ALEPPO, Syria (North Press) – The smuggling of both goods and people has increased between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, formerly al-Nusra Front)-held areas in northwestern Syria, which are under the control of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (also known as the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army).
Security chaos and special systems imposed by each group allow smuggling to run rampant in these areas.
Abu Abdu, an IDP from Homs who lives in north Aleppo’s countryside, said that he worked as a smuggler between the areas of Euphrates Shield militants (a military operation conducted between the Euphrates river and Azaz city in the country’s northwest in 2017) and HTS in order to earn a living, adding: "I smuggle cigarettes to HTS-held areas by my bike, or in a secret hideout in my car if there is a great quantity."
"HTS prevents traders from buying and selling tobacco in on the street or in public places, so I smuggle cigarettes in order to meet the demands of residents and dealers there. Usually the quantity is big because of the large population."
He added that smuggling in these areas also includes sheep, cows, fuel, and bikes, as well as humans wanting to flee to HTS areas.
Residents of the area said that operations are being conducted to search for those wanted by military police or Syrian National Army groups “who wanted to flee to HTS-held areas, where most of them are ISIS affiliates."
These individuals are being transferred through smuggling routes controlled by different parties in northwestern Syria, after falsifying their personal documents and cards with fake names, according to people working in smuggling there.
Abu Adham Ajili, a livestock trader in the northern Aleppo countryside, told North Press that he smuggled sheep in cooperation with his partners in HTS-held areas, on order to sell them for a higher price in the countryside of Aleppo.
He added that "I work in smuggling because of the high fees that HTS imposes on livestock trading in the crossings, by its economic committees. We pay 15 Turkish lira for each sheep, which reduces the profit for the merchant when selling the herd in the Idlib markets."
Amjad Ahmad, a human smuggler working in Turkey, told North Press that because of the restrictions imposed by Syrian National Army groups on smugglers on the Syrian-Turkish border, he smuggled them to HTS areas after having faked personal documents, and then smuggled them to Turkey through Salqin countryside or Khirbet Joz in Darkush, west of Idlib.
Although Ahmad receives $1500 per person, “my good knowledge of smuggling routes and [the fact that] no group that I smuggle was arrested has made me a source of confidence for those who want to go to Turkey without obstacles preventing them from crossing."