The sea is glittering blue, jet-skis zoom past, beach umbrellas are up and the weather is ideal – welcome to Syria, a war-racked destination which most countries advise their citizens to avoid at all costs.
The Syrian Ministry of Tourism shows the good side in its controversial ‘Syria Always Beautiful’ promotional video, released a couple of weeks ago.
The video shows scenes from Golden Sands beach in the coastal city of Tartous, which is under Syrian government control.
The ministry said that the number of people entering the country had increased 30% in July 2016, compared with the same month in 2015, though it did not specify if the extra arrivals are domestic tourists, foreign visitors or others.
Given the war raging in Syria, the timing of the video’s release seems questionable or bizarre. It can be viewed on YouTube here:
The ministry’s website, www.syriatourism.org, is entirely in Arabic but some of the photos on it serve as a reminder of Syria’s beauty and historical significance. These assets will outlast the tragic conflict currently ripping the country apart and driving millions to seek asylum abroad.
Currently, Syria is rated “Do Not Travel” by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
DFAT advises Australians not to travel to Syria “because of the extremely dangerous security situation, highlighted by ongoing military conflict including aerial bombardment, kidnappings and terrorist attacks”.
That’s enough to put most people off, and for good reason. DFAT’s advisory continues:
- The Australian Government has recommended, since April 2011, that Australians in Syria depart immediately by commercial means while it is possible to do so.
- Australia does not have an embassy or consulate in Syria. Australian Government consular assistance is no longer available within Syria. See Where to get help.
- It is illegal under Australian law for Australian citizens, including dual citizens, to provide any kind of support to any armed group in Syria. This includes engaging in fighting for either side, funding, training or recruiting someone to fight and supplying or funding weapons for either side.
- It is an offence under Australian law for Australians to enter or remain in the Syrian province of al Raqqa without a legitimate purpose. This province has been declared by the Minister for Foreign Affairs under the Criminal Code as an area in which a listed terrorist organisation is engaging in a hostile activity. See Safety and security.
- The widespread fighting throughout Syria may cause disruptions to essential services and further limit your options for departure by air and road.
- Since 2014, there has been an increase in the number of reported kidnappings of NGO workers and journalists. Hostages are often killed.
- Due to the security environment, you should register your presence in Syria with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online.
- See Travel Smart for general advice for all travellers.
Tourism to Syria was once healthy and may be so again. But not yet.
Written by Peter Needham