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TRAVEL WARNING - SYRIA - September 18, 2011

EMERGENCY MESSAGE FOR U.S. CITIZENS
September 18, 2011
Embassy of the United States of America
Consular Section
2, Al-Mansour St., Abu Roumaneh
P.O. Box 29
Damascus, Syria
Tel: (963-11) 3391-4444
Fax: (963-11) 331-9678
e-mail: acsdamascus@state.gov
Website: http://damascus.usembassy.gov

This message is intended for the American community in Syria. If you have any questions, please contact the Consular Section at the above address. If you wish to be added to our e-mail distribution, we invite you to complete the enrollment process through our website. To access the site please enter the following link address http://travel.state.gov or directly, at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui

WARDENS: Transmission of the following announcement by telephone is mandatory. 

Syria

September 15, 2011

The U.S. Department of State urges U.S. citizens in Syria to depart immediately while commercial transportation is available. Given the ongoing uncertainty and volatility of the current situation, U.S. citizens who must remain in Syria are advised to limit nonessential travel within the country. U.S. citizens not in Syria should defer all travel to Syria at this time. On August 18, the U.S. imposed additional sanctions against the Government of Syria restricting financial or material support by U.S. citizens or residents to the Government of Syria. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning for Syria issued on August 5, 2011, to provide updated information on the impact recent sanctions on Syria may have on U.S. citizens and residents conducting business in Syria, and to provide updated information on the security situation in Syria.

The Department of State ordered all eligible family members of U.S. government employees as well as certain non-emergency personnel to depart Syria on April 25, 2011. The Embassy continues to provide passport services, as well as other emergency services to U.S. citizens.

Since March 2011, demonstrations throughout Syria have been violently suppressed by Syrian security forces, resulting in thousands of deaths, injuries, and detentions. Demonstrations, and violent government reactions to them, can occur with little or no warning anytime and anywhere. Recent demonstrations have occurred on university campuses, main streets, public squares, mosques, and other places of public gathering. On July 11, 2011, the U.S. Embassy and other embassies in Damascus were violently attacked by people participating in a pro-government demonstration, resulting in the U.S. Embassy closing for one day. We remind U.S. citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of a demonstration.

Several cities, including Damascus, have been placed under heightened security. Travelers on Syrian roads have encountered an increased number of checkpoints and roadblocks impeding travel and preventing entry to or exit from affected cities. 

Syrian government constraints on observers, including the short-term detention of accredited diplomats, have made it difficult for U.S. Embassy personnel to adequately assess the current risks or the potential for continuing violence. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied permission for U.S. diplomats to travel within Syria, severely limiting the ability of consular officers to provide assistance to U.S. citizens outside the city of Damascus.

On August 18, several countries, including the United States, called upon the Syrian president to step aside. Furthermore, the United States imposed additional sanctions against the Government of Syria. These sanctions prohibit U.S. citizens or residents from making payments or providing any material support to the Government of Syria, providing services to Syria, or making new investments in Syria. U.S. citizens and residents should be aware that, under the current sanctions, activities such as working (i.e. providing services) in Syria or paying business or employment-related fees to the Syrian government (e.g. taxes, licensing fees, public utility charges, etc.) are violations of U.S. law. U.S. banks and credit card companies are also prohibited from providing services, drastically limiting U.S. citizens’ and residents’ ability to withdraw cash or conduct commercial transactions. However, U.S. persons residing in Syria are authorized to pay their personal living expenses in Syria and to engage in other transactions, including with the Government of Syria, that are ordinarily incident and necessary to their personal maintenance within Syria (e.g. taxes, school fees, public utility charges, etc.) Additional information about current U.S. sanctions against the Government of Syria can be found online at http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/pages/syria.aspx.

Syrian efforts to attribute the current civil unrest to external influences have led to an increase in anti-foreigner sentiment. Detained U.S. citizens may find themselves subject to allegations of incitement or espionage. Contrary to the terms of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, of which Syria is a signatory, Syrian authorities generally do not notify the U.S. Embassy of the arrest of a U.S. citizen until days or weeks after the arrest. Moreover, in the past, security officials have not responded to U.S. Embassy requests for consular access, especially in the case of persons detained for “security” reasons. There have been numerous credible reports of torture in Syrian prisons.
 
Travelers should heed directions given by Syrian police and/or security officials and should always carry copies of their passports as proof of citizenship and identity. Taking photographs of demonstrations, public gatherings, or anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in questioning, detention, and/or confiscation of the images. Additionally, U.S. citizens should be aware that exhibiting disrespect toward political symbols or conversations on the topics of politics, religion, and other social issues could lead to arrest. 

U.S. citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times. Media coverage of local events may cause family and friends to become concerned for the welfare of their loved ones in Syria, and we urge U.S. citizens to keep in regular contact with family and friends.

U.S. citizens living or traveling in Syria are encouraged to enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive the latest travel updates and information and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Syria. U.S. citizens without internet access may enroll directly with the U.S. Embassy in Damascus. By enrolling, U.S. citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy in Damascus can be reached at all hours at 963-11-3391-4444; the fax number is 963-11-3391-3999. The Embassy’s website, available at U.S. Embassy Damascus, includes consular information and the most recent messages to U.S. citizens in Damascus.

For information on “What the Department of State Can and Can't Do in a Crisis,” please visit the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Emergencies and Crisis link at: http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/emergencies/emergencies_1212.html

Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). 

For further information, U.S. citizens should consult the Department of State’s Country Specific Information for Syria. Stay up to date by bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well.