Syrian refugees in Europe coerced into giving money to Damascus: Report
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Syrian citizens and refugees living in Europe who haven’t completed their mandatory military service are being coerced into giving money to the Syrian government to prevent properties belonging to their families back home from being confiscated, a new report for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) said on Tuesday.
The OCCRP report told the story of Yousef, a 32-year-old Syrian living in Sweden. Earlier this year Yousef found himself faced with a dire dilemma. He either had to return to his war-torn country and complete his military service, mandatory for all Syrian men aged 18-42, or pay off the government so it wouldn't confiscate his family’s home in Syria.
Under a new regulation in Syria, the authorities can confiscate property belonging to “service evaders” and their families. This has enabled Damascus to effectively extort the large population of Syrian refugees living in Europe who haven't completed their military service into paying it off.
Yousef was one such example. He went to the Syrian Embassy in Stockholm with $8,000 in cash, handing it to the authorities so they would take his name off the conscription list and his family could keep their home.
“This money will be used by the Syrian regime to buy weapons and kill more people,” Yousef told OCCRP.
The report went on to note that there are most likely hundreds of thousands of Syrians in Europe who are in a similar situation to Yousef's, not wanting to fight in their country's civil war but unwilling to see their families lose their homes.
“The Syrian government has been able to leverage this anxiety into revenue, harvesting foreign currency from the roughly 1 million Syrians who have settled in Europe to help prop up their ailing budget after US sanctions cut them off from the international banking system last year,” the OCCRP report explained.
The cash collected by embassies from people like Yousef is most likely transferred “back to Syria via diplomatic pouch.”