Sanaa Al-Ali – Deir Ezzor
“The man asked me for a sum of money in exchange for sponsoring me. I don’t have that money, and I can’t pay any amount. I was forced to borrow the amount to get a sponsor”. Ali (pseudonym) talked about his struggle to get an Expat Card.
The Autonomous Administration, represented by the Interior Authority in Northeastern Syria, imposes a system called the “Expat Card“. Under this system, persons registered in the civil status departments outside the areas controlled by the Autonomous Administration and wishing to reside, visit, or cross through areas under its control must obtain an “Expat Card.” The Autonomous Administration prevents anyone from entering the areas under its control without obtaining this card.
The Autonomous Administration said in a statement issued at 15 January of 2022 that implementing the “Expat Card” system is a measure to prevent ISIS sleeper cells from impersonating Syrian citizens.
A copy of the statement issued by the Interior Authority for North and East Syria of the Autonomous Administration – Image Credit: The Facebook Page of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria.
The “Expat Card” system applies to all citizens in all the three governorates of Al Hasaka, Raqqa, and Deir Ezzor, even the citizens who have lived in these governorates for decades. According to press reports, many families have settled in areas currently controlled by the SDF for many years. These families have real estate, houses, and agricultural lands. However, they were obliged to obtain the Expat Card, or to be held accountable if they did not comply with the new system.
In order to obtain an Expat Card, citizens must have a sponsorship from a person of the local community in the area that they wish to live in. The sponsor is not entitled to sponsor more than seven people. Citizens must also have a clearance from the Asayish (General Security in the region) and a permit from the neighborhood Mukhtar where they wish to live, move, or even visit. Besides, citizens must renew the Expat Card every six months. In case of non-renewal, citizens are subject to liability.
Ali lives in one of the villages of Raqqa. He is displaced from Deir Ezzor governorate. We visited him in his small house and spoke to him, his children, and his wife.
Ali and his family rely on aid received from humanitarian organizations for their daily lives and try to work on the locals’ farmland for a small wage when available.
Ali said: “We fled the military clashes in my village in Deir Ezzor. My house was bombed and completely demolished. I definitely had to leave the village to protect my family and children.”
The SDF forces did not allow Ali and his family to remain in Raqqa until he brought a sponsor from the local residents. Sponsors demand money from the “expatriates” in exchange for their sponsorship. Ali managed to secure the required amount by borrowing it from someone, but that was not enough. Ali said: “I have to renew my card every year. So, the sponsor asks me to pay every time, and I have to borrow and manage the amount every time because I simply do not have it!”.
Sponsors ask for money that expatriates must secure. If they do not, expats will have a problem renewing the Expat Card on time, exposing them to paying a fine.
This is like a vicious circle with never-ending administrative procedures that intentionally or unintentionally allow the exploitation of what the Autonomous Administration calls “expatriates.”. This system allows sponsors to exploit “expatriates” and charge them without clear rules or fees. Also, citizens cannot change the sponsor at all. According to the Expat Card system, the sponsor cannot be changed unless in the event of death.
The Dilemma of Entering the Areas under the Autonomous Administration Control
When someone wants to enter the areas controlled by the Autonomous Administration, they must expect a long and arduous journey via many complicated procedures. Residents of some areas are excluded from this process, besides the natives or those born in these regions.
Sponsorship is absolutely imposed on visitors like those wishing to reside. The Autonomous Administration excludes from the sponsorship system those coming from the areas of Tal Abyad in the countryside of Raqqa and the area of Afrin and Ras Al-Ain in the countryside of Al-Hasaka. However, these areas are not under its control. Those wishing to stay for a period exceeding the visit duration are required to obtain an Expat Card, renewed annually.
Fatima lives in Raqqa. She told us about her struggle to visit her mother in Deir Ezzor: “I haven’t seen my mother for years; they told me I had to get an Expat Card to visit my mother”. Fatima lives in Raqqa with her young daughter. Fatima’s husband works abroad. She went to the Expats Center in the “Al-Saba’a Kilo” area in Deir Ezzor to apply for the Expat Card.
Fatima said: “They asked me to bring my marriage contract, my husband’s ID, the family book, and residency document. Also, they asked me to bring two witnesses from the region. In fact, I never and will not be able to bring all these documents. My brother tried to help me, but he couldn’t either”.
Fatima eagerly awaits another chance to visit her mother in Deir Ezzor. She is hopeful for a more streamlined process in the near future.
The Expat Card Violates International Laws
The freedom of movement, the freedom of mobility, or the freedom of travel are human rights protected by constitutions and local laws in many countries. Particularly in Syria, citizens have the right to travel, reside, and work anywhere without violating the freedoms and rights of others. Besides, citizens have the right to leave the country and return at any time.
Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ” Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.”. Besides, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country”.
Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights affirms that ” Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence”.
Nour Al-Malwah, a female civil society activist we met to talk about the Expat Card, said: “How can a person be asked for an Expat Card in their home country?”. She added: “I have a personal identity card, which includes all my personal data: full name, date of birth, national ID number, and place of birth. Why should I get another card to visit or live in a neighboring city?”.
The draft social contract for northern and eastern Syria stipulates the rights of Syrian citizens to a decent life and the right to freely move unless there is a judicial impediment against them, which enhances the citizenship rights of all Syrians.
 Expat Card in Northeastern Syria, February 2022, JFL.
 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.