An image of Syrian men chained together and being taken to serve in the military has been circulating on social media after being shared by activists raising awareness of their plight.
Believed to have taken place in the Al-Mezzeh district in Damascus on Saturday, the photo shows dozens of Syrian men being led into the back of a van with their hands chained to one another as onlookers crowd around them. The men were charged with evading conscription and transported directly to a military facility.
Photo for young men forced to join the Syrian army, look at their hands and the rope how they are tied with the rope.
Photo from Damascus 2 days ago. pic.twitter.com/YNydFmCLzb
— Asaad Hanna (@AsaadHannaa) December 3, 2018
Syrian state news agency SANA claimed that the men were refugees who had recently returned from Turkey, and “felt happy at their return to the state and the start of their service”, despite the images clearly showing they were taken against their will.
The incident is a reflection of the fear many Syrians continue to feel despite the country’s civil war appearing to wind down. Arrests in areas formerly under opposition control have become a daily occurrence, despite being against the terms of reconciliation agreements.
In October, the Assad regime announced an amnesty for men who deserted the army or who have avoided military service, in a bid to encourage refugees in neighbouring countries to return to Syria. However, the decree stipulated that service was still compulsory and all eligible individuals were to present themselves within a few months.
The fear of conscription and potential punishment for ducking it or for desertion is frequently cited by aid groups as one of the main reasons refugees give for not wanting to return home.
However difficult living conditions abroad have pushed many Syrians to make the journey; some 55,000 refugees are believed to have returned to their homes from Lebanon this year, and 28,000 have returned from Jordan since the border between the two Arab countries was reopened in last month.