Illegal emigration is just one of the many unlawful activities many Syrians undertake simply to survive. Both inside the war-torn country and across the diaspora, more than four years of civil war, death and displacement have turned dealings once unthinkable into the commonplace. Because having a university degree facilitates movement across borders and thus potential migration, many Syrians are attempting to obtain forged degrees through bribes and connections.
According to 24-year-old Adnaan, who has been living in Istanbul since fleeing his home in Damascus back in February 2013, Syrians can obtain a certified copy of a bachelor’s degree for anywhere between $300 and $700.
“When I left Syria, I thought of Turkey as a transit point to continue on to Europe,” said Adnaan, who fled his home, leaving friends and family behind, in order to avoid compulsory military service – an obligation in Syria for all males upon reaching the age of 18. Things, however, did not go according to plan. For almost two years now, Adnaan has been trying to find a legal way to enter Europe. Because his original major in library studies is not in high demand, he was not accepted by any of the European universities to which he applied. Left with no options, he was forced to look elsewhere.
“A friend told me that he obtained a forged law degree for less than $500, and that he could help me get a degree that would give me a higher chance when I apply for graduate schools,” Adnaan told Syria Deeply.
The offer, according to Adnaan, includes five translated and certified copies of the particular degree requested. Not having an original certificate does not pose an issue, according to Adnaan, because counterfeiters are able to bribe employees in university admissions offices to get them original stamps and seals.
“Procuring these stamps and seals can take a long time,” said Adnaan, “and it can cost up to $700 since they have to be made in Syria and then transported to Turkey.”
Adnaan told Syria Deeply he obtained a forged degree in economics from the University of Aleppo for $300, and submitted his application to two different MBA programs this fall. As of now, he is still waiting for an answer.
Syrian universities, ministries and other bureaucracies rely on official stamps, seals and signatures to certify documents and prevent forgery, but apparently these measures are no longer enough to prevent forgeries.
“Hundreds of degrees are being forged on a daily basis in Syria,” said Rami, a 40-year-old lawyer and a consultant for a private university in Damascus. “Many universities have called on the government to consider new procedures to prevent forgery. We called on the Ministry of Education to launch a digital database and provide each degree with a serial number so that foreign universities can confirm the originality of the degrees they receive, but as of yet, no real changes have been made.”
While officials at the Ministry of Education are overwhelmed with requests for copies of degrees and do not have the time to address the issue, Syrian universities are deeply concerned about the likely consequences of the increasing numbers of forged Syrian degrees both inside and outside the country.
“This is not only about violating the law, it is about the history and reputation of [Syrian] universities, especially the well-known ones like the University of Aleppo and the University of Damascus,” he added.
Imad, 27, a graphic designer who works for an advertising agency in Damascus, told Syria Deeply he’s no stranger when it comes to the forgery business. “I’ve forged close to 20 degrees, but I never fake degrees in the humanities or any major that affects other peoples’ lives – I never touch degrees in medicine, pharmaceuticals or engineering,” he said.
According to Imad, the forgery process isn’t really all that difficult. “The certifying parties, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, do not usually bother to check whether the certificate itself is real or not,” he said. “They stamp without checking the other stamps or signatures, so it’s all about creating the document and forging or obtaining the first stamp. After that, all other stamps and seals are real,” he added.
Almost everyone for whom he forges a degree uses it not for work purposes but to facilitate movement out of the country, Imad argued. The forgeries give people a chance to avoid the dangerous illegal journey to Europe and offer hope for a fresh start.
When asked whether he believes what he does is ethical, Imad said: “Those who requested forged degrees are still in Syria, which means that they have already lost four years of their lives. It is the same number of years one would spend studying to obtain a degree. These people deserve to find a safe way out.”
Top Image: In this photo taken Friday, Aug. 28, 2015, Wafaa Bukai, 25, a student from Damascus, Syria, holds photographs as she waits for her brother to cross the border from Horgos, Serbia to Hungary. Unlike many trekkers, who carry precious photos only electronically on a mobile phone, Bukai thumbs through her personal album of childhood images, including her pre-teen self in school uniform and trips with family to the beach. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)