to designated terrorist organizations, including ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates, can constitute the provision of material support for terrorism, which is a crime under U.S. law that can result in penalties including prison time and large fines.
There is an ongoing risk of kidnapping and detentions of U.S. citizens and Westerners throughout the country. U.S. citizens remain a target. U.S. citizens are also targets of abduction and/or unjust detention by the Syrian government and while in detention do not have access to due process or medical attention. Government detention centers are known to be unsanitary facilities where widespread cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of detainees has been documented, as well as torture and extrajudicial killings. Minors, persons with physical, sensory, or mental disabilities, and elderly have frequently been victims of unjust detention. The Syrian government has also been implicated in the enforced or involuntary disappearance of more than 100,000 citizens, including medical and humanitarian workers, journalists, human rights activists, political opposition, and additionally those suspected of affiliation with these groups and their family members. Note: Only the Syrian government can issue a valid entry visa to Syria. Failure to obtain a legitimate entry visa directly from the Syrian government could result in detention.
Due to risks to civil aviation operating within or in the vicinity of Syria, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) and/or a Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR), which says that heightened military activity associated with the Syrian conflict may result in the risk of GPS interference, communications jamming, and errant long-range surface to air missiles straying into adjacent airspace within 200 nautical miles of the Damascus Flight Information Region. These activities may inadvertently pose hazards to civil aviation transiting the region. It also has the potential to spill over into the adjacent airspace managed by neighboring states and eastern portions of the Mediterranean Sea.
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advise against all travel to Syria. British nationals in Syria should leave by any practical means.
Travel Advisory Still current at: July 13, 2023 — Updated: February 6, 2023
Latest update: Information on a 7.8 major earthquake that hit the Gazientep region of Southeast Turkey on 6 February 2023 which has also severely impacted cities in Northern Syria including Idlib and Aleppo.
A major earthquake (7.8) hit the Gazientep region of Southeast Turkey on 6 February 2023, severely impacting cities in Northern Syria including Idlib and Aleppo. A further earthquake (7.5) was felt later in the day and there have been several aftershocks. The risk of further aftershocks remains.
The situation in Syria remains volatile and dangerous owing to a decade of ongoing conflict and insecurity. The Syrian regime does not exercise control of parts of the country, notably in the north west where fighting has caused significant civilian casualties and displacement. Daesh, formerly known as ISIL, continues to operate as an insurgency and conducts regular attacks, especially in north east Syria and other terrorist groups are also active. Throughout Syria, local security situations are fragile and can deteriorate into armed clashes without warning.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Syria. Continued attacks across Syria including in major cities, have left large numbers of people dead or injured. There is also a very high threat of kidnapping throughout Syria. There have been a number of kidnappings, including of British nationals and other Westerners, by Daesh and other groups.
If you choose to travel to Syria against FCDO advice, you should make sure you and any dependents have valid exit stamps on your travel documents if you need one and take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance.
CEO & Founder of We Can Save Children
Deputy Ambassador of International Human Rights Commission (IHRC)
Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization
Economic & Social Council at United Nations (ECOSOC)
Editor-in-Chief at Wall Street News Agency
Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts