CIVIL STATUS DOCUMENTATION IN

NON-GOVERNMENT AREAS OF
NORTHERN SYRIA

1

_____________________________________________________________
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The IRC would like to thank the UNHCR for its gracious support in enabling this assessment to be undertaken in
contribution to better understanding by the humanitarian community of the impact of lack of documentation on
the Syrian people.

This report was written by David Glendinning, with support and technical review by the IRC and UNHCR. The IRC
would like to recognize and thank the Syrian Legal Development Programme (SLDP) for their contribution as lead
consultant in conducting the desk research, development of methodology, co-training with IRC of assessors,
codification of data and its analysis. The end product was finalized by the IRC.

The IRC is a non-governmental organization guided by the internationally recognized humanitarian principles of:
humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence. The IRC responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises
and operates in over 40 countries around the world, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic
wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster.

©IRC and UNHCR, April 2016

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY



BACKGROUND
Civil documentation, and the ability to prove one’s identity, is paramount to protection. Global
experience has shown that undocumented individuals are exposed to a multitude of protection
risks, including trafficking, exploitation, discrimination, arbitrary arrest and detention, and
limitations on freedom of movement. Access to basic services such as health care and education
may also be hindered. In Syria, the findings of the Protection Needs Overview are striking: 91%
of sub-districts ranked “lack or loss of civil documentation” as one of their top three protection
threats. But the lack of civil documentation is not just a current threat- the future consequences
for undocumented individuals may also be grave. Unable to prove their link to Syria, tens of
thousands of children may be denied a nationality in the future- a situation described by UNHCR
as a “ticking time-bomb”1.

This assessment was conducted in order to understand how civil registration- specifically birth
and marriage registration- is currently functioning in non-government controlled areas of
northern Syria; the obstacles that exist to accessing registration; and the protection risks that
are created and/or exacerbated through being undocumented. Most importantly, this
assessment was conducted to better understand how humanitarian actors could respond to the
problem. 100 key informant interviews were conducted, comprising community members
(divided into 2 categories: “birth registration respondents”, who had recently had a child, and
“marriage registration respondents”, who had recently been married), service providers, civil
registration personnel and humanitarian workers.

FINDINGS2
Ø Birth and marriage registration with the formal Government of Syria (GoS) system remains
largely unavailable to individuals living in non-government controlled areas for reasons of
personal security risks and prohibitive cost. Two main elements of personal security emerged as
a barrier. Firstly, the majority of birth registration and marriage registration respondents said
they were wanted by the regime. This is significant as it means they would not want to register
with the GoS under any circumstances, even if safe access to registration sites and/or
registration staff could be facilitated, as they wish to keep their whereabouts unknown.
Secondly, others said it was unsafe to travel to registration sites, which are for the most part in
areas controlled by the GoS. The prohibitive costs related to registration with the GoS appear to
be more related to engaging a middleman in the process rather than the cost of the
administrative procedure itself. Two official GoS registration centers continue to operate in

1

Fleming, M. (2015, 16 February). The Situation in Syria is only going to get worse…and here’s why. The Guardian.
Access at: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/feb/16/situation-syria-isgoing-to-get-worse-melissa-fleming-united-nations
2 As explained in the “Methodology” section below, the fairly small sample size for the assessment does not allow for
the findings to be extrapolated to the whole of northern Syria. The assessment data set does provide telling trends
and patterns for those areas where the assessment was carried. These findings can therefore be considered initial
until a more comprehensive study can be undertaken.

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Idlib- one in Sarmada and one in Adana- however, these centers only serve local people who
were already registered there prior to the conflict.
Ø The “Supreme Judicial Council” under the “Interim Government” (i.e. a non-Government of
Syria entity) is the main civil registration actor in non-government controlled areas of Idlib and
Aleppo, however, a number of local councils and Sharia Courts are also involved in registering
birth and marriages. A patchwork of non-state civil registration procedures has emerged and,
although levels of registration of new marriages and newly born children appear to be still very
low, an increasing number of people are choosing to use them. These “non-state procedures”
are laid out in more detail in the main report.
Ø Respondents from the birth registration and marriage registration respondent categories
overwhelmingly regarded registration as important, however, only 26% had registered their
marriages and 26% had registered the births of their last-born child. Community member
respondents largely understood the GoS to be the actor responsible for registration and did not
acknowledge the non-state procedures, either because they were unaware of them, or they did
not value them.
Ø The data does not conclusively answer the question as to why most people are not registering
using the non-state procedures. In part, this is due to a lack of awareness and/or the
unavailability of these services in all areas. The majority of civil registry personnel respondents
highlighted a lack of awareness of the non-state procedures in their responses, and the need to
increase registration of births and marriages through awareness raising initiatives. But lack of
awareness and/or availability is certainly not the sole reason that people are not registering
using the non-state procedures. Many people do not see the importance of registering using the
non-state procedures as they are not recognized beyond the areas controlled by the issuing
entit(ies). Many respondents lamented that these documents were not recognized
internationally. Finally, it is understandable that people are prioritizing their immediate needs
for necessities such as food and shelter over civil documentation, and that registration only
becomes an immediate priority when it is required for accessing such assistance and services.

Ø A varied picture emerged in terms of the actual benefits that had been experienced by those
who had registered using the non-state procedures. On the one hand, the documents issued by
non-governmental entities appear to be recognized in parts of non-GoS controlled areas,
allowing for greater freedom of movement and increased access to services and humanitarian
aid in these areas. On the other hand, respondents frequently highlighted that recognition of
these documents has geographical limitations, in particular that respondents citied the concern
these documents would not be recognized in neighboring countries and further afield. The
majority of service providers in Syria said that they are willing to provide services and assistance
to those who are undocumented.

Ø IDPs face specific challenges vis-à-vis civil registration. Many highlighted that IDPs are less
likely to be in possession of documents, as they may have lost these or left them behind
during the process of displacement. Without existing documents, registering new births and
marriages, and obtaining other important civil documentation, becomes challenging. IDPs
are also often unable to produce witnesses to verify their identity as they lack a social
network in their place of displacement. It was highlighted that without documents, some
IDPs have faced challenges accessing services and humanitarian assistance. While an
administrative instruction from the Government of Syria allowing access to registration/civil

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documentation services anywhere in the country regardless of the previous location of
registration the Government of Syria has limited capacity to implement such directives in
the geographical area of the assessment. Consequently, employees at the center reported
that the civil registration at the two GoS registration centers in Idlib only in practice remains
open to people who have previously registered there, and does not provide a solution for
IDPs.

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
How can humanitarian actors support access to civil registration in non-government controlled
areas of northern Syria? The GoS civil registration system appears to be off limits to the vast
majority of the population for security reasons, most significantly because people are fearful
that registering with the GoS will create risks to their personal security. Opportunities for
facilitating safe access to GoS procedures would therefore seem limited. It is also notable that
respondents voiced a strong preference for solutions that focused on strengthening local, nonstate procedures, and ensuring that documents issued under these procedures are more widely
recognized. Programmatically it makes sense to focus efforts on facilitating and ultimately
increasing access to the non-state procedures, while advocating for increased local recognition
of these documents. Documents that people obtain now through these non-state procedures
are not currently recognized beyond non-government controlled areas, but they do offer
evidence of a person’s identity, and they may prove crucial in enabling registration under a
formalized national system in a future Syria, and help to prevent statelessness for hundreds of
thousands of individuals. The recommendations arising from the assessment are outlined below:
Ø Protection actors should focus programmatic interventions in northern Syria on raising
awareness of civil registration procedures at the local level and their importance among
communities, service providers, and humanitarian workers; and facilitating access to civil
registration procedures through one-on-one support and advice. Further information also needs
to be gathered on civil registration processes, the challenges accessing these, the extent to
which documents issued under non-state procedures are recognized in Turkey and further
afield, and the protection risks associated with possessing documentation provided by non-state
registries, as well as the risks of not having any documentation. A key means of moving this
forward would be to introduce a community paralegal scheme, which is outlined in greater
detail in the main report.

