Smuggling in Lebanese and Syrian markets have seen a renewal in the last few months, as goods are being smuggled from Lebanon’s market to Syria as Damascus is facing goods’ shortage in its markets.
Asharq Al-Awsat was informed by a taxi driver, Abou Abdo, operating on the route from Beirut to Damascus, that for twenty seven years he has been witnessing goods being smuggled into Syria. In 2011, the conflicts in Syria erupted which triggered an increase in the variety of goods smuggling.
However, in the 1980s, both the neighbours were part of active smuggling, although back then, the smuggling would begin and end with “western products”, as they were not found in Syrian markets; these included some “shampoo, soaps” or even medicine brands, reported another taxi driver, Abou Ahmed.
At present, the smugglers steal anything between bananas and cigarettes to fuel and “gas canisters” for smuggling them into the capital city of Syria. In winter, Damascus regime came under heavier sanctions imposed by western countries which led to a “severe shortage in domestic gas and fuel” resulting in “frequent power cuts”. In fact, the Syrian pound experienced a collapse against the dollar.
As a result, prices shot through the ceiling as the Syrians are left to feel the sanctions’ pinch. For example, a gas canister, is sold under the regime, costs “2,700 pounds”, while the same is prices at nearly “10,000 pounds” in black market. Moreover, the transportation cost of the canister from “Lebanon to Syia” is not “more than 6,500 pounds”.
When Syrian imports sector almost came to a standstill, the Damascus based Syrian manufacturers and traders found smuggling the goods from Lebanon as an alternative, while these smuggling operations are often carried out via the “Damascus-Beirut taxi route”. In fact, yet another taxi driver, Abou Yehya confirmed of smuggling “luxury biscuits, various chocolates, diapers and construction material”.
This new surge in smuggling activity brought to the memory the smuggling activities that took place in the 1980s as Damascus faced “an economic boycott”. At that time, “televisions, washing machines, fridges, stoves and carpets”, were among the list of goods that were being smuggled from Lebanon to Syria. However, as the economy in Syria saw a revival in 1990s, the smuggling activities gradually died down until it resurged following the conflict of 2011.
Further, Abou Abdo reported that, at the moment, there is also a drop in the number of Syrian visitors coming to Lebanon in comparison to its peaking figures in 2012 when the economy of Syria stood at the brink of collapsing. The taxi driver recalled that, seven years ago, the taxi fare of Syria to Lebanon was “more than 10,000 pounds”, which occurred only during the July 2006 Israeli war against Hezbollah.
And, at present, the fare to Beirut from Damascus stands at “50,000 pounds”. In fact, due to the conflict, there has also been a drop in the number of flights from Damascus, as maximum airlines refused to “operate flights to the capital”. As a result, the travellers from Syria had no other option but to turn to the “Rafik Hariri International Airport” of Beirut, also contributing in an increased “taxi operations” in the Syria-Lebanon route.
However, the “worst part of the smuggling operations”, according to Abou Abdo, dealt with the border security checks. Every check post has to be paid a “fare”, which ranges from “200 pounds” to “500” pounds, while some of them even demand “luxury cigars” which are proced over “1,200 pounds”.
Nevertheless, the checkpost fares see a hike, when taxies transport travellers “from Beirut to Syria”, while the taxi driver noticed that strangely, the “gas canisters” carried by him, never attracts the scrutiny of the security forces. And he adds:
“The regime is aware of the fuel shortage and they have been ordered to look the other way”.