Tens of thousands of babies born during Syria’s crisis have ended up undocumented, stateless in terms of legal rights and protections. Few have been given a birth certificate from the Syrian state. Most newborns and toddlers have not been properly registered with the state and lack any official documentation to identify them, as they flee with their families to neighboring countries.
“The consequences for refugee children not being recognized or registered at birth are potentially huge,” says Andy Baker, Oxfam’s manager for Syria crisis response. “They can have great difficulty accessing healthcare and education, and their parents fear the prospect of arrest, harassment or deportation.”
The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) in Lebanon says that as of February, there were “tens of thousands” of unregistered Syrian children in Lebanon, the exact number difficult to ascertain.
“With the continued arrival of refugees from Syria, the number of stateless persons and persons at risk of statelessness has risen. Some refugees arrive in Lebanon with unconfirmed nationality, or without documents proving their nationality,” it says in a report.
“This includes Syrian Kurds who were denaturalized in Syria in 1962. Non-Kurdish stateless from Syria may lack nationality due to gaps in Syria’s national legislation or lack of access to civil registration procedures. Despite the fact that 15,000 Syrian refugees have been born in Lebanon, indications are that birth registration levels are extremely low.” The report said 75 percent of refugee newborns don’t have an official birth certificate.
The figures are similar in neighboring Jordan and Turkey, which combined, host more than 2 million registered refugees and hundreds of thousands more unregistered.
A former employee at the civil registration office in the Syrian city of Jarablus, Abu Abdel Qader, is currently a refugee residing in the Turkish border city of Gaziantep.
After regime forces were defeated and pushed out of Jarablus, “all computers were looted from the registration building,” he says. “However, my colleagues and I kept on with the job even after our former manager fled [the city]. We carried on registering newborns, marriages and issuing ID papers while referring to previously recorded lists. It was a difficult job looking through lists for names, but I was well aware of the importance of this job. It was a common feeling among all employees, and we used to take turns risking our lives at the end of each month to go to Aleppo to officially register all newborns at the civil registration office there.”
Then, he says, fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) entered the city. Slowly, it took over government offices, including that of civil registration.
Six months ago, he and his colleagues fled to Turkey, leaving the office understaffed.
Mohammad Abdel Rahman is from Raqqa and has been living in Urfa, a small city in Turkey, for more than a year. In his 30s, he has a two-month-old baby.
“I married in Urfa through one of the city’s sheikhs, but I was unable to officially register my marriage in the Turkish courts because I don’t have the necessary Syrian ID papers, mainly a valid passport,” he says.
“After I became a father, I could only give [my son] his name. I wasn’t able to register him and obtain a proper birth certificate. I don’t what will happen to him or how his future will be. Even if I were able to register him in Raqqa through the ISIS committee there, any papers they issue won’t be recognized by international governments.”
Syrian parents in Lebanon, says Oxfam’s Andy Baker, “tell us they have not only lost their life at home but they are now losing the future for their children. They are incredibly worried and have very little information about their rights and the process of registration.”
Baker says that some organizations have provided a legal help desk in refugee camps, but they haven’t matched the scale of the problem.
“All [of Syria’s] neighboring governments should, in coordination with UNHCR, implement a standard process for issuing birth certificates for all refugee children.”
Ayman Khalil, 31, is a Syrian Kurd from the eastern al-Malikiyeh area, along the Syrian-Iraqi border. A father to a six-month-old baby girl, Ayman says he’s afraid for his daughter and her future.
“I’ve been living in Turkey for over two years and married a non-Kurdish Syrian woman, who’s also living with me in Turkey,” he says. “I wasn’t able to register my marriage or my child, and she’s almost six months old now.
“But there is hope. I’ve been able to pay off some public servants at the civil registry office to register my baby and my marriage. However, that was an arduous task and I had to pay a lot for money. The important thing is that I was able to register my baby, unlike many others … It is a nightmare that hundreds of thousands of Kurds have suffered over four decades, with no nationality and deprived of their basic civil and social rights.”