Ø The Protection Cluster and the Whole of Syria Protection Sector should continue to advocate
for civil registration to be a priority within the overall humanitarian response. Actors from other
clusters and Whole of Syria sectors should be sensitized on why increasing access to civil
documentation is a protection priority, what documents people may be in possession of, and
what they as humanitarian actors might be able to do to support those without documents. In
particular, as documentation is a priority area also for the Damascus-based actors, exchange of
information with the Protection Sector in the Damascus Hub would help each side remain
abreast of developments that may benefit individuals to access to documentation Consideration
should also be given to establishing a civil documentation task force under the Protection
Cluster, which would serve as a forum for identifying programmatic and advocacy priorities as
well as information sharing. A key priority should be to advocate for increased access to
services, rights and entitlements for which documentary requirements may currently be
providing a barrier. This would not entail formal recognition of documents issued by non-state

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actors, but rather a simplifying or waiving of prohibitive documentary requirements, recognizing
that many individuals will have either lost documents or have been unable to utilize the formal
GoS civil registration system since the conflict began.

Ø Humanitarian organizations and service providers operating in northern Syria should provide
assistance and services on the basis of need alone, should not deny services to families without
documents, and should ensure non-discrimination in relation to the kind and source of
documentation a person may possess. With support from protection agencies, these actors
should have a basic understanding of civil registration processes and should be able to help
individuals make informed choices in terms of civil registration.

Ø Maternal health services should also be expanded, increasing the number of skilled birth
attendants (such as licensed doctors and midwives) who are authorized to issue medical birth
notifications. In addition to facilitating birth registration at a later date, in cases where it is not
possible to register a birth immediately, a medical birth notification provides a child with an
immediate source of basic evidence regarding its identity, biodata and family composition.

Ø Donors must allocate increased funding for birth and civil registration as part of the
humanitarian response inside Syria and surrounding countries. While civil registration may not
be an immediate, life-saving priority it is a vital means of protection before, during and after
emergencies. As well as preventing and mitigating protection risks in the immediate term, it
helps to reduce the risk of future statelessness.

BACKGROUND


Lack of civil documentation: a global protection problem

Civil documentation, and the ability to prove one’s identity, is paramount to protection. During
times of conflict and displacement documentation may be lost or destroyed. The institutions
responsible for providing documents may become severely hindered or dysfunctional. Obtaining
or replacing documents can become extremely difficult for a number of factors, including
diminished capacity of the institutions responsible for issuing documents; discriminatory
practices that may often affect IDPs, women and minority groups; prohibitive costs; and the
inability of people to physically travel to places of registration.

In situations of conflict and displacement around the globe, undocumented individuals are
exposed to a multitude of protection risks,
including family separation, trafficking, Having a legal identity is a fundamental human right
exploitation, discrimination, arbitrary arrest
and detention, and limitations on freedom • Universal Declaration on Human Rights, Articles 6,
15
of movement. Access to basic services such

International Convention on Civil and Political
as health care and education, the formal
Rights, Articles 16, 24
labour market, as well as humanitarian aid
• Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination
can, in many instances, be dependent on

Against Women, Article 9
Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement,
Principle 20
6
Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 7, 8

being able to prove one’s identity3. Birth registration is often the first legal acknowledgement of
a child’s existence and who the parents are, and unregistered children in situations of conflict
and displacement run the risk of becoming stateless in the future.

Undocumented Syrians: “A ticking time-bomb”
With an estimated 13.52 million people, including six million children, in need of humanitarian
assistance and protection, and 6.5 million IDPs, the scale of the crisis in Syria is enormous. The
rate of documentation in Syria was very high prior to the conflict and there is a high level of
awareness in the population about the importance of documentation. The links between forced
displacement and problems accessing civil registration and documentation are known4, but the
nature and scale of this problem inside Syria had not been assessed since the start of the
conflict. The problem in Syria was highlighted in the Multi-Sectoral Needs Assessment, published
in 2014:
“Lack of personal identity documentation is the main safety and dignity concern
affecting individuals across all areas covered…. People without documentation (either
because they were lost, damaged, expired or they failed to register) are reported to be
exposed to harassment and exploitation at checkpoints. Documentation services
including death, marriage and property documentation have been disrupted, resulting in
difficulties accessing assistance and services, and proving custody, inheritance and
ownership. In particular, documentation for newborns, particularly in non-Governmentcontrolled areas is a major issue, resulting in risk of statelessness, lack of access to
services and other problems”5

Further evidence on the significance of the problem was provided by the Protection Needs
Overview 6 , conducted as part of the Whole of Syria Needs Assessment 7 , in August 2015.
Participants in the assessment were asked to rank the protection threats that they were
exposed to. The findings in relation to “lack or loss of personal civil documents” are striking:

• 91% of sub-districts ranked it as one of their top three protection threats. One third of
sub-districts ranked it as their number one protection threat (see pie chart below).
• Both Aleppo and Idlib, where the assessment which is the focus of this report was
conducted, ranked “lack or loss of personal civil documents” as their main protection
threat:
o In Aleppo, 55% of sub-districts identified it as their number one threat.

3

UNICEF (2007) Birth registration and armed conflict. Innocenti Insight. Florence.
http://www.unicef.org/protection/birth_registration_and_armed_conflict(1).pdf
4
See for example Plan International (2014), Birth Registration in Emergencies, Best Practices in Humanitraian Action,
https://plan-international.org/about-plan/resources/publications/campaigns/birth-registration-in-emergencies
5
2014 Syria Multi-sectoral Needs Assessment, Humanitarian Liaison Group. Access at:
https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/sites/www.humanitarianresponse.info/files/assessments/141028_Syria_MS
NA_Report_FINAL.pdf
6
2015 Protection Needs Overview, Whole of Syria Protection Sector. Access at:
https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/en/system/files/documents/files/wos_protection_needs_overview_2015.p
df
7
The “Whole of Syria Assessment” was conducted throughout Syria to determine the needs for protection and
humanitarian assistance. Its findings informed the 2016 Humanitarian Needs Overview and the 2016 Humanitarian
Response Plan

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o

In Idlib, 69% of sub-districts identified it as their number one threat.

Findings from IRC’s own protection monitoring have also shed light on the scale of the problem.
8% of households interviewed had no civil documentation at all, and 28% are missing birth
certificates for their children8.

A lack of civil documentation is not just a current threat- the future consequences for
undocumented individuals may also be grave. Unable to prove their link to Syria, tens of
thousands of children may be denied a nationality in the future- a situation described by UNHCR
as a “ticking time-bomb”9. Foreigners, who have (or may in future have) children with Syrian
women, including some of whom may have come to Syria to fight, will face additional challenges
ensuring their children obtain documentation , Although children born to Syrian mothers in Syria
are in principle entitled to Syrian nationality, in practice it can be extremely difficult for them to
acquire nationality.10

To date, there has been little understanding or discussion of the ad hoc civil registration
procedures in non-government controlled areas inside Syria. Registration processes and gaps in
accessing documentation for both the host community and IDPs in areas under shifting control
of entities with limited governance structures are unclear. There have also been reports that
some of the civil registries in Syria have been deliberately destroyed in the conflict, which poses
severe consequences for the ability to obtain or provide proof of identity for families throughout
the country. Aleppo and Idlib Governorates have been severely affected by the conflict, and are
hosting 1,246,968 and 704,511 IDPs respectively.

