After the Bashar al-Assad regime and its allied militias took control over areas of southern Syria, corruption began to become commonplace in many aspects of life. Regime officers began to take exhausting measures against civilians with the aim of obtaining money from them.
These negative practices have increased daily hardships for residents and left them with almost nothing to their name. According to testimonies on the ground, obtained by Alsouria Net, many opportunities for securing bribes have become available for security branch officers and army officers, as well as other cooperators and militia officials.
After regime forces were deployed in the south, the area was divided into security sectors, including those under Political Security, those under State Security, and others under the Military Security and Air Force Intelligence, with each branch having specific stations, in addition to the stations already deployed throughout the south.
This has led to a contradiction in terms of missions and authorities, and has increased repressive effects on residents. In testimonies, some residents of the area from the Daraa and Quneitra countrysides, say the regime intelligence agencies have started carrying out security background checks on former opposition members, and all those who participated in various activities, whether they were part of the local councils, military, field hospitals, or other bodies.
The background checks also include all those who asked for “status settlement” in order to return to work, and includes those who want to buy and sell land, as well as those who have returned from government jobs and other employment.
According to information obtained by Alsouria Net from local sources who asked not to be named, each security branch is sending a delegate to meet people and carry out checks.
The checks include specific information, such as name, age, children, activities, partisan affiliation, and others, and each person might be checked by three or four branches.
It has become common for people to pay the delegates for positive results from their checks. Payments can range from 5,000 to 15,000 Syrian pounds, depending on how detailed the check is.
For example, one source said, “If a person is being checked by three branches, and the study is a standard one for him to return to work, he can pay 5,000 pounds to each branch delegate, and therefore pays 15,000 pounds so that his security check isn’t negative.”
Regime officers are seizing people’s “settlement IDs,” which Russia promised to distribute to some as a “guarantee” to protect them from Assad’s forces, as a means to blackmail civilians and to force them to pay money to obtain them.
The settlement IDs are issued by the National Security office, which oversees all the security branches, and those who hold the IDs are allowed to cross through military checkpoints without anyone obstructing their path.
The settlement center has begun to fill with documents, that detail the settlements that individuals made, including promises not to return to any anti-regime practices. These documents are then submitted in batches to the National Security office for approval and the issuing of the settlement IDs.
Some security branches have purposefully delayed submitting a number of batches to the National Security office in order to benefit financially. Some of those who are wanted by security have had to pay between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds in order to speed up the process or to obtain a forged settlement ID from the same center.
This bears risks, because the name is not actually submitted to the National Security office. In addition, many of those who hold settlement IDs have been arrested subsequently, and this has led some to pay huge amounts to so-called “mediators” to release prisoners.
Civilians in regime-controlled areas in southern Syria live in terrible circumstances. Electricity, water, gas, and humanitarian aid are absent, and notifications for compulsory and reserve service in the Assad army are being distributed.
As a result, many young men have left the southern region, heading in two directions—either from the Daraa and Quneitra countrysides towards Lebanon or toward the Idleb countryside. This is done through brokers and drivers who work with high-ranking officers, who secure a so-called “military route.” Here the officers make a profit in two ways. First is from the cost of transport, with passage to Lebanon costing up to 1,300 dollars, and up to 2,800 dollars to travel to Idleb.
The second is by the officers betraying the young men who they are smuggling, as has happened in a number of prior incidents. Other officers then contact their families to have them released in exchange for amounts that can run into the millions of Syrian pounds.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.