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Fierce criticism as tour operators advertise trips to Syria

Thumbnail - European tourism agencies begin offering tours to Assad's Syria
European tourism agencies begin offering tours to Assad's Syria

Tour operators in Syria are reporting an increase in the number of visitors from Western countries, despite fierce criticism including against normalising the Assad regime.

In October, the Syrian government began issuing visas to foreigners, reports the Washington Post, one month after it announced the reopening of its borders following the coronavirus pandemic.

In November, Syria's Tourism Minister Mohammed Martini spoke at a press conference in Damascus and said, "we are expecting 2022 to be better than previous years."

In 2021, 488,000 people visited Syria, according to Martini, who added that state-owned hotels had increased their income 500 per cent over that past year.

Critics have fiercely criticised the decision to start visiting Syria and supporting the government there when it continues to brutally suppress dissent including through arbitrary arrest and torture.

In its 2021 World Report, Human Rights Watch said the stark challenges and abuses Syrians face is "first and foremost at the hands of the Syrian government and other authorities."

This is exacerbated by the unprecedented depreciation of the Syrian pound, international sanctions, and neighbouring crises. Eighty per cent of Syrians live below the poverty line.

READ: Lebanon reveals plan to deport Syria refugees in cooperation with Assad regime

The British tour operator Lupine Travel is offering a series of tours to Damascus, Aleppo, Palmyra and Latakia this autumn with the September tour fully booked.

Syria is "slowly reverting back to a level of normality not seen in almost a decade," Lupine Travel says on its website.

"Join us on our tours as we become one of the first companies to take tourists back into this amazing country."

The British FCO advises against all travel to Syria and warns British nationals in Syria to leave by any practical means.

Soviet Tours, which is based in Germany, says on its website that the question 'is it ethical to visit Syria?' Is "very sanctimonious and a shallow form of criticism."

In the past decade of war, half a million people have died, and more than 13 million people have either fled the country or been internally displaced.

A January 2022 Brookings report said that the normalisation of relations with the Syrian regime will prevent it from being held accountable for the destruction of Syria.

Categories
HRWInternational OrganisationsMiddle EastNewsSyria
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