Objectives of this assessment

This assessment was conducted in order to understand how civil registration is currently
functioning in non-government controlled areas of northern Syria; the obstacles that exist to

8

These figures are based on interviews with 3209 households conducted between May 2015 and October 2015 in
camps in Qah area of Idleb and Azaz area of Aleppo.
9
Fleming, F. (2015, 16 February). The Situation in Syria is only going to get worse…and here’s why. The Guardian.
Access at: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/feb/16/situation-syria-isgoing-to-get-worse-melissa-fleming-united-nations
10
Syrian nationality law, in principle, provides an exception whereby children born to Syrian women can obtain
nationality through their mothers if the child’s paternity is not legally established—but this protection is only afforded
to children born inside Syria. Conversely, no provisions exist within Syrian law for a child born outside Syria to acquire
nationality from its Syrian mother. See Legislative Decree 276 - Nationality Law [Syrian Arab Republic], Legislative
Decree 276, 24 November 1969, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d81e7b12.html.

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accessing registration; and the protection risks that are created and/or exacerbated through
being undocumented. Most importantly, this assessment was conducted to better understand
how humanitarian actors could respond to the problem. The assessment focused specifically on
two critical areas: birth registration and marriage registration. Birth registration, as well as being
a universal human right in itself, is fundamental to the prevention of statelessness and to the
protection of child rights. Around the world, children without birth certificates are also often
exposed to abuse and exploitation and may face challenges accessing basic services. Marriage
registration is crucial in protecting the rights of women, particularly in relation to child custody,
property and inheritance, and in ensuring that women are able to register the births of their
children, as a marriage certificate is generally required to obtain a birth certificate. The specific
objectives of the assessment were to:

1. Provide a comprehensive understanding of the civil status registration processes
in non-government controlled areas of Idlib and Aleppo governorates in
northern Syria;
2. Identify the gaps and challenges in current registration processes; and
3. Identify potential possibilities for humanitarian intervention and advocacy to
address needs and gaps in personal status documentation and registration.

The following sections of this report will detail the methodology used in the assessment, the key
findings emerging from the data and recommendations for programming and advocacy.

METHODOLOGY


The assessment was carried out between September and December of 2015 and focused on 4
sub-districts in Idlib and Aleppo governorates. Both a desk review and field key informant
interviews were conducted, with a total number of 100 respondents made up of the affected
population, civil registration personnel, service providers and humanitarian workers. The
primary focus of the assessment was on birth and marriage registration. This section details the
key questions that the assessment sought to answer; the methods that were used in the
assessment; the selection of respondents and locations; and how the data was analyzed. Finally,
the challenges faced and the limitations of the data are detailed.

Key research questions
In order to understand the current registration processes, gaps and constraints, as well as
generate clear recommendations for programming and advocacy, the assessment sought to
answer the following key questions:
Procedures and Which institutions and actors are involved in civil registration? What is the
institutions
current capacity of these actors? What are the procedures for registration
of births and marriages?
Attitudes

and Do people believe that it is important to register births and marriages? Are
they aware of the relevant actors, institutions and procedures? Have people

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practice

registered their marriages and the births of their children?

Inhibiting factors

What are the barriers that exist to registering births and marriages? If
people chose not to register, why?

Benefits
and What are the benefits of registration? What are the consequences of not
consequences
registering births and marriages?

Detailed questionnaires were developed for 5 different categories of stakeholder (see below)
based on the questions above. Respondents were also asked for suggestions on how registration
processes could be improved during the assessment.

Assessment methods
The assessment consisted of a desk review and field research:
1. Desk review: The sources of information reviewed include relevant international law and
Syrian legislation, reports and articles on the civil registration system in Syria, documents
and articles related to civil registration in conflict and displacement situations generally, and
reports and analysis of the current humanitarian context within Syria.

2. Field research: 5 categories of key stakeholder were identified to participate in the
assessment. Questionnaires, based on the key questions detailed above, were developed for
each of these categories of stakeholder. Two research teams, one in Idlib and one in Aleppo,
were identified and trained on data collection mechanisms for this project. These teams
were supported by IRC’s Protection Needs Assessors, who also contributed to data
collection.
The 5 categories of stakeholder are detailed in the table below:
Affected
population: birth
certificates

Mothers or fathers of new-born children. The assessment interviewed 17
individuals in Idlib (9 males and 8 females) and 2 individuals in Aleppo (1
male and 1 female). The respondents were predominantly IDPs. In order
to get an accurate and current snapshot of birth registration procedures,
these respondents were only asked questions relating to their new-born
child. This category will be referred to as “birth registration respondents”
throughout the report.

Affected
population:
marriage
certificates

Newly-wed couples: 17 respondents in Idlib (14 males and 3 females)
and 3 respondents in Aleppo (2 males and 1 female). The respondents
were predominantly IDPs. This category will be referred as “marriage
registration respondents” throughout the report.

Civil registration
personnel

11 respondents in Idlib and 5 in Aleppo. Respondents included civil
registry staff (from both GoS and Interim Government civil registration
centers), sharia court staff and local council representatives who were
involved in registering births and marriages. This category will be

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referred as “civil registration personnel respondents” throughout the
report.
Service providers

23 respondents in Idlib and 16 in Aleppo. Approximately half of these
respondents were involved in the provision of health and education
services. The remainder included local council representatives (who
were not involved in registration), camp managers and personnel from
civil courts. A particular focus was placed on understanding the
documentation requirements of these actors vis-à-vis the provision of
services. This category will be referred as “service provider respondents”
throughout the report.

Humanitarian
workers

4 respondents in Idlib and 2 respondents in Aleppo. These were staff
providing humanitarian aid with INGOs and NGOs in the areas in which
the assessment was conducted. This category will be referred as
“humanitarian worker respondents” throughout the report.

Assessment Locations
Locations were chosen based on a number of factors. Firstly, they had to be relatively accessible,
not situated near frontlines, or prone to clashes. Secondly, the aim was to select areas with
different controlling parties and diverse civil registration systems.

The assessment locations are presented in the table below:
Location
Governorate


Idlib

Aleppo

Controlling
Group
J.Al Nusra

District
Idlib City

Sub-district
Hazzano

Harem

Sarmada

J.Al Nusra;
Limited
presence of
Ahrar Al
Sham

Atmeh
camp
A’azaz

Qah cluster

J.Al Nusra

Tal Refaat

Comments
Idlib recently fell under the control of the NSA,
and Local Councils are currently being
established.
Sarmada has a very powerful sharia court that
covers almost the whole region.

The cluster contains over 60,000 IDPs in its
population.
J.Al
Sharia courts that are powerful and relatively
Shamya;
independent e.g. they look into disputes
Ahrar Al between civilians and the differing armed
Sham
groups.

Data analysis
The field researchers transcribed the data from the interviews and entered it into a database.
The interviews were semi-structured and used a mixture of open and closed questions. For the
closed questions, it was easy to identify commonalities and frequencies through the use of

11

filters or simply by counting. For the open-ended questions a summary of the response, and
sometimes quotes, were included in the database. This information enabled case studies and
illustrative quotes, which are featured in the report, to be identified. Qualitative data from
open-ended questions was coded to enable identification of themes, divergences across
locations and trends for analysis.
The idea was not to test a particular theory or hypothesis, but rather to understand the story
that the data was telling us. As the number of respondents was small, there was no need to rely
on specialized software for data analysis.



