Al-Marsad calls for an end to international travel restrictions that discriminate against the native Syrian population in the Occupied Syrian Golan / Golan Heights

Al-Marsad has written (letter available here) to the EU, European countries and the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council to request the implementation of visa-free or visa on arrival travel for the Syrian population in the Occupied Syrian Golan on an equal basis as Israeli nationals.

Currently, Syrians holding permanent residency status in the Occupied Syrian Golan must apply for visas prior to travel for the overwhelming majority of countries in the world. This is frequently a lengthy and costly process. The total cost of this process can be in excess of 500 USD for certain countries. Further – and of most concern – is that visa applications are frequently denied by certain countries, primarily Russia, Ukraine, the United States, the United Kingdom and some other EU countries.

It is understood that one major factor for the denial of visas is the unusual categorisation of Syrians as having an ‘undefined’ nationality on Israeli issued ‘Laissez-Passer’ travel documents, with the result that many countries mistakenly believe that visa applicants are seeking to flee the Occupied Syrian Golan and claim asylum on arrival in the destination country – which they are not.

The situation of Syrians holding permanent residency status and therefore an Israeli ‘Laissez-Passer’ with an ‘undefined’ nationality, could not contrast more to that of Israeli nationals who enjoy visa-free or visa on arrival travel to 147 countries.

Discriminatory visa requirements are preventing the Syrian population from benefitting from international travel for leisure, family visits, study or work; resulting in an infringement of their basic human rights, in particular the right to freedom of movement.

The alarming consequence of restrictive travel policies is the creation of substantial pressure on the native Syrian population to take Israeli nationality, solely to facilitate travel abroad.

It is a damning indictment of such policies that they are a greater contributing factor to the Syrian population taking Israeli nationality – against their wishes – than multiple discriminatory Israeli policies seeking to sever the connection between Syrians in the Occupied Syrian Golan and the rest of Syria.

Al-Marsad calls on the international community to implement visa-free or visa on arrival travel for the Syrian population in the Occupied Syrian Golan, on an equal basis as Israeli nationals.

In the meantime, visa applications from Syrians in the Occupied Syrian Golan made under existing arrangements must not be prejudiced by the categorisation of an ‘undefined’ nationality on travel documents, or any similar factors beyond applicants’ control.

Background
Following the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan in 1967; Israel enacted the Golan Heights Law in 1981 which purported to annex the Occupied Syrian Golan into the state of Israel, an illegal action widely condemned by the international community. As part of efforts to legitimise this action, the Israeli Ministry of Interior sought to impose Israeli nationality on the remaining native Syrian population.

Despite intimidation by the Israeli authorities that included arrests and the use of ‘administrative detention’, the Syrian population resisted the attempts to impose Israeli nationality on them. Today, the overwhelming majority of the native Syrian population continue to reject Israeli nationality and hold a form of permanent residency status.

The situation is similar to that of Palestinians living in Occupied East Jerusalem. Yet whilst Palestinians in Occupied East Jerusalem are permitted to have Jordanian nationality, the native Syrian population of the Occupied Syrian Golan are recognised by the Israeli government as having an ‘undefined’ nationality and are only awarded an Israeli ‘Laissez-Passer’, if they wish to travel.

ENDS
Al-Marsad is an independent, not-for-profit, legal human rights organisation – it is the only human rights organisation operating in the Occupied Syrian Golan. For additional information, please contact marsad@golan-marsad.org or researcher@golan-marsad.org