Syrian embassy in Abu Dhabi operating despite GCC recall

Diplomatic missions from Damascus continue to operate despite GCC announcement of expulsion.

ABU DHABI // More than a hundred Syrians flocked to their country's embassy in the capital yesterday in a bid to get important paperwork completed before it is forced to close.

On Tuesday, GCC countries said they would recall their ambassadors from Damascus and expel Syrian envoys in response to the worsening violence there.

A UAE Government source said ambassadors were normally given 72 hours' notice when expelled.

And the prospect that the embassy could soon close led to more than 100 Syrian nationals visiting the consulate to get their paperwork done while they still had the chance, applying for military service deferral, new passports and to have documents attested.

"I was worried yesterday and wanted to check if the embassy was closed," said a Syrian-Palestinian, 28, who was born in the Emirates and works as a teller at a foreign-exchange house.

"There were more than 100 in the queue and everyone was very busy."

He was at the embassy for two hours to apply for the military service deferral that must be filled by Syrian men living and working overseas. After four years, he is required to pay a Dh18,300 "badal" fee to his government in lieu of military service.

About 160,0000 Syrians live in the UAE. But the embassy had noticed a drop in the numbers recently because no visas are being granted, a member of staff said.

A hotel employee who said he is originally from Al Hasaka in Syria, said he visited the embassy to renew his passport and saw no disruptions in the embassy's services.

"Everything was normal," he said.

An office administrator, 31, from Nabak, said it was a quiet day at the embassy and the staff had been very accommodating.

"It only took me 20 minutes to renew my passport," he said. "I was very surprised."

Staff at the embassy said the ambassador, Dr Abdul Latif Al Dabbagh, had yet to leave his post, as the embassy had not received an official letter from the UAE Government asking him to leave.

"I heard the news just like you and what was said on TV," a staff member said. "But we did not receive anything official."

Staff closed the embassy as normal at 3pm yesterday without receiving their marching orders from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A security guard said that as far as he was aware, the embassy would open as usual at 8am today.

At the Syrian consulate in Dubai there were fears, even among those who wanted the ambassador to leave, that closure would mean months of inconvenience.

Many had hurried there in case the office shut. As in Abu Dhabi, there was a steady flow of people in and out of the side entrance in the morning, keen to get their passports renewed, their new children registered and confirming their deferrals for military service.

"How would I go back to my country?" asked Firas Abdulkarim, 30, an account manager whose passport expires this month. "It would be wrong to close the consulate."

Ahmed Marawi, 26, a sales manager, said he had welcomed the "good news" that Syrian ambassadors in the Gulf would have to leave.

Mr Marawi had rushed to the consulate so his friend could renew his passport before that happened.

"The head of the consulate, it's OK," he said.

"But the regular staff, they have to be here because too many people want to renew their passports, sign agreements, do too many things here."

Others were less mindful of such practicalities.

"It's not important," said Aber Amil, 38, there to register his newborn child. "They need to clear the entire building."

Some Syrians were holding their own diplomatic protest by refusing to buy products from Russia or China, both of which vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution on Saturday that would have called on Bashar Al Assad, the president, to relinquish some powers.

Khalid, 45, said he knew people back home who were throwing away Chinese-made goods, even costly mobile phones.

"Even if we die we will not buy their products," Khalid said. "Everyone with the government must close."

But Anas Shiahen 22, a glasses salesman, had mixed feelings about removal of the regime or its diplomats, for fear of what might follow.

"It's bad for Syria," Mr Shiahen said.

Published: February 9, 2012 04:00 AM


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