We are back with our “Is it Safe” series, and this time we will feature a place which you could say is well off the tourist trail at the moment. Unlike the countries we have visited so far in this series: Russia, Mexico and China, Syria will not likely be on your travel itinerary for your next vacation.
The reason for that, as you well know, is the ongoing conflict there. But people do travel there for sightseeing, despite government warnings, and some of those people report having a great time with very friendly hosts. Can you bypass the conflict, the war zones, and have a wonderful, pain-free trip to Syria? That’s what we’ll find out today, in this episode of the Infographics Show, Is It Safe To Live In Syria?
Ok, so first of all, you need to know that prior to the Syrian Civil War that started in 2011, the country was quite a bustling tourist hub. It’s home to some of the oldest cities in the world in Damascus and Aleppo, that are said to have been inhabited for many thousands of years. Indeed, it’s reported that 8.5 million tourists visited Syria in 2010…and then came the conflict. Within a couple of years, 100s of tourist sites had been damaged, and not surprisingly tourism didn’t just go down, but was reduced by about 98 percent. In its tourist heyday, most people didn’t worry about their safety on their Syrian holiday, but that’s all changed now.
If you check out the website Numbeo, which gathers feedback from people who have visited certain countries, Syria doesn’t score very well on the safety scale. In fact, the crime rate in all categories, theft, violent crime, etc, is given a “high” rating. It received one moderate rating for, “People using or dealing drugs.” We must add here that there were only 79 contributors to the survey, a reflection of Syria’s few foreign visitors.
You won’t be too surprised that western governments don’t exactly promote Syria as a tourist destination. The U.S. Department of State tells its citizens in no uncertain terms not to travel to Syria under any circumstances. This is the first sentence of the first paragraph on its website addressing visiting Syria: “No part of Syria is safe from violence. Kidnappings, the use of chemical warfare, shelling, and aerial bombardment have significantly raised the risk of death or serious injury.”
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office tells almost exactly the same story, which again isn’t surprising given that the U.S. and the U.K are so devoutly politically aligned. It talks about attacks, that could virtually happen in any part of the country, and states in which westerners – including British people – have been kidnapped. Do not go, says the FCO, and then adds that if you really must ignore this advice you should, “get travel and medical insurance.” That almost sounds like typically wry British humor.
The Australian government says the same, “DO NOT GO!” and adds that if things do take a turn for the worse, “We can not evacuate you.” But you get the picture, all western governments are against their citizens visiting this once wonderful part of the world.
As you know, these warnings are because of the war. They are not because the average Syrian is a gun-toting hothead that likes nothing more than taking out a God-fearing American family from a small town in Arkansas. Data from 2016 shows that Syria had the highest murder rate in the world with a total of 60,000 intentional homicides. Mexico was actually second that year with 23,000, higher than countries currently experiencing internal conflicts. The “Armed Conflict Survey 2017” tells us that Iraq had around 17,000 murders and Afghanistan around 16,000. So, yes, Syria was really, really high.
But then if you look at world homicide reports from the years prior to the conflict, Syria has very few murders. In 2010, the total was 463, while in 2004 it was half that. Many of those murders were apparently domestic disputes that got out of hand.
Prior to the current conflict, when Syria was painted as a very tourist-friendly destination, it was still well known that extremists posed a danger to the region. As for regular crime, the site states, “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.” The few incidences that did occur over the years leading up to 2010 were almost all related to western women being harassed or assaulted by Syrian men. This is not uncommon in any country that may have what some people perceive as oppressive strictures on women and their sexuality.
Often, if western women show too much of their body – according to cultural propriety anyway – some men may see this as being overtly daring or rude or suggestive. So, when we talk about safety, on top of conflict, women should be aware that there may be some danger in walking down the street dressed in a skimpy tank top and those jean shorts where the pockets hang out. In fact, you really shouldn’t do that. Syria is not known as a progressive country in terms of gender equality. The Social Institutions Gender Index writes, “Syrian women also face strong pressure to conform to prevailing social norms regarding acceptable female behavior, in order to ensure that the family’s ‘honor’ is upheld.”
