Repression - The Common Denominator (I)

DAMASCUS/BERLIN | | syrien

DAMASCUS/BERLIN (Own report) - As reported by human rights organizations, Berlin, in spite of the intensification of violence in Syria, is refusing to suspend its agreement with Damascus, on the deportation of undesirable refugees. Whereas the current upheaval in Syria has cost dozens of lives, people are being held in deportation confinement, awaiting their transfer to that crisis area. Several of those deported from Germany to Syria in the past, including adolescents, were immediately arrested upon their arrival by the Syrian authorities. Since some time, Berlin has been working with the Syrian repressive agencies, at times even closely. One case of cooperation in torture is particularly known; that of the German-Syrian Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who was interrogated in November 2002 in Damascus - in a torture prison - by German police officers and secret service agents, following the upgrading of German-Syrian secret service cooperation, also to be applied against migrants. Cooperation in the domain of repression is continuing in spite of Syria's refusal of an exclusive western orientation, which has repeatedly made it the target of attacks from the west.

Deported into Prison

In spite of the intensification of violence, Berlin is refusing to suspend its agreement with Damascus on the deportation of undesirable refugees. During the ongoing uprisings, dozens of people have been killed over the past few days, mainly at the hands of the state. Human rights organizations, including the Lower Saxony Refugee Council are complaining that it is unacceptable that the German government is continuing to deport people into the crisis area. Besides the questions of principle, the Refugee Council points to the fact that in repeated cases, refugees forced to return to Syria have been arrested and mistreated. Most recently, this happened to a 15 year old, who upon arrival in Damascus was held in isolated confinement for more than four weeks.[1] Between the coming into force of the German-Syrian Repatriation Agreement on January 3, 2009 [2] and October 2010, 14 of the 73 people deported to Syria - nearly one out of five - were immediately arrested and held for up to 3 ½ months. This has been explicitly confirmed by the German government.[3]

In Deportation Confinement

The Refugee Council reports that there are around 300 refugees that are seriously threatened with deportation to Syria. According to the report, 897 Syrians and 314 stateless persons or citizens of third countries had been listed last year throughout Germany for deportation to Syria. Syrian authorities have provided passport substitute documents for 321 Syrians and 49 stateless persons or third country citizens, which is the prerequisite for deportation. In 2010, 65 Syrians and two stateless persons were deported "which means" according to the Refugee Council, "that for the 300 other Syrian refugees in Germany (...) deportation could (...) follow at any time."[4] As the Refugee Council confirmed to german-foreign-policy.com, there is currently at least one Syrian refugee in deportation confinement, to be available for "repatriation" at any time. He too is risking imprisonment in Syria, because it suffices simply to be charged with having "stained Syria's image abroad" - a crime under Syrian law that can be fulfilled simply by having applied for asylum abroad.

Arbitrariness and Torture

A German Foreign Ministry situation report explains the conditions of incarceration and state repression in Syria: "the security forces of the country are answerable neither to parliamentary nor judicial supervisory bodies. They are responsible for arbitrary arrests, torture and solitary confinement. (...) Even in ordinary police detainment, physical mistreatment is on the agenda. Particularly in cases with a political background, physical and psychological violence is applied to a considerable extent. In the interrogation centers of the security services, the risk of being submitted to physical and psychological mistreatment is even higher. Here neither attorneys nor family members have access to the prisoners, whose whereabouts are often unknown."[5] This does not hinder Berlin in its deportations.

Cooperation in Torture

One can be confident that the foreign ministry has a well-founded knowledge of Syria's repressive methods - not merely because Berlin's foreign ministry, as a matter of course, has access to the human rights organizations' reports, but also because Berlin has at times had the best contacts to Syria's repressive authorities. It was, above all, the reports of cooperation in torture in the case of the German-Syrian Mohammed Haydar Zammar that had aroused public attention. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[6]) In late 2001, Zammar was abducted from Morocco and taken to Damascus, in the framework of the "war on terror". In Damascus he was held in an infamous torture prison and interrogated by German police officers and secret service agents. This is only one of several cases of cooperation in torture involving Syria or, at the time, Syrian-dominated Lebanon on the one hand and Germany's Federal Office of Criminal Investigation as well as its Federal Intelligence Service and the secret "Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution". (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[7])

In Full Awareness

The cooperation in torture was part of a German-Syrian rapprochement of the repressive agencies of the two countries that had been initiated at the beginning of 2002 with the aim of creating a basis of cooperation for the so-called war on terror and the struggle against undesirable migration to Europe.[8] From the beginning, this cooperation was controversial even within the government agencies. For example, Guido Steinberg, at the time, the expert for "international terrorism" in the Federal Chancellery and since, an employee at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), says that he had warned against cooperating with Syria "because of the country's practice of human rights violations."[9] The Chancellery and his superintendent, Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) decided to go ahead with the cooperation with Syria's repressive authorities - in full awareness of their methods. The same holds true for the German-Syrian repatriation agreement, which became effective January 3, 2009. The authorities in charge of deportation are well aware of the repressive consequences this has. But these consequences, in Berlin's view, lag behind the benefits to the German program to ward off immigrants.

No Contradiction

The German-Syrian cooperation in repression, which over the past few years has slackened, is not in contradiction to the fact that, in spite of recent rapprochements, there are still tensions between Syria and the west - because Damascus continues to refuse to be subservient. In spite of the other differences, it is, in fact, the cooperation in repression that forms the common denominator between the two sides. In addition, this cooperation has deep roots going back to the early period of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), when former Nazi Wehrmacht soldiers, in cooperation with the USA, helped Syria to build up its military and, just as in Egypt,[10] to insure western influence in the leading Arab countries. German-foreign-policy.com will report tomorrow on how this early cooperation was organized, how it was interrupted, to then be restored and maintained until today.

[1] Landesregierung verharmlost Terrorregime in Syrien im Interesse guter Geschäfte. Anuar Naso am Freitag nach Hasseke verlegt; www.nds-fluerat.org 28.02.2011
[2] see also Im Hungerstreik
[3] Deutscher Bundestag Drucksache 17/3365, 22.10.2010
[4] Massaker auch in Syrien - 300 Flüchtlinge akut von Abschiebung bedroht; www.nds-fluerat.org 25.03.2011
[5] Landesregierung verharmlost Terrorregime in Syrien im Interesse guter Geschäfte. Anuar Naso am Freitag nach Hasseke verlegt; www.nds-fluerat.org 28.02.2011
[6] see also Oktober 2001 and Deutsch-syrischer Herbst
[7] see also Täuschen und lügen, The Torturers and And Still Waiting
[8] see also Deutsch-syrischer Herbst
[9] Zeuge warnte vor Zusammenarbeit mit Syrien; heute im bundestag 13.12.2007
[10] see also Guarantor of Stability (I) and Guarantor of Stability (II)