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Travel Warning: Syria

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Consular Affairs issued a Travel Warning for Syria today (and a bit late, in my opinion…).  It reads as follows:

Syria

August 5, 2011

The U.S. Department of State urges U.S. citizens in Syria to depart immediately while commercial transportation is available. Given the ongoing uncertainty and volatility of the current situation, U.S. citizens who must remain in Syria are advised to limit nonessential travel within the country. U.S. citizens not in Syria should defer all travel to Syria at this time. The Department of State ordered all eligible family members of U.S. government employees as well as certain non-emergency personnel to depart Syria on April 25, 2011. Embassy operations continue to the extent possible under the constraints of an evolving security situation. The Embassy continues to provide passport services, as well as other emergency services to U.S. citizens; however visa services are limited. The Syrian government has also placed severe constraints upon the travel of diplomats within Syria, limiting the ability of consular officers to provide assistance to U.S. citizens outside the city of Damascus. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning for Syria issued on April 25, 2011, to provide updated information on violent confrontations at demonstrations, increased security measures, and to note new restrictions on travel for U.S. Embassy personnel.Since March 2011, demonstrations throughout Syria have been violently suppressed by Syrian security forces, resulting in hundreds of deaths and injuries and thousands of detentions. Demonstrations can occur with little or no warning anytime and anywhere, not just on Friday afternoons, as with many past demonstrations. Recent demonstrations have occurred on university campuses, main streets, public squares, mosques, and other places of public gathering. 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. On April 22, 2011, security forces prevented many from entering or leaving Damascus.

Syrian government constraints on observers, 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.

Syrian efforts to attribute the current civil unrest to external influences may lead 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 the case of persons detained for “security” reasons.

Travelers should heed directions given by Syrian police and/or security officials and should always carry a copy of their passport 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. 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 U.S. Embassy Damascus, includes consular information and the most recent messages to U.S. citizens in Damascus.

For information on “What the Department of State Can and Can’t Do in a Crisis,” please visit the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Emergencies and Crisis link at: http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/emergencies/emergencies_1212.html

Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

For further information, U.S. citizens should consult the Department of State’s Country Specific Information for Syria. Stay up to date by bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well.

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Written by OSB

06/08/2011 at 08:52

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