United States Department of State
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Washington, DC 20520
December 21, 2011
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This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated September 30, 2011, and is updated to reflect reduced staffing at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus and a possible reduction in consular services. U.S. citizens should not travel to Syria due to ongoing violence and civil unrest. The U.S. Department of State urges U.S. citizens currently in Syria to depart immediately while commercial transportation is available. The number of airlines serving Syria has decreased significantly since the summer months, and many of the remaining airlines have reduced their number of flights. U.S. citizens who must remain in Syria should limit nonessential travel within the country. For the time being, the Embassy continues to provide passport services, as well as other emergency services to U.S. citizens. However, staff levels at the Embassy are being further reduced. Visa services for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens may also be affected due to staffing levels. Our ability to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency is extremely limited and may be further constrained by the fluid security situation.
Since March 2011, demonstrations throughout Syria have been violently suppressed by Syrian security forces, resulting in thousands of deaths, injuries, and detentions. In recent days, violence has escalated in cities around Syria, including the capital, Damascus. Demonstrations, and violent government reactions to them, can occur with little or no warning anytime and anywhere. Recent demonstrations have occurred on university campuses, main streets, public squares, mosques, and other places of public gathering; anyone caught in the vicinity of demonstrations may be detained. On July 11, 2011, the U.S. Embassy and other embassies in Damascus were violently attacked by people participating in a pro-government demonstration, resulting in the U.S. Embassy closing for one day. We remind U.S. citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of a demonstration.
Several cities, including Damascus, have been placed under heightened security. Travelers on Syrian roads have encountered an increased number of checkpoints and roadblocks, impeding travel and preventing entry to or exit from affected cities.
Syrian government constraints on diplomats and international staff, including the short-term detention of accredited diplomats, have made it difficult for U.S. Embassy personnel to adequately assess the current risks or the potential for continuing violence. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied permission to allow U.S. diplomats to travel within Syria, severely limiting the ability of consular officers to provide assistance to U.S. citizens outside the city of Damascus.
On August 18, several countries, including the United States, called upon the Syrian president to step aside. Furthermore, the United States imposed additional sanctions against the Government of Syria. These sanctions prohibit U.S. citizens or residents from making payments or providing any material support to the Government of Syria, providing services to Syria, or making new investments in Syria. U.S. citizens and residents should be aware that, under the current sanctions, activities such as working (i.e. providing services) in Syria or paying business or employment-related fees to the Syrian government (e.g. taxes, licensing fees, public utility charges, etc.) are violations of U.S. law. U.S. banks and credit card companies are also prohibited from providing services, drastically limiting U.S. citizens’ and residents’ ability to withdraw cash or conduct commercial transactions. However, U.S. persons residing in Syria are authorized to pay their personal living expenses in Syria and to engage in other transactions, including with the Government of Syria, that are ordinarily incident and necessary to their personal maintenance within Syria (e.g. taxes, school fees, public utility charges, etc.). Additional information about current U.S. sanctions against the Government of Syria can be found online at http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/pages/syria.aspx.
Syrian efforts to attribute the current civil unrest to external influences have led to an increase in anti-foreigner sentiment. Detained U.S. citizens may find themselves subject to allegations of incitement or espionage. Contrary to the terms of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, of which Syria is a signatory, Syrian authorities generally do not notify the U.S. Embassy of the arrest of a U.S. citizen until days or weeks after the arrest. Moreover, in the past, security officials have not responded to U.S. Embassy requests for consular access, especially in cases of persons detained for “security” reasons. There have been numerous credible reports of torture in Syrian prisons.
Travelers should heed directions given by Syrian police and/or security officials and should always carry copies of their passports as proof of citizenship and identity. Taking photographs of demonstrations, public gatherings, or anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in questioning, detention, and/or confiscation of the images. Sharing politically sensitive information via social media can also result in targeting by Syrian security forces. Additionally, U.S. citizens should be aware that exhibiting disrespect toward political symbols or conversations on the topics of politics, religion, and other social issues could lead to arrest.
U.S. citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times. Media coverage of local events may cause family and friends to become concerned for the welfare of their loved ones in Syria, and we urge U.S. citizens to keep in regular contact with family and friends.
U.S. citizens living or traveling in Syria are encouraged to enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive the latest travel updates and information and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Syria. U.S. citizens without internet access may enroll directly with the U.S. Embassy in Damascus. By enrolling, U.S. citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy in Damascus can be reached at all hours at 963-11-3391-4444; the fax number is 963-11-3391-3999. The Embassy’s website, available at http://damascus.usembassy.gov/, includes consular information and the most recent messages to U.S. citizens in Damascus.