Idlib civilians caught between border crossings and the black market

Border crossings in opposition-held Idlib province are few and far between, leaving civilians at the mercy of traders who raise the price of essential goods like food and fuel at will.

Idlib has three crossing points: one with areas of regime control, the second with YPG-held territory, and the the third, Bab al-Hawa, along the Turkish border. Fuel and other essential goods are scarce and expensive, as they enter the province only through the first two crossings. The goods that pass through Bab al-Hawa help alleviate shortages but do not fully meet residents’ needs.

Gas, diesel, and natural gas enter Idlib from regime-controlled areas by way of the Abu Dali crossing point, located between Abu Dali and the town of al-Khawin in the eastern Hama countryside. Food products such as clarified butter, rice and sugar pass through the same crossing.

“A liter of gas in regime-controlled areas is SP 225 ($1.03), but by the time it reaches us [traders] it costs SP 385 ($1.80), and is sold in stores at SP 425 ($1.96),” Fahd al-Aqb, a local fuels trader, told the Syrian Voice.

“The price goes up and down according to traders’ whims. Demand, and whether the road is open or not also play a role.”

Tribal groups resembling militias are responsible for transporting natural gas into Idlib, most of whom are loyal to Ahmed Daish, a member of Parliament, said al-Aqb.

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“As a trader myself, I notice to what extent these militias manipulate prices through affiliated merchants—in the span of a minute the price can change more than once.”

“People who follow the Syrian conflict might wonder, ‘how does the regime allow fuel and food to pass into the hands of those they’re fighting?’” Mohammed Ghazal, owner of a currency exchange store in Idlib, told the Syrian Voice.

“The regime does this to maintain an important source of foreign currency, which is available in opposition-held areas because of [the presence of] humanitarian and other civil society organizations. In addition, the regime wants to sell its goods and revitalize economic activity in its territory.”

After the regime realized gains in northern Aleppo early this year and cut off the road by which fuels used to reach Idlib, residents had to find an alternative. They decided on the path through YPG-controlled Afrin.

Abu Mahmoud Haskour, a fuels trader, travels to Islamic State-controlled areas to purchase diesel. From there, he transports it through YPG territory into Idlib.

“The price of a barrel of diesel gets higher as soon as it passes through YPG-held areas,” Abu Mahmoud told the Syrian Voice.

“The YPG has exploited the strategic road passing through their territory, and imposed taxes on a single barrel that reach as high as SP2,000 ($9.20). The price of a barrel inside Idlib can reach up to SP54,000 ($249).”

Most factories that produced clothing, batteries and other goods in rebel-held territory, especially in Syria’s industrial capital Aleppo, have shut down and production has moved to Turkey or Afrin, the latter of which is experiencing rapid economic growth.

Basil al-Dani, a trader in Idlib province, told the Syrian Voice that he prefers to import clothes from Afrin, despite the heavy duties imposed on goods, because he refuses to travel to regime-held territory.

The Bab al-Hawa bordering crossing with Turkey does not meet Idlib residents’ needs. The only goods that enter through Bab al-Hawa are construction materials like steel and cement, and humanitarian aid presented by civil society organizations.

Despite early rebel attempts to achieve self-sufficiency, the appearance of the Islamic State, which captured large swathes of opposition land, and the YPG’s pivot from neutrality towards siding with the regime have placed huge economic challenges before Idlib residents.

Translated by: Dan Wilkofsky


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