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Is Syria Safe to Visit in 2020? Probably. But Should You Visit?

It is no secret to those who know me, that I love the culture and the people I have met while traveling in Jordan and I am keen to explore the rest of the Middle East. While the mainstream media has largely stopped reporting on the “war” in Syria, there is still a lot of conflict in pockets of the country, there are entire neighborhoods in ruin and there are tough requirements to gain entry for visitors, although tourist visas are being issued.

Who is visiting Syria in 2019?

Before the Arab Spring, statistics showed over 8 million tourists visited Syria. In 2019, the government is boasting 1.5 million “tourists” have come to Syria, a statistic that is likely inflated and cannot be verified. Perhaps it is more likely that 1.5 million people have crossed the recently-opened border with Jordan or come in via other means but when you compare its neighbour Jordan, only receiving its 1 millionth visitor to Petra in November 2019, it seems far-fetched, to me anyway, that a country at war, has had more tourists than a peaceful kingdom with a vast tourism board!

 

What is the Industry Saying?

Well the blogging community is happy to discuss those that are visiting, many have very strong opinions on whether or not they will visit. Many fear that visiting legitimizes the Assad regime. Others are not interested in visiting a war zone. Others are unsure if it is safe, but long to visit one day. Others want to go, but would never visit on a state-sponsored trip. And some want to visit, but recognize that now is not the right time.

Syria Safety for Visitors

Syria, Palmyra.

 

Submitted by Stephanie Craig from History Fangirl

I’ve heard people argue that travel writers, bloggers, and general tourists coming to Syria right now are a good thing because these visitors will turn around and represent a different side of the country than the one we see on the news every night. The theory goes that the main news covers different parts of the country than tourists can visit or that the news is only interested in one particular angle of storytelling and focuses on the most negative aspects of places with conflict.
 
While this might be true for post-conflict countries, regular visitors and most travel writers simply don’t have the level of expertise to negotiate if what they’re seeing is real in a place like Syria. Since the government controls the tours, untrained writers and travelers play-acting as journalists are not in a position here to see anything “real” or “authentic.”
 
Journalists, especially war correspondents, have high ethical standards to meet and receive training on how to unravel the truth from the propaganda. Someone taking some snapshots of bombed-out buildings does not have the training necessary to pull out the real story. Trained photojournalists also have standards to uphold, and they can’t photoshop out or in things to change the story. 
 
When a place is still in conflict like Syria is, only trained professionals have the capacity to come in and get as much information as possible to explain the real situation on the ground. And when they don’t have the ability to accurately explain situations, they have a code of ethics to fall back on to determine what needs disclosures and what information is fit to print. Bloggers and vacationers, as much as we hope we don’t get duped, just don’t have the capacity or more importantly, the humility, for this kind of work. 

Submitted by Cherene Saradar from Wandering Redhead

My father is from Damascus, Syria. Much of our family have fled for their lives since 2011. A few made it to the United States but most are spread across various European and Middle Eastern countries in their efforts to find stability and start a new life. Many are STILL in Syria, trying to survive. We have waited years for the government to stop killing its own citizens and for it to be safe for refugees to return.
Imagine the horror my family feels seeing the recent onslaught of bloggers, traipsing around Syria saying how “cool” it is and that the war is over. They claim to show their followers “real Syria”.  They make vapid statements like “Syria has beautiful architecture and amazing history” or “Syrians are warm friendly people!”.  Where was this interest in Syria before 2011? Is it really so shocking that Syrians are nice people? Or that there’s amazing history there? I’ve visited Syria many times. Yes, it IS wonderful with incredible sights. The food is THE best in the Middle East. There are a million reasons to visit Syria, JUST NOT NOW!
Have empathy for those who can’t return. Imagine their pain watching tourists say the war is over and that it’s safe while bombs still kill innocent civilians.  Safe? Maybe for tourists, but not for actual Syrians. The war is NOT over. Tourists may not realize it, but by visiting Syria they are endorsing the Assad regime and its narrative. The narrative is: Nothing to see here. The Instagram coverage of Syria is cringeworthy as influencers exploit Syria for their travel street cred.
No, tourism is not going to save Syria or help millions to return. It legitimizes a government that is responsible for the biggest humanitarian crisis of this generation.  Despite a tourist’s desire to avoid politics, they ARE taking sides by visiting and their actions ultimately hurt people.

Is Syria Safe

What are those who are going to Syria saying?

2019 tourism in Syria is not your usual traveller, think small groups of 55+ Europeans, here for the historical and archaeological sites, it is the young, educated influencer. Some are visiting on state-sponsored trips, while others visit on their own.

 

Eva zu Beck an influencer, shared her take below.

 

Another influencer, Joan Torres has put his experience on his website.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A little boy riding his bike in the destroyed part of Aleppo. ❤️ One of the things that surprised me the most about visiting Syria, therefore, visiting a post-war zone, was the capacity of humans to adapt to any sort of situation, no matter how hard it can be. ❤️ When people in the West think of war, we tend to think that the different cities are immersed in the deepest chaos, where life is not possible. ❤️ Whereas this can be partially true, it is important to know that the reality is a little bit different. ❤️ You should know that Aleppo is a huge city that used to be home to several million people and the occupied part used to be a not small percentage of the city. ❤️ This means that, in the non-occupied part of Aleppo, life was going on: ❤️ Universities, markets, shops, and cinemas were open, as well as many fancy restaurants where you could enjoy some local cuisine over a glass of local wine. ❤️ However, the situation was far from ideal, in a way that, for a long time, there were no electricity and other basic services and, from time to time, the Islamic rebel groups were launching mortars into the non-occupied part of the city. ❤️ For these reasons, many people Syrians decided to leave Aleppo but, at the same time, many people decided to stay. ❤️ Why did you decide to stay? – I asked my Couchsurfing host. ❤️ Because if I had left, the terrorists would have won – He told me. ❤️ Today, the Syrian people are coming back to the destroyed part of the Old City and, very slowly, you see some small businesses opening up from among the ruins.

A post shared by Joan Torres (@againstthecompass) on

Newsworthy Articles:

This article is probably the most well-written article I have seen of late, something I could not even cover. It talks about the dangers for Syrians, who cannot come home, the dangers to journalists, many of whom disappear, and the increase in travel bloggers, who are, for the most part, roaming the country freely and documenting the best ways for a tourist to see the country. Have a read of it The Foreign Invasion of the Travel Blogger.

Here is another one, which gets into the problematic type of coverage that influencers and bloggers are pushing out on their channels. Read it here: Syrias’s Tourism Industry is Making a Comeback: But it is controversial 

Final Thoughts on Syria Safety and Travel for 2020

While my thoughts do not come out as eloquently as others, overall, I will not be visiting Syria in 2020, although I long to see the Damascus of old, the lively celebrations and the archaeological wonders in the country. Even with an Arabic speaking boyfriend, the unknown detentions for taking photos or for nothing other than suspicions is not a situation I will put myself in.

Seeing the negative feeling towards refugees from Syria in most of the world, my heart longs for their homeland to be at peace and for those who want to return to be able to, safely. For those who have made new lives in new countries, I hope they can thrive without persecution and speak fondly of their home, and visit it safely.

 

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