Smuggled Cigarettes in al-Hasakah: A Source of Living and Dangerous Profession
Hasakeh – Enab Baladi
Many people in Jazira area depend on smuggling cigarettes to ensure their daily supply, and it is a source of income, among others, for hundreds of families especially people living in the border regions.
It became fashionable with the start of the Syrian revolution, for residents in the cities and areas of Jazira to buy and sell cigarettes smuggled from Turkey or the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. The smuggling was facilitated by the absence of security and custom control in the area, leaving the space before smugglers to advertise their wares without fear or censorship.
A Dangerous Profession and Source of Income
The phenomenon of smuggling cigarettes in the Jazira area, especially in the province of al-Hasakah (northern Syria) became widespread as al-Hasakah borders Iraq and Turkey, and the province is one of the largest areas through which merchandise and products pass. Professional smugglers move merchandise from Iraq and Turkey to the Syrian Jazira area in coordination with security authorities along the state borders.
Fares Hamo, a cigarette trader in al-Qamishli said to Enab Baladi, “Smuggling cigarettes is considered a daily income for us, and our livelihood, so we will continue in the profession despite it being dangerous work given what smugglers are exposed to from beatings and prison in the event they are caught by the security authorities.”
With the absence of income sources for many people in the Jazira area. Especially recently, many have been forced to depend on selling tobacco on stalls in the street, and they have come to depend on this as their main source of income given it does not require a large capital to start the business, only a small box and a display board to showcase the different types of cigarettes available.
Custom Tax on Smuggled Cigarettes
Prior to the start of the revolution, smuggling operations in Jazira area depended primarily on agreements between smugglers and border guards whether on the Turkish or Iraqi side. Smugglers paid the border guard(s) a fee from their profits.
This phenomenon came to overtake the areas and cities of Jazira until constrains on smuggling were recently implemented by the autonomous administration which formed a Tobacco Institution to organize the sale of cigarettes and their import from Iraqi Kurdistan in a legal manner via traders and agents.
The trader Rezan Haji said to Enab Baladi, “Now tobacco or cigarette traders have only the Siumalika crossing with Iraqi Kurdistan, other than that cigarettes are smuggled in from Turkey or Iraq as the border crossing points with those countries have been closed for years.”
Haji pointed out, “After bringing in a large quantity of cigarettes, a custom tax is taken by the Autonomous Administration. In addition, (smugglers) import the cigarettes using foreign currency (US Dollars) which raises the price of cigarettes in the cities and areas of al-Jazira, and affects customers as well.”
Smuggling cigarettes to the Jazira area now happens through small traders who bring in the merchandise from neighboring states and sell it to big traders in the area who then sell and distribute it to trading centers on a daily basis.