Challenges and limitations

This assessment provides very useful data on the current situation with regards to civil
registration in Syria, and will help to inform both programming and advocacy. The assessment
was fairly small in scale- there were 100 respondents in 4 sub-districts. Although the findings
cannot be extrapolated to the whole of northern Syria, we can still draw very valuable trends
and patterns from the data.

The range of issues around civil documentation that could be discussed is huge. It was not
possible to zone in on all of the important issues that came up during the assessment. For
example, one of the major problems identified with being undocumented was limitation on an
individual’s ability to travel. It was not, however, possible to gain a full understanding of the
nature of these limitations and their geographic scope. Further examination of the specific
challenges faced by IDPs as more intentionally compared with host populations and femaleheaded households (both among the IDP and non-IDP population) is also required. Areas for
further inquiry are detailed in the recommendations section of this report.

Changing security dynamics were continually assessed and during the period of data collection
the security situation changed in some of these regions. Data collection was originally also
planned in Daret Ezza and Atareb in Aleppo but could not be completed due to the air strikes
that intensified during the period of data collection. Security concerns in Aleppo also hindered
recruitment and retention of field assessor teams, requiring additional rounds of training and
leaving little remaining time for additional data collection. This meant that the sample size for
Aleppo was considerably smaller than the one for Idlib. Challenges with the field teams’ initial
understanding of the methodology and the fact that field testing of data collection tools was not
done additionally meant that first round data sets did not always capture the intention of the
assessment questions and required additional clarification and adjustments to tools for
subsequent rounds, which impacts the comparability of first and second round data sets. This
partially resulted from and was compounded by the inherent challenges in coordinating various
aspects of the assessment implementation by two organizations who both contributed to
technical input and review and whose contribution was mutually necessary throughout the
entirety of the assessment but without clear checks and balances around decision-making.

12

13

FINDINGS


Key findings are presented in 7 categories:
Ø Procedures and institutions
Ø Attitudes and practices of the population
Ø Inhibiting factors that may prevent people from registering birth and marriages
Ø The impact on registering births and marriages on people’s lives
Ø The consequences of not registering births and marriages
Ø Other miscellaneous findings
Ø Suggestions from respondents on how the civil registration system could be improved

1. PROCEDURES AND INSTITUTIONS

This section outlines the findings on the procedures for civil registration that exist in nongovernment controlled areas. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a somewhat opaque picture emerges,
with a number of different procedures and institutions involved. Before detailing the findings of
the assessment, it is helpful to review the procedures for birth and marriage registration that
were in place before the conflict, and continue to operate in GoS-controlled areas. These are
summarized in the text box below. It is also important to note that these are the officially
recognized procedures - it is not clear that these procedures were always followed or what flaws
and gaps may have been prevalent. More detailed information on the civil registration system
that was in place in Syria before the conflict can be found in Annex I.

CIVIL REGISTRATION PROCEDURES PRIOR TO THE CONFLICT (still understood to apply in GoS
controlled areas)

Marriage Certificates:
The marriage age is defined as 18 for males, and 17 for females (15 with the authorization of the
guardian). There is a two stage process:

1) The first stage is Katb Al Ketab (or religious marriage): Handled by an authorized official, such
as a Sharia Judge, Kateb bil Adel, Ma’zoun, Sheikh, or Imam. Marriage needs both parties’
consent to be completed, and therefore presence of both parties is required, along with two
adult Muslim witnesses.
2) Stage two is to register this marriage in order to obtain its legal recognition. The marriage
certificate has to be sent to the civil status department to be registered in a period of ten days
from the marriage date. Couples who wish to register their marriage need to provide the
following documents at the Sharia court:

i.
A certificate from the district Mukhtar (local leader), which includes specific
information about the parties (name, age, address, guardians etc.)
ii.
A certified copy of the civil registry that shows their current civil status, or a form
of ID- civil ID or birth certificate
iii.
A medical certificate from a doctor that ensures that contagious diseases are

14

iv.

highlighted
A document from the military recruitment department, indicating that the person
has already achieved their obligatory military service or that they are legally
exempt.

Birth Certificates:
Issuing birth certificates can be carried out in two different ways depending on the location where
the child was born.

1) Children born in Syria: the father is the main person responsible for registering the birth.
The birth certificate can be acquired from the “District Mukhtar” and then sent along with
the medical report from the obstetrician/midwife to the civil registration secretariat to be
registered and for the family records to be updated. (If the birth took place in an official
facility, like hospitals, prisons, confinements, etc. birth certificates should be sent directly
by the principal of these facilities to the civil registration secretariat without the need to
certify it from the “District Mukhtar”.)
2) Children born outside of Syria: Syrian law stipulates that in order to register a child that
was born outside of Syria the regulations of the host country must be followed.

Syrian nationality law only permits Syrian fathers to transmit citizenship, with very few exceptions
for mothers to do the same.11 The exceptions only apply to children who are born in Syria, and
provide, in principle, that nationality can be acquired by children of unknown parentage found on
Syrian territory, formally referred to as “foundlings”, and by children who are born to a Syrian
mother and unknown father. However, these exceptions are rarely implemented in practice due,
in part, to protection concerns and difficulties unwed mothers may face for reporting a birth out
of wedlock. Even where the father is present, often marriages have not been formalized by law
and only done through Islamic customary traditional marriage contracts which are not legally
binding, meaning paternity can still not be proven as a matter of law.

Many children whose fathers are absent (fighting, missing, conscripted, detained, deceased,
abroad etc.) are left with no record of their births at all. Other children may acquire a birth
certificate that does not list their father’s name because he is either unknown, has no legal proof
that he is married to the mother, or is deceased or missing for other reasons. Not all of these
children will become stateless, but this gender discriminatory nationality law creates challenges in
proving nationality for many children. Finally, a mother who wants to register her child born out
of rape, incest or out of wedlock is required to request a police report to initiate an investigation
into the circumstances of the conception of the child, a requirement which may prevent women
from coming forward to register their children.

The assessment identified two pathways12 to obtaining birth and marriage documentation taken
by people living in non-government controlled areas that were covered in the assessment:

11 Article 3 Legislative Decree 276 - Nationality Law [Syrian Arab Republic], Legislative Decree 276, 24 November 1969
12

A further option- obtaining forged documents- was also identified as a last resort for those unable to
obtain any other form of documentation from either the GoS or non-state actors. Several respondents
indicated that it is an option sometimes taken by IDPs, who are unable to access GoS registration centers

15

1. Registration with the GoS, usually through a “middleman”. Middlemen are used by
those who are unable to travel to GoS civil registration offices themselves. Assessment
teams heard that they charge high fees for their services.
2. Registration through a local, non-governmental registration center or actor (not
attached to the government). These will be referred to as “non-state procedures”
throughout this report.

i.

Registration with the Government of Syria

Only one respondent had registered the birth of their last child with the government of Syria:13

Zeinah’s story
Zeinah is a 27 year-old mother of three who has lived in the same area all her life and does
not intend to move. She is a college-educated teacher whilst her husband is a member of
the local council.
Her youngest child was born after the conflict began. She did not want to register the child
with the local, non-state registration offices, as she does not believe that the documents
that they issue are recognized widely. Her youngest child was therefore registered with the
government through a broker who went to the regime-controlled area. All they required
from her was the birth notification for the child.
She mentioned how the process is costly and can only be done by someone who has the
ability to travel to government-controlled areas.

