According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, there are nearly 150 thousand Syrian enforced disappearance cases in the Syrian regime prisons as well as other factions across the country. All of whom are trapped behind the bars, a family is looking for their daughter, son, mother, or father. Many of them are vulnerable to exploitation by security members forcing them to pay money in exchange for information about their relative’s whereabouts. They face schemes and exhaustion of their financial resources in an illicit back-channel to find if their loved one is still alive.
Disappeared in the middle of the street
Personally, in 2012, I was kidnapped once from the street. From in front of my house, an anonymous car kidnapped me and took me to what I released then was the 215-security branch. None of my family members know anything about my life or death for nearly a month.
After a prolonged search and quiring the police, my family gave up the normal channels and asked a former member at the people’s chamber who had ties with the security or at least claimed as such. The former politician and current broker asked for a large sum of money in exchange for his services. He claimed that he needed to pay for other figures inside the prison to get the information about me to my family. They ended up paying him 350 thousand SYP which equal at that time nearly 7.5 thousand USD. My mom wanted to pay for everything she had ever owned to know if I am alive or not. She was in despair.
Other intelligence members also started blackmailing my family. The security persons started to ask my family for more and more money if they needed to know where exactly I was imprisoned. Their efforts were fake. They did not know where I was, nor they did contact anyone to know where I was.
As the participation in the uprising in Syria increased month after month, the Syrian inelegance brutality multiplied as well. The detention and kidnapping of people by security intelligence militants surged. Kidnapping civilians whether anti-government or not from the streets and blackmail their families for large sums of cash.
Ahmad, a Syrian journalist, had his brother detained by the police in 2013 from their house. Since this incident occurred, they have been desperately seeking any way to know where he is but without luck.
We also paid a lot of money to brokers, security members, and even officers who promised us that to tell us his whereabouts. He asked my mom’s ID card to start the search which we give him. He kept asking for money now and then to contuse his search. Our life became unbearable and we struggled a lot financially. It became a nightmare
Ahmad explains that the broker started to blackmail my mom and threaten her to give him more money or he will write a report against him to the security intelligence, so they arrest her too.
This nightmare ended with the horrific news that we were informed later about his death. The police contacted us to go and pick up his body, belongings and death certificate
Ahmad, a Syrian journalist
In an investigation published by The Guardian that interviewed 100 families who had their relatives disappeared or detained in Syria. The report indicates that the average amount that these families have paid to security intelligence affiliated brokers almost reach 10.000 USD. As a result of the blackmailing, many families lost their homes and in the pursuit of knowledge and closure of their dilemma.
Aya who was detained with her children by the police had her husband selling all of their property to a “lawyer broker”. The broker was known for running a corrupted network in the judicial system among judges and security intelligence. Aya’s husband ended-up selling and borrowing a large sum of money to get them out of prison.
Later, they had to run away from Syria following the continuation of the threats of re-arresting her by the police and security intelligence unless they paid more money.
Detainees exchange deals
After years of brutal fighting and enormous losses of lives, the Syrian regime who was backed by Russia, Iran, and other paramilitary militants, recaptured large swathes of lands that were once under the opposition control. After conducting systematic starvation and indiscriminate bombardment operations as well as siege, the regime recaptured many areas by implementing reconciliation agreements with the opposition factions.
The reconciliation deals encompassed blackmailing by the regime forces against the residents who stayed or wanted to come back to their hometowns. Many families had to pay bribes to brokers related to the regime forces to avoid harassment or erase their relative’s names from the detention lists.
Another channel for releasing detainees was through regime-opposition exchange deals. Families had to register their disappeared or detained family members in the opposition-held areas to be on the waiting list if any future deal took place.
However, even if the regime releases someone in an exchange deal, it does not mean that he is innocent of the charges against him or her. If they ever go back, they are more likely to be detained once again.