Syrians outraged after British travel bloggers Simon Wilson and Bald and Bankrupt visit regime-held Syria
Syrians have expressed outrage after British travel bloggers visited regime-held Syria, as the country reels from over 11 years of devastating conflict.
Vlogger Benjamin Rich - known as 'Bald and Bankrupt' - praised Syria as his "kind of country", as he dined in upscale areas of regime-controlled Aleppo.
Bald, as he is known by fans, has gained popularity due to his quirky videos of Russia and former Soviet states, gaining 3.5 million YouTube followers. He was joined by Simon Wilson, a video blogger from Wales.
The pair showcased their tour around Syria this week, where over 500,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict broke out in 2011 after the regime brutally crushed peaceful pro-democracy protests.
Wilson posted an image of himself and Rich in front of a 'Welcome to Syria' road sign on Tuesday to his Twitter account.
The travel vloggers visited wealthy areas of Homs and Aleppo eating at restaurants, drinking spirits, and playing loud music on their road trips.
Rich - better known as 'Bald' - told his followers that Syria is "not quite what you'd expect".
"Reality of Syria: guys inviting you to bars to drink and constantly telling you to go to Homs to see how hot the women are there," Rich wrote on his Instagram story, explaining he incorrectly expected his trip to "be a week of no alcohol" where he "must not look at girls".
Large swathes of Homs, a former rebel stronghold, were subject to a horrifying regime siege with artillery and barrel bombs dropped on crowded residential areas, killing thousands, including American journalist Marie Colvin.
Later in the conflict, the regime began to use chemical weapons on populated areas, killing thousands.
The regime assault on the city left Homs impoverished and devastated with many of its residents forced to flee from their homes and not allowed to return.
Many Syrians accuse the regime of trying to change the demographic character of Homs and other cities, with most of those killed and forced to flee being Sunni Muslim.
Syrians who are unable to return to their homes in Syria due to fears of regime persecution said the videos of the British tourists visiting restaurants and other places of entertainment could be considered propaganda for President Bashar al-Assad.
"Assad uses influencers to polish his image, which has been tarnished since he used violence against his people, killed hundreds of thousands of people and used chemical weapons," Majd Khalaf, a volunteer with the Syrian Civil Defence - otherwise known as The White Helmets - told The New Arab.
The tour cames as Syria suffers a devastating economic crisis which has seen 80% of Syrians plunged into poverty, with many facing starvation.
There have been reports of children searching through bins to find food.
The Syrian regime has blamed US economic sanctions for the crisis, but many Syrians have pointed to systematic regime corruption and the destruction of much of the country's infrastructure as a result of the regime's indiscriminate bombardment of towns and cities.
The US says its sanctions, imposed under the Caesar Act, only target the regime and were in response to systematic human rights violations by the regime.
These include the detention, forced disappearance and torture of over 100,000 Syrians with thousands believed to have been executed in the notorious Saydnaya prison near Damascus.
Around a quarter of the Syrian population have fled overseas and are unable to return to their homes due to fears of detention by the regime's notorious security forces.
Since you can’t enter Syria without a government minder I hope you both realize that you are essentially aiding the regime in rewriting the past decade.— Sophie (@florida_sophia) April 12, 2022
Millions of Syria’s inhabitants can’t return home, why do you guys get a pass?
Media in Syria is strictly controlled and the regime has been accused of using video bloggers to boost its image overseas.
"Assad's image can’t be polished. His crimes against his people are recorded in history, and his crimes are etched in the memory of Syrians and the world," Khalaf said.
Atrocity tourism? Nice. Trampled on any mass graves yet?— Idrees Ahmad (@im_PULSE) April 12, 2022
You do know that more than half of the country's people have been forced from their homes and can't return, right?
Twitter users asked why the vloggers "get a pass" to Syria, when millions of Syrians are unable to return to their homes.
Some dubbed tours of Syria by video bloggers as "atrocity tourism".
The New Arab reached out to the vloggers for a comment but did not receive a response at the time of publishing.