The option that Zeinah took was not possible for most of the other respondents due to either
security reasons or prohibitive costs. Just as Zeinah did, the primary way of registering with the
Government of Syria is to use a “middleman”. The option of using a middleman was widely
recognized and known about by respondents throughout all the 5 categories. The reason that
other birth registration and marriage registration respondents had not used a middleman was
either because they feared they were wanted by the regime or because the costs were too high
(see the Inhibiting Factors section below for further details).

Two official GoS registration centers continue to operate in Idlib- one in Sarmada and one in
Adana. It was reported that in practice these two centers only service local people who were
already registered there prior to the conflict despite an official instructions from the GoS to the
contrary. Two of the civil registry personnel respondents in the assessment were working in the
center in Sarmada. They provided brief details of the registration procedures. For birth
registration, they said a copy of the marriage certificate is required, as well as a birth notification
and witnesses (in contrast to Zeinah, who only had to provide the birth notification when using a
middleman. We do not know if the birth of Zeinah’s child was registered at one of these 2
centers, or at another center in a GoS controlled area.). For marriage registration, a copy of the

if they are from other regions, and who also may not be able to use the IG-run centers if they have lost all
of their documents during the process of displacement.
13
The name of the individual has been changed

16


marriage contract (from the religious marriage) as well as the attendance of the spouses and the
father of the bride was required. They did not specifically mention the requirement of a military
status certificate, or a medical certificate, both of which are stated requirements under the
official Syrian civil registration procedures. According to both of these respondents, the costs
involved for both birth and marriage registration are low.
ii.

Non-State Institutions and Procedures

Findings from the desk review:

The desk review identified a number of institutions that are involved in birth and marriage
registration.

1. The “Interim Government (IG)”: The most substantial non-state documentation system
currently in place in non-government controlled areas seems to be that administered by the
“Supreme Judicial Council (SJC)”, which is under the “Ministry of Justice (MoJ)” of the
“Interim Government”. This system has been receiving support from the International Legal
Assistance Center (ILAC).

The “SJC” had established four main offices across Syria, situated in:

Aleppo: one in Alkasemiah and one in Alzerbeh

One in Idlib: Atmeh Cluster

One in Dara’a Al Mhatta

The main aim is to establish a civil registry system that can preserve people’s rights from
being lost along with creating a reliable database. Syrian lawyers and judges issue
certificates of birth, death, marriage, family booklets, and register these documents within
the system of “Ministry of Justice”. The whole system is based on the already existent civil
registry system of the Syrian state that includes the form of documents issued, criteria of
beneficiaries, and required papers in order to seek these documents.

Due to the current emergency situation, the difficulties and barriers of the affected
population in Northern Syria are taken into account, and therefore sometimes when the
required documents are not available, they accept the testimony of witnesses. Each office
maintains a copy of the issued documents and sends another copy to be stored in the
central civil registry directorate within the “Ministry of Justice” in Gaziantep, Turkey. Most
of the work is still being done manually rather than digitally, as no sustainable computer
systems are available as of yet. The official requirements for birth registration and marriage
registration under this “IG” system that we learned about during the desk review are
presented in the table below:

Birth Registration
1. Medical report from the hospital\midwife
2. Both parents’ ID cards
3. Marriage certificate
4. Two adult male Muslim witnesses (Each male
witness can be replaced with two Muslim

Marriage Registration
1. Presence of both parties, along with the
wife’s male guardian (Or other legal proctor)
2. Both parents’ ID cards
3. Two adult male Muslim witnesses (Each male
witness can be replaced with two Muslim

17

female witnesses based on the Islamic law)

-In case one of the mentioned documents or
more are not available, witnesses can fill the gap.

female witnesses based on the Islamic law)

-In contrast to the official Syrian civil registration
procedures, there is no requirement for a medical
certificate or military status certificate

2. Local councils: It was reported that in some areas like Hreitan (Aleppo), or Addana and
Sarmada (Idlib) the local councils are taking the responsibility of issuing civil certificates of
birth, death, marriage, and divorce, along with family booklets, a practice not in place prior
to the conflict when local councils were not functioning entities; rather municipal councils
operated at the sub-district level. Not all of the current local councils fall under the same
administrative system. Theoretically, all local councils across Syria should follow the Ministry
of Local Administration, but due to the constant changes in power dynamics in Northern
Syria these councils are now often under the authority of armed groups, and therefore
function differently from one area to another. Registration records are reportedly not
shared beyond the particular local council, and the documents issued are predominantly
used to access the services of NGOs.

3. Shari’a courts: Aside from their judicial terms of reference, Sharia courts have had other
responsibilities such as issuing civil identification documents. This process is more focused
on Islamic law rather than adherence to legal and civil registry codes. All documents issued
are reportedly saved within the courts and not shared with other actors. Whereas Shari’a
courts in areas under government control still follow national law, in areas under the control
of Jabhat Al-Nusra, ISIL, and the FSA there are significant protection problems associated
with irregularly-constituted Shari’a courts operating outside the authority of Syrian national
law. These bodies have declared the responsibility to preside over family, criminal and
personal status law – contributing to serious rights violations.

4. PYD: The civil entity of the armed group of PYD – the Kurdish Democratic Union Party – is
reportedly handling the civil registry system in Kurdish areas like Sheikh Maksoud (Aleppo
City), and Efrin (Western rural side of Aleppo). The PYD has succeeded in maintaining the
existing official civil services functioning in Efrin Area.

Findings from the field assessment:

v Birth registration in Aleppo:

Two actors said they were responsible for registering births. The civil registry in Tal Rifat, which
is under the “Interim Government”, and the Local Council in Dier Jamal. One birth registration
respondent also said they had registered at a civil registry in Azaz city, also under the “Interim
Government”. The procedures they describe were the same:

18

Requirements

Birth notification or “proof of birth”. All of the health service provider
respondents said that birth notifications were produced at the facilities
at which they worked.
One of the parents
30 minutes – 1 hour
Small (exact amounts not provided)

Responsible person
Required time
Costs

Neither of these actors mentioned the need for a marriage certificate or proof of marriage to be
produced. Nor did they specify that the presence of the father was required.

2 birth registration respondents in Aleppo registered their children- one each at the civil
registries in Tal Rifat and Azaz City- and their experience matches that described in the table
above. Both obtained a birth notification at the hospital where their child was born. At the
registration center they were asked for a civil ID and the birth notification. One of these
respondents said the registration center would accept the testimony of witnesses should people
not be able to produce other documents (although they had not had to resort to this option
themselves). Both respondents said there were only small costs involved and that the process
was quick. None of the birth registration respondents in Aleppo said they had registered births
with the local council.

v Birth Registration in Idlib

The assessment interviewed a number of actors who are registering births:

Ø One informal “Civil Status Office” in Idlib city under the “Interim Government (IG)”.
Ø One informal documentation office in the Karameh IDP camp cluster, which appears to
be under the “IG”.
Ø One informal documentation office focused on issuing documents to IDPs in the Atmeh
Cluster, which also appears to be run by the Local Council.

All of these actors describe similar requirements: the main requirement being a birth
notification or “proof of birth”. Only one actor said that a marriage certificate was required. No
information was provided on whether any of these requirements could be waived. The costs
were small in all cases, with 200 Syrian pounds (approximately 1 USD) the highest amount
mentioned.

