Friday, February 5, 2010

Syria 2010 Crime & Safety Report: “low crime does not mean “crime-free”

street on old damascusImage via Wikipedia

The Overseas Security Cooperation Council (OSAC) has just released its Syria 2010 Crime & Safety Report. These reports usually give an overall view of the crime and safety situation in the country including the crime threat environment, road safety, also a quick look on political violence including regional terrorism, organized crime, international and transnational terrorism and civil unrest, and contact numbers.

This report’s “post specific concerns” include a warning that “visitors to Damascus should scrupulously avoid illegal activities.  Failure to comply with local laws can result in arrest and detention for indeterminate lengths of time with no legal representation.  Though Syria is a signatory to the treaty on consular notification, Syrian police rarely notify the Embassy in a timely manner when they arrest U.S. citizens.” The report also warns against taking photographs of sensitive areas which can result in arrest or deportation, entering Syria without proper visas and of harassment of “female Americans and other Westerners in Damascus.”     

Quick excerpt:
Syria enjoys a relatively low crime rate due to strong cultural mores against property crime and to the pervasive police and security presence throughout the country. Visitors should be aware, however, that "low crime" does not mean "crime-free." There has been an increase in the past few years in reported crimes against U.S. citizens and Westerners in Damascus compared to the early 2000s. Examples of these incidents include:
  • In late 2007 to early 2008, there was a string of acid attacks against women wearing western-style jeans. While no Westerners reported being victims of an acid attack, U.S. citizens and Westerners fit the demographic that was targeted for wearing "un-Islamic" attire.
  • Throughout 2008, several U.S. Embassy staff and employees reported being harassed, followed or assaulted. Embassy employees also reported their vehicles being broken into and electronics stolen.
  • In April 2009, a female Embassy employee riding in a taxi was groped by the taxi driver. Several months later another female Embassy employee reported that a taxi driver had attempted to reach into the back seat to touch her.
  • In July 2009, a Western female was sexually assaulted by three men in an apartment in Damascus. One of the men was an acquaintance who had lured her to an apartment where the assault took place.
  • In August 2009, a tourist was reportedly followed and then sexually assaulted in Palmyra.
  • In September 2009, an American female reported an attempted sexual assault after being followed into an empty area of the Bosra ruins south of Damascus.
  • In December 2009, a group of young Syrian males attempted to enter the vehicle of a female Embassy employee while she was sitting in it in the Abu Roumaneh area.
  • In December 2009, two western female students were walking on Straight Street in the early morning hours when they were attacked by several Syrian men in a car. The men used a stun gun-like device to disable one of the females and forced the other female into their car. The men drove her to a warehouse where she was sexually assaulted.  The prepositioning of a mattress in the warehouse indicates the crime was premeditated and may not have been the only instance of it occuring. They also displayed a handgun during the assault.
  • In December 2009, a State Department employee visiting Damascus reported she was robbed at a luxury store near the Four Seasons hotel. She believes it occurred while her purse was open after making a purchase and she was forcefully bumped by a veiled woman. She made eye contact with the woman who bumped her, now believing the bump was a purposeful distraction that allowed the woman to take the wallet from her purse.

Furthermore, Syria is currently home to several U.S. citizen children who have been abducted by Syrian parents who do not have legal custody in the United States. Syria is a non-signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

In December last year, the embassy’s Warden Message (December 16) also included a section on Harassment of Women:  Street harassment of women is widely reported in the region, and Damascus is no exception. While most reported incidents are limited to verbal harassment, incidents of rape and physical assault do occur. One of the tips: “Avoid responding to verbal taunts. Responding to harassment may give the impression of being “interested” and may be interpreted as an invitation to further interaction.”

The Syria 2010 Crime & Safety Report advises that visitors “ride in the rear of taxicabs, on the far side from the driver.  Female visitors are advised to dress conservatively in public and to travel in pairs when visiting shopping areas or crowded commercial districts where young males tend to loiter. Shorts, for example, are not appropriate attire for men or women except in private settings with close associates.

The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) is a Federal Advisory Committee with a U.S. Government Charter to promote security cooperation between American business and private sector interests worldwide and the U.S. Department of State. The council is co-chaired by the Director of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) and a selected representative of the private sector. Over 3,500 U.S. companies, educational institutions, religious and non-governmental organizations are constituents of OSAC. Its website is operated and maintained by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

As of January 31, 2010, employees assigned to Damascus receive a post hardship differential of 20% of basic compensation.  The allowance goes up to 25% for elsewhere in Syria.  Post receives no cost of living allowance or danger pay.   

A hardship differential is “established for any place when, and only when, the place involves extraordinarily difficult living conditions, excessive physical hardship, or notably unhealthful conditions affecting the majority of employees officially stationed or detailed at that place.  Living costs are not considered in differential determination.”

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