Military Service Exemption Fee: Expensive Return Ticket To Homeland
In Istanbul’s Nişantaşı neighborhood, Abdulrahman had to spend hours queuing in long strings of Syrians, who came from various Turkish provinces to pursue different official transactions at the Syrian Consulate in July 2019.
However, the mission the 25 years old young man came to carry out was extraordinary, requiring him to pay a large amount of money, compared to what is paid at consular offices that supposedly provide free services to their citizens.
“I never contemplated a return to Syria, given the poverty and chaos there, in addition to the killings and arrests. But recently I have reconsidered the matter,” Abdulrahamn, from Rif Dimashq province, told Enab Baladi.
Abdul Rahman, refusing to be fully named for security reasons, has made a decision since mid-July to leave Istanbul, escaping with what he called the “policy imposing restrictions on Syrians” and determined to return to Syria, coerced, to do so, into paying the military service exemption fee.
Enab Baladi documented several cases of young men who have taken a similar step, in response to recent Turkish decisions, mandating that the holders of none-Istanbul-issued Kimlik (Temporary protection Identification) return to their provinces of registration.
The owner of an office, working on booking Syrian Consulate appointments, who preferred not to be named for reasons related to the nature of his work, said that “Syrian young men’s demand on making appointments for paying the military service fee has dramatically increased lately. It doubled since the beginning of July.”
The broker, close to one of the Syrian Consulate’s employees, added that the number of applicants paying the military service fee before July was roughly 500 per month—an average of 20 applicants a day. However, in July, the number rocketed to a thousand applicants.
“The restrictions on Syrians and the late measures taken by the Turkish government against them were the main reasons behind Syrian young men’s urge to return to Syria. Additionally, many young men managed to finally collect the demanded sum after working for a long time in Turkey,” the broker commented on the rising number of applicants.
Last July witnessed a set of measures taken by the Turkish government against Syrians in Istanbul, including deporting refugees. The number of deportations from Turkey, according to figures released by the Bab al-Hawa Border Crossing, exceeded 6000 thousands. Thereafter, the Turkish government fixed 30 August as the deadline for the Syrians living in Istanbul but registered in Turkey’s other cities to return to their original location of registration.
Bite the bullet
Abdulrahman is now preparing to complete the transaction of military exemption fee. If completed, he can return to Syria through the Damascus International Airport, the border crossings between Syria and Lebanon or the Kassab crossing, which Turkey and Syria share.
“I will leave Istanbul after I had learned Turkish and built a life [here], where my work and friends are,” Abdulrahman said in an interview with Mares/Practice program, lamenting the life in Istanbul he is about to leave behind.
Although Abdulrahman holds an Istanbul-issued Kimlik, he prefers “to maintain his dignity intact.”
Muhammad, 28 years old, is also getting ready to return home and has proceeded to complete the payment of the military exemption fee, stressing to Enab Baladi that the key reason for his departure from Syria was his refusal to join the military service. However, now that the reason for which he had to live abroad ceased to exist, there is not a justification for him not to head back to Syria.
“Only a little of time is left ahead of me to meet the immigration requirements, and then I will be able to pay the military exemption fee and be back in Syria,” Mohammad added, asking not to be fully named for security concerns.
Omar, a 23 years old Istanbul-based Syrian young man, also wants to pay the military fee and return to Syria, as a proactive solution to the possibility of being forcibly returned since he does not have an Istanbul-issued Kimlik.
Omar, who also requested that his surname remains undisclosed, said that the reason for his return “is not a desire to live under the mercy of a criminal, but [he does not] want to wake up one day and find myself suddenly deported to Syria.”
Mechanism of paying military service exemption fee
A male is to reside of no less than 4 years abroad in order to pay the exemption fee, which was USD5000 before the war, to rise to USD8000 later.
“For a young man to prove that he has spent the required period of residing abroad, he has to obtain a proof of residence document from the Syrian Consulate in Istanbul every year as an evidence of his stay in Turkey, this is in case the young man had left Syria through the government’s crossings,” the broker, here, explains the procedures followed on paying the military exemption fee.
The process of obtaining the document costs a young man USD80 for booking an appointment, in addition to the USD100 he is to pay at the Consulate. The document is, then, delivered four days into the application, said the broker.
“[In case] a young man has had left Syria illegally, he has to legalize his status first and obtain a movement statement from Syria, which takes two months to be issued. The movement statement costs up to USD50 for booking an appointment, and another 50 is paid as fees at the consulate,” the broker added.
Thus, Abdulrahman, Muhammad and Omar will have to pay USD8,000 (approximately four million Syrian Pounds).
The payment so far seems extravagant, but it is not the complete amount they will be paying, because they have to pay on each visit to the Consulate in return for new appointments, which makes the ticket back home the most expensive ever.