Only 2 out of 17 birth registration respondents in Idlib had registered the birth of their last child
using these local procedures. They had done so at the registration office in the Karameh cluster.
Both describe a simple process that took around 1 hour and cost 500 Syrian Pounds
(Approximately 2.3USD).


v Marriage registration in Aleppo

Three actors were identified as being responsible for registering marriages: the civil registries
under the “IG”, the Sharia Court and Local Councils:

19

Requirements

Testimony of witnesses.
Marriage contract from religious marriage
Civil IDs of spouses.
None of these actors specified that a military status certificate or a
medical certificate was required.
The spouses
Approximately 30 minutes
Small (exact amounts not provided)
v
v
v
v

Responsible person
Required time
Costs

All of marriage registration respondents in Aleppo had had their “religious marriage” performed
by a Sheikh. Two of these respondents had then had their marriages registered with the Sharia
Court. They were asked to provide the marriage contract, and civil IDs. The wife in one of these
marriages did not have a civil ID, but they were able to use a photo of the family booklet in lieu
of this. They both said that registration was a quick process with only small costs involved.


v Marriage Registration in Idlib

The assessment interviewed a number of actors who are registering marriages:

Ø One informal “Civil Status Office” in Idlib city under the “IG”.
Ø One informal documentation office in the Karameh IDP camp cluster, which appears to
be under the “IG”.
Ø One informal documentation office focused on issuing documents to IDPs in the Atmeh
Cluster, which appears to be run by the Local Council.
Ø The Sharia Court

These actors described similar procedures and requirements to those outlined by stakeholders
in Aleppo. The spouses are expected to produce the marriage contract and civil IDs for both
husband and wife, and witnesses should be in attendance (several specified that the father of
the bride must be in attendance).

Of the 3 respondents who had registered their marriages in Idlib, all had obtained
documentation from the Sharia Court. All reported a fairly simple process, where they were
required to produce the marriage contract, civil IDs and have witnesses. 2 of the respondents
report having to pay 2000 Syrian Pounds (approx. 8.40USD), a figure considerably higher than
that stated by respondents in Aleppo.

2. ATTITUDES AND PRACTICES OF THE AFFECTED POPULATION IN RELATION TO
REGISTRATION

This section of the findings is focused primarily on the data collected from the birth registration
and marriage registration respondents. It looks at the importance respondents attached to
registration and whether or not they had registered recent births and marriages.

v Respondents from the affected population overwhelmingly regard registration as important

20

The data clearly reveals that birth registration and marriage registration respondents feel that it
is important to register births and marriages.

Birth registration: 18 out of 19
Do you think registraaon is important?
respondents said that registering the
births of children is important. One
15
respondent in Idlib said that
registration was not important,
10
Idlib
however, further analysis of the data
revealed that they were actually
5
Aleppo
referring to the non-state processes,
0
which they do not prioritize as they
Important
Not important
feel the documents are not widely
recognized. 12 birth registration
respondents in Idlib specifically highlighted that registration is important to avoid statelessness.

Marriage registration: All 20 respondents said they felt it is important to register marriages. The
majority of respondents highlighted that the main reason to register a marriage is for the
benefit of the children (i.e. under Syrian civil registration procedures a marriage certificate is
usually required to register the birth of the child). It is not unusual to wait to register a marriage
in Syria until after children are born or start school14.

v Despite the importance attached to birth and marriage registration, levels of registration are
very low among respondents

The data in the pie charts below is taken from the responses of the birth registration and
marriage registration respondents.

Have you registered the birth
of your child?

Yes-
with
GoS
5%

Have you registered your
marriage?

Yes
26%

Yes-
locally
21%

No
74%

No
74%

14

Based on statements from respondents in a documentation assessment conducted with Syrian refugees
in Jordan: IHRC & NRC (2015). Registering rights: Syrian refugees and the registration of births, marriages
and deaths in Jordan. Access at: http://www.nrc.no/arch/_img/9208964.pdf

21

Birth registration
Marriage registration

Idlib
Aleppo
Idlib
Aleppo
Total no # of respondents
17
2
17
3
Did not register
14
0
14
2
Registered locally
2
2
3
0
Registered with GoS
1
0
0
0

Birth registration: Only 5 out of 19 respondents had registered the births of their last child. Of
these, only one respondent had registered with the formal GoS system, having used a third
party to do so. The other 4 respondents had registered the birth of their child at local
registration centers under the “IG”. Notably, 3 of the 5 registered children had been born in
hospitals where they had received a birth notification. None of the unregistered children had
been born in a hospital or had a midwife present at the birth15.

Marriage registration: All of the respondents had performed the religious marriage. Only 3 out
of 17 respondents in Idlib has registered their marriages, whereas 2 out of 3 had registered their
marriage in Aleppo. The majority of those who had registered had done so at the Sharia Court.

Despite these low registration levels, it is worth noting that 15 out of 16 civil registration
personnel respondents highlighted that the number of applications they were receiving year
on year was increasing. The most common reasons given for this were that registration had not
been available for some time after the war started, and that many service providers were asking
service users for documents.

These findings on the low level of registration were backed up through other information
gathered in the assessment. All respondents- including services providers, civil registry
personnel and humanitarian workers- were asked if they have heard of others who have not
been able to access documentation services. Most respondents answered that the majority of
people are unable to do so.

How can the high level of importance the affected population attaches to civil registration be
reconciled with these low levels of registration? The next section on “inhibiting factors” tries to
answer this question.

3. INHIBITING FACTORS

This section explores the reasons why families did not register their marriages or the births of
their children. This includes the factors that prevented them from registering as well as the
reasons that people may have voluntarily chosen not to register. Specific registration challenges
facing IDPs are also explored.

15 IRC health program data recording newborns in Idleb from December 2015 to February 2016

supports the finding that birth registration in non-GoS locations is much more likely if children are
born in health facilities

22

v The main reason given for not registering births and marriages was personal security16

Reasons for not registering births and marriages (% of
respondents)
100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0

Birth
Marriage

It is important to note that the majority of respondents were referring to the GoS system when
they gave their reasons for not registering. According to the respondents who had not
registered their marriage or the birth of their last child, personal security was the major reason
for not doing so. 87% of birth registration respondents and 79% of marriage registration
respondents cited security as a barrier to registration. The other barriers highlighted by
respondents were high costs (44% for birth registration and 7% for marriage registration);
discrimination (a total of 3 birth registration respondents); lack of knowledge of the procedures
(1 marriage registration respondent); and that they do not regard registration as important (1
marriage registration respondent).
When broken down by the two geographic areas included in the assessment, though security
concerns are clearly given as a reason for not registering with the GoS, the data remains
inconclusive on the question of why respondents are registering with non-state actors or
whether protection or security risks might be associated with documents issued by non-state
actors.

In Idlib, 50% of birth registration respondents who had not registered the birth of their last child
specifically stated that fear of the “regime”/being wanted by the “regime” was a reason for not
registering with the GoS. A further 42% cited security as a reason, although didn’t specify
whether this was due to a fear of registration with GoS or that it wasn’t safe to make the trip to
the point of registration. 86% of marriage registration respondents said that they were wanted
by the “regime” and cited this as a barrier to not registering with the GoS.

16

Data in the graph is from the respondents in the “Affected population: birth registration” and “Affected population:
marriage registration” stakeholder categories. Respondents who had not registered their marriage or the birth of
their last child were asked to give the reason(s) for not registering. Respondents were permitted to give more than
one reason.

23

In Aleppo, there were only 2 birth registration respondents. There is nothing in the data to
indicate why they chose to register with non-state actors rather than the GoS. Similarly, 2 out of
3 marriage registration respondents in Aleppo had registered with non-state actors, and the
other was unregistered. There is nothing in the data to indicate why they had not registered
with the GoS.