Ok, so, we have an ongoing war, but regular crime is low except for some violence against women. As a tourist, however, it would be unlikely that you get involved in a domestic tangle. Syria has rebels, but it doesn’t have the kind of criminal gangs that plague some cities in the USA or UK. If it weren’t for the war, Syria would be very safe. But there is a war, and we can’t ignore that. So, what about the people that still go there in spite of all the warnings?
If you want to get to Syria, you should know a few things. Israelis are not allowed in, and you probably won’t get in if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport. You will have to apply for a tourist visa if you want to stay a while, but if you cross over a land border, you can get 15 days. You’ll have to check if you can cross at that border, as they have been closing down as of late.
People from Malaysia, Turkey and Iran don’t need a visa at all. If you are American, you must apply at the Syrian embassy in Washington, but any other nationalities can apply anywhere in the world. If you want to fly in to Syria, you have very few choices as just about every country in the world no longer has flights into the country. We are told you can still fly directly into Syria from Iran and Algeria. Ok, so now that you know how to get there, what did others think who visited?
Looking at the website Quora, when someone asked if Syria was safe, one response came from a western traveler. He said, yes, it is really safe in terms of day to day living, but then again, one rocket could ruin your life. One student at Damascus University said this in 2018: “Dude, I been here in Syria for the whole conflict from 2011 till today while I am typing this comment, so far Lattakia, Tartus & the Syrian coast in general is normal life and there is no war at all.” He said the beaches are packed, the restaurants are full, the snowy mountains are still beautiful. He believes it’s safer than it was, and he thinks the conflict is coming to an end.
In fact, the press had a field day in 2018 when Syria’s ambassador to Spain, Milad Atieh, said the war was just about over and tourists should go to the country. Even before people started saying Syria was a bit safer, itinerant and perhaps daring bloggers traveled there anyway. One guy who calls himself the Unusual Traveler said he traveled along the world´s most dangerous road in 2017, which was the Salamiyah – Ithriya – Khanasser Road to Aleppo.
He actually said ISIS had been on the road before he got there, but after arriving in Aleppo, he said despite the destruction he could see, he wandered around freely, was helped along by friendly people, and had a jolly-good time. He wrote in conclusion, “The daily life in Aleppo these days is very normal once again after the government regained control over the city. While walking around central Aleppo, you will wonder if there ever was a war happening here.”
A traveler in 2017 said he wanted to go there to see the sites and experience what he had heard were warm and friendly people. He entered the country through the Lebanese border and then had a 65 mile drive down the highway to reach Damascus. This part he said scared him, but it was ok in the end. He said while people treated him very well, and while his accommodations, the food, and the sites were all great, he did feel uncomfortable when he heard the sound of gunfire in the distance.
There aren’t too many bloggers writing about Syria recently, but before the conflict, there were plenty, and most visitors ultimately said something like this: “Despite what people may think, Syria actually turned out to be one of the safest countries I have ever been to.”
Ok, so this might be hard to conclude. How safe is Syria? Well, we think we know enough from what others have said, to firmly state that the Syrian public, when you visit, will be friendly, and you should not face many dangers at all. The risk of course if you are coming from the border is traveling down those dicey roads where ISIS might be hiding.
Governments are still telling you not to go under any circumstances, but some of those that have gone have said it is very safe. As a traveler, you must stay within places where the government has full control, which seems just about everywhere right now. From what we can see, in terms of facing violence, getting robbed or scammed, Syria would be safer than any of the countries we have featured thus far: Russia, Mexico and China.
Again, be aware of local customs and what you wear, lest you attract negative attention. But, because there still is a small risk of you being blown-up by a bomb or kidnapped when travelling in some parts of the country, we have no choice but to put Syria behind those other countries. Maybe this will change in the near future. Right now, our safety index goes like this: 1. China, 2. Russia. 3. Mexico. 4. Syria.
So, what do you think? Would you ever consider visiting Syria, or would you not go anywhere near that place right now? Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video called Is it safe: To live in Russia! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!