Homs-Lebanon smuggling route “active but in opposite direction”
Enab Baladi – Homs
Since Hezbollah militia and the regime’s Fourth Division took control of al-Qusayr and Talkalakh cities in the border strip region between Lebanon and Syria, smugglers affiliated with military parties have taken control of the route for smuggling goods and people in the region.
With the worsening living situation in Syria, Syrians are trying to leave the country illegally in search of a better economic situation or to escape political charges or compulsory military service.
The situation of Syrians inside Syria is no different from that of their counterparts in Lebanon, as the Lebanese security authorities are closing in on them day after day.
This prompted many of them to take illegal ways to return to Syria in order to avoid passing through the regime’s checkpoints at the crossing between the two countries.
The attempt to bypass the regime’s checkpoints and Lebanese security points through smuggling routes has led many Syrians into the grip of kidnappers, who demand sums from the families of the kidnapped to release them.
Smuggling is chronicle
Historically, some families or clans often supervised the smuggling crossings in the border strip area between Lebanon and Syria.
The dominance of these families on both sides of the border is due to their spread within the two countries, as it facilitates the overlapping of coordination operations between them to smuggle people or goods.
Before the start of the Syrian revolution in March 2011, the clans and families scattered on both sides of the border were in control of smuggling matters in the region, but with the control of Hezbollah and the spread of the Fourth Division on the roads leading to the border, the smuggling revenues began to flow into the pockets of the regime army personnel, a smuggler who worked on the Syria-Lebanon smuggling routes told Enab Baladi.
From clans to Syrian regime
The Lebanese border adjacent to Homs through the city of al-Qusayr and Talkalakh is considered the easiest route compared to rural Damascus due to the rugged mountain roads in the Qalamoun region and the overlapping tribes and families on both sides of the border.
Kamel (pseudonym for security reasons) previously worked in smuggling between Syria and Lebanon. He told Enab Baladi that the smuggling route from Homs was almost completely transferred to smugglers close to military parties such as the Fourth Division and Hezbollah, as the clans and families of the region’s residents lost their ability to work in smuggling years ago.
He attributed the full reasons for the loss of local control over smuggling to the Fourth Division’s deployment of checkpoints on all roads leading to loading points (smuggling launch centers) close to the border villages.
He added that the Fourth Division detains anyone who tries to reach Lebanon through smugglers who do not belong to it, and they demand large financial ransoms in exchange for their release.
News sites and activists circulate almost daily on social media about missing relatives or groups of Syrians while trying to cross into Lebanon through illegal routes.
Fourth Division raises smuggling “wage”
Smuggling fees to Lebanon increased after the Fourth Division and Hezbollah took control of the roads leading to the Lebanese border, as the Syrians were forced to deal with smugglers from the division and pay additional sums in return for ensuring their safe arrival to Lebanese territory.
Ayham al-Hussein, of Homs, who left for Lebanon about a month and a half ago, told Enab Baladi that the Fourth Division raised the smuggling fees from $50 to $100 per person.
Al-Hussein added that he was forced to deal with a smuggler belonging to the Fourth Division, a non-commissioned officer, in exchange for his delivery to the Lebanese border, accompanied by several people.
The first motive for young Syrians wishing to leave the country during the past period is the deteriorating economic situation, according to what al-Hussein told Enab Baladi. However, even the desire to leave requires work for several months in order to collect the money that the smuggler requested to cross the border.
On the other side of the border, the Syrians suffer restrictions on their lives in Lebanon by the country’s government, Especially after the government’s recent decision to deport Syrian refugees or those who do not have any legal residency papers in Lebanon.
Mohamad al-Haj Ali, of al-Rastan and residing in Lebanon, told Enab Baladi that the recent decision to deport Syrians from Lebanon raised smugglers’ wages for the crossing to Syria from $50 to $150 per person.
He explained that the costs of return are greater than the costs of leaving, according to the Syrian youth interviewed by Enab Baladi.
At the beginning of the year, the Syrian regime made amendments to the security aspect in the legal and illegal border crossings in Syria, including the Nassib border crossing with Jordan, in addition to the crossings in Homs governorate that overlook Lebanese territory.
According to a circular issued by the National Security Office directly affiliated with the Presidency of the Republic, on January 1, seen by Enab Baladi, a security force consisting of five security agencies was formed, in addition to the Fourth Division, to manage the legal and illegal crossings along the borders with neighboring countries.
According to the circular, the command of the Fourth Division replaced the officer in charge of its forces in the central region and assigned him to manage the area adjacent to the Syrian-Lebanese border in the Qalamoun region in rural Damascus.
The Fourth Division is seeking to strengthen its security barriers on the strip adjacent to the Lebanese border and in the villages and towns that are located on the smuggling lines back and forth, according to elements from the Fourth Division interviewed by Enab Baladi earlier.
The management of some checkpoints has also been transferred from the Military Security and Air Force Intelligence Authority to the authority of the Fourth Division to almost completely control the smuggling routes in both directions.
Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Homs, Orwah al-Mundhir, contributed to this report.
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