Although respondents did not provide detailed explanations of these barriers some interesting
information did emerge. Two main elements of personal security were identified as a barrier.
Firstly, the majority of birth registration and marriage registration respondents said they were
wanted by the “regime”. This is significant as it means they would not want to register with the
GoS under any circumstances, even if safe access to registration sites and/or registration staff
could be facilitated. Secondly, others said it was unsafe to travel to sites of registration, which
are for the most part in areas controlled by the GoS. Unfortunately the respondents who cited
‘discrimination’ as a barrier did not provide any explanation as to the nature of this
discrimination. Finally, it should be noted that the one respondent who said registration is
unimportant was referring to registering using the non-state procedures (which they felt lacked
recognition).

Data from IRC protection monitoring in January 2016 reinforces these findings. Out of 359
interviewed IDP households, approximately 68% reported inability to access their former
neighborhoods as their places of origin still experience frequent shelling or are under control by
forces from whom they fear retaliation. As a result, the displaced population is not able to easily
replace documents. Most IDPs expressed security concerns as the main barrier to registration,
as well as fear of recrimination by Syrian regime.

The responses provided by the other respondents (civil registry staff, humanitarian workers and
service providers) back up the data provided by the respondents from the birth and marriage
registration respondents with security and high costs being given as the primary barriers to
registration in GoS-controlled areas. The costs related to registration appear to be more related
to engaging a middleman rather than the cost of the administrative procedure itself. Several of
these respondents highlighted the specific challenges faced by IDPs who do not have other
documents with them (see below).

v The majority of birth registration and marriage registration respondents believe that the GoS
is the actor responsible for civil registration

It is notable that when many respondents were talking about reasons for not registering, they
were for the most part referring to the GoS civil registration rather than local non-state
procedures. All of the respondents who said that the GoS was the actor responsible for
registration highlighted security as a barrier. It is important to highlight this as the data above
should not be applied to the non-state procedures which, as highlighted in the Procedures and
Institutions section above, appear to be fairly accessible in safety and with low cost.

Why are most people not registering using the non-state procedures? Is it because they are
unaware of the local non-state procedures/or that they are unavailable in their locality? It is
notable that the majority of civil registry personnel respondents highlighted a lack of awareness
of the non-state procedures in their responses, and the need to increase registration of births
and marriages through awareness raising initiatives. It is also interesting to examine the

24

responses of the birth registration respondents in Idlib- the majority of whom had not registered
the births of their children (see pie chart below).
The fact that only 16% of
Who is responsible for birth registraaon? (Idlib)
individuals felt that local actors
No answer
were responsible for birth
16%
registration, and 31% did not know
who was responsible, suggests that
GoS
most respondents were either
37%
unaware of local non-state
Don't
procedures, or that they simply
know
31%
were not available in their locality.

Local Actors
But lack of awareness and/or
16%
availability is certainly not the sole
reason that people are not registering using the non-state procedures. It is very likely that many
people do not see the importance of registering using the non-state procedures as they are not
recognized beyond areas controlled by non-state entities, and in particular that they are
understood to be not recognized internationally (the issue of recognition is discussed in more
detail in the “Impact of Registration” section below). A small number of birth registration and
marriage registration respondents highlighted that they were aware of the non-state
procedures but did not value them as they were not widely recognized. However, some
respondents did register using non-state procedures, which indicates at least limited awareness
of locally available procedures and that there is some perceived value or utility associated with
documents issued by non-state actors. More information is needed to understand the benefits
and risks associated with these documents.

Finally, it is understandable that people are prioritizing their immediate needs for necessities
such as food and shelter over civil registration, and that registration only becomes an immediate
priority when it is required for accessing such assistance and services.


v IDPs face specific challenges in obtaining documentation

Many respondents across all 5 stakeholder categories highlighted the specific challenges that
IDPs face. Many highlighted that IDPs are less likely to be in possession of documents, as they
may have lost these or left them behind during the process of displacement. Without existing
documents, registering births and marriages, as well as replacing lost documents, becomes
challenging. An additional challenge that IDPs face during registration is that they are often
unable to produce witnesses to verify their identity as they lack a social network in their place of
displacement. Without documents, it was highlighted that some IDPs have faced challenges
accessing services and humanitarian assistance. Some quotes that are representative of many
responses are highlighted below:

Ø “Too many of those who came out of their homes because of the shelling and were
displaced from ISIS areas have no documents at all and here they are struggling to get them”

Ø “Most of them [IDPs] don’t have documents, 80% of the families have not registered their
new children”- aid worker in Aleppo

25

Ø "…the head of the household is a widow displaced from Manbej. ISIS burnt her house and
she lost all her documents as well as those of her children…she cannot access the civil
registration and this problem leads to the denial of relief and medical services, and the
inability to move freely in the liberated areas”

The number of birth registration and marriage registration respondents is too small to make
conclusions about what proportion of IDPs are without documents. Host community
respondents were more likely to have registered births and marriages, however, there were
several IDP respondents in the sample who had registered births and marriages at “IG” civil
registration centers without problem. It was reported that in practice registration at the two
GoS registration centers in Idlib were only available to people previously registered at the center
and so is inaccessible for IDPs. Several humanitarian worker respondents, who were primarily
working with IDPs, highlighted that the majority of IDPs were without documents. It is also
interesting to note that one IDP respondent believed that as their child was born in a tent that
this would affect their ability to obtain a birth certificate (most likely because they had not
received a birth notification). All of the children in the sample who were born in a hospital had
their births registered- birth notifications were issued at the hospital, and were later used to
register the child.

Although some measure have been put into place by GoS to facilitate improved access of
displaced populations to civil documentation, the extent to which IDPs living in non-government
controlled areas may be able to access these alternative procedures in displacement is unclear.
UNHCR 2015 Syria End of year report states: “An administrative decision was taken by [the
Directorate of Civil Affairs of the Ministry of Interior in Syria] to issue temporary ID documents
for those who came out of besieged areas as well as accept petition to receive replacement
documents based on the digitalized central database. IDPs can now file petition in the place of
their residence for requesting replacement ID card instead of the earlier regulation which
required them to file petition only in their governorates of habitual residence. A new civil
registry department was established in central Damascus to serve IDPs from other
governorates.”17

4. IMPACT OF REGISTRATION

Birth registration

Only 3 birth registration respondents answered the questions related to the impact birth
registration has had:

• One respondent said that the impact of registration had been positive. Notably this was
the respondent from Idlib who had used a third party to register their child in a GoS
registration center. This respondent said that their child is able to move freely and
access services.
• One of the respondents in Aleppo who registered at an “IG” center said: “somehow I felt
relatively satisfied, but what is bothering me is that it's not recognized in all places”.

17 UNHCR 2015 Syria End of Year Report: http://www.unhcr.org/56cad5a99.html

26

This respondent said that registration had helped with access to relief entitlements, and
that there had been benefits in terms of being able to move freely.
The other respondent in Aleppo who registered at an “IG” center said that they felt no
impact after registering their child. They said it had made no difference in terms of
freedom of movement- although they did say that the birth certificate is recognized in
the city in which they live and they have used it to access aid and services.

Marriage registration

4 respondents in the marriage registration category answered the questions related to the
impact of their registration:

• 2 respondents in Idlib said there has been a positive impact. One of these had already
used their marriage documentation to obtain other documents.
• 1 respondent in Idlib said there had been no impact, saying that “the document is not
recognized”- although they did not specify when and where it is not recognized.
• Both of the respondents in Aleppo said there had been some positive impacts in terms
of being able to access services and aid. They both said the document is useful locally,
however, they did both say there were geographical limitations (not specified) to its
recognition.

Civil registration personnel respondents were also asked about the benefits of birth and
marriage registration. The positive impacts that they highlighted are displayed below:

How is issuing documents helping people in your area?
100%
90%
80%
70%
60%

Idlib

50%

Aleppo

40%
30%
20%
10%
0%
Free movement

Accessing Services/aid

Resolving civil disputes

All civil registration personnel respondents said that registration has a positive benefit in terms
of being able to access services and aid. 100% of civil registration personnel in Aleppo said there
were benefits in terms of being able to move freely, versus 82% in Idlib. 82% in Idlib said there
was a positive impact in terms of being able to resolve civil disputes.

27

When comparing information provided by respondents in the birth registration, marriage
registration and civil registry personnel categories, a mixed picture emerges in terms of the
impact of registering births and marriages using the non-state procedures. On the one hand,
registration does seem to confer benefits in terms of accessing services and humanitarian
assistance. The documents issued also appear to be recognized within the “IG”-controlled areas.
On the other hand, respondents frequently highlighted that recognition of these documents has
geographical limitations, in particular that they are not recognized in neighboring countries and
further afield. As only a small number of respondents had registered births or marriages, and in
order to understand further what the impact of registration might be, it is also worth looking at
the consequences of being undocumented.

How widely recognized are documents issued using non-state procedures?
Respondents across all stakeholders groups highlighted that there was limited recognition of the
documents issued in non-government controlled areas. But exactly how widely are these documents
recognized? Although many that said documents were only recognized in their city, or their local areas, the
most common assessment was that these documents are generally recognized by service providers and
humanitarian actors within “IG”-controlled areas, and that they improve an individual’s ability to move
freely in these areas, but that they are not recognized either nationally or internationally. However, a small
minority of respondents said that Turkey does recognize the documents that are issued in nongovernment controlled areas. There is a need for more exploration into the acceptance from area to area
and by different armed groups of issued documents. The assessment team also heard anecdotally that
people may be exposed to protection risks through holding documents which are deemed to be secular
and blasphemous by actors such as ISIS and Jabhat Al Nusra.

5. THE CONSEQUENCES OF BEING UNDOCUMENTED

Civil registration personnel respondents were asked about the challenges faced by those who do
not have documents:

What are the consequences of not having documents?
100%
90%
80%
70%
60%
50%

Idlib

40%

Aleppo

30%
20%
10%
0%
Problems traveling

Problems accessing
services/aid

Problems obtaining other
documents

28

Problems traveling (91% of respondents in Idlib and 45% in Aleppo) and problems accessing
services/aid (55% in Idlib and 45% in Aleppo) were highlighted as the major problems faced by
undocumented individuals. 45% of respondents in Idlib also highlighted that undocumented
individuals faced problems obtaining other documents. IRC protection monitoring findings in
January 2016, based on 359 interviews with IDP households, indicated that inability to relocate
to another country is the major impact of lack of documentation, though difficulty passing
checkpoints within Syria is another negative impact reported. Notably this is in reference to all
forms of documentation, inclusive of personal status documents as well as travel documents
such as passports.

Among birth registration respondents, those who had not registered their child highlighted
problems related to travel and obtaining other documents as being the major problems
associated with non-registration. Unfortunately, most individuals did not specify the nature of
the problems related to travel. It should be noted that some of those who had registered their
child and their marriages using non-state procedures also said they faced problems with travel,
although they were predominantly referring to travel outside of “IG”-controlled areas.

To better understand whether having no documents is a barrier to accessing services and aid, it
is important to look at the data from the service provider and humanitarian worker
respondents. Out of the 6 humanitarian workers interviewed, only one said they could not
provide services to undocumented individuals (they did, however, say they would do so in an
emergency situation). Generally, the humanitarian worker respondents said ideally they would
like to see documentation, and regard documents issued locally- by local councils and
registration centers- as valid. Some said that they required undocumented individuals to provide
witnesses to verify their identity.

A similar picture emerged among the service provider respondents. Those providing health
services were consistent in saying they had no documentation requirements. For others, who
included education actors, camp managers, local council representative and civil court
personnel, the common response was that they would prefer to see some form of
documentation, and a time-consuming process of verification may be needed for
undocumented individuals, although ultimately people would not be denied services if they had
no documents. Some representative quotes are provided below:

Ø “We register them [students] once they come, and it is more preferable if they have
their family booklet or one of the parents’ IDs, but it doesn't matter if there is not any”-
Director of school in Azaz

Ø “We never distinguish between who has documents and the ones who don’t because of
the difficult conditions we are living in”- Camp coordinator in Azaz

Ø “We are a hospital, we provide our services to all people even if there are no
documents” – Hospital director in Azaz

Ø “We provide food and education even for unregistered people”- NGO worker in
Sarmada

29

Although almost all of the humanitarian worker and service provider respondents said they
would not deny their services to undocumented individuals many highlighted that they did know
of individuals who were struggling to access services and aid provided by others because they
had no documents.

6. MISCELLANEOUS FINDINGS

This section details a number of important findings that do not fall into any of the categories
above.

v There has been a lack of training opportunities and guidelines on civil registration for key
stakeholders

Stakeholder
% who said they had received training and/or
guidelines on any civil registration procedures
Idlib
Aleppo
Service providers
0
0
Humanitarian workers
0
0
Civil registration personnel
45
0

The only respondents who said they had received training and/or guidelines were civil
registration personnel in Idlib, and 2 of these respondents were working in a GoS civil
registration center. It should be noted that a number of civil registration personnel respondents
and service provider respondents highlighted that although they had received no formal training
they were lawyers, legal personnel and/or had law degrees, and through this they had
knowledge of civil registration procedures.

4 out of the 6 humanitarian worker respondents said they had no knowledge of the procedures
that their target population uses to access documentation. All of the humanitarian workers
interviewed said that their office does not have the necessary knowledge or capacity to deal
with the issues raised by their beneficiaries in relation to civil registration procedures.


v Civil registry personnel, service provider and humanitarian worker respondents generally
believe that coordination between stakeholders on civil registration is weak in Idlib, but very
good in Aleppo

30

Is there any / sufficient communicaaon between different
stakeholders on the registraaon procedures?
40
35
30
25

Idlib

20

Aleppo

15
10
5
0
Yes

No

Don't know

No answer

The findings for the two Governorates differ significantly. Almost every respondent (services
providers, civil registry personnel and humanitarian workers) in Idlib said that communication
was insufficient, whereas over half of the respondents in Aleppo said communication was good.
Some good practice in Aleppo was clearly highlighted. For example, a gynecology and obstetrics
staff member at the Azaz city hospital said they were in regular contact with the civil registration
center. A representative of the education office of the local council in Azaz also said they have
regular meetings with staff from the civil registration centers.

v There is a lack of legal advice available for families going through civil registration procedures

Only one respondent from the service
Have you heard of any other organizaaon
provider, civil registration personnel
offering help or legal advice for families
and humanitarian worker categories
going through civil registraaon procedures?
said that they had heard of an
organization providing legal advice. This 40
respondent highlighted the work of the 30
Idlib
Free Lawyers League, who they said 20
were an independent organization who 10
Aleppo
0
provide support to the legal offices of
Yes
No
No answer
the local councils.


7. RESPONDENT SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVING CIVIL REGISTRATION

The vast majority of respondents across all categories talked about establishing centers in nongovernment controlled areas, rather than measures to facilitate access to GoS procedures. The
most common suggestion across all categories of respondent was to create new registration
centers and strengthen existing registration centers in non-government controlled areas. In
doing so, a number of issues were highlighted as important:

31

Ø The documents issued by these centers should be recognized nationally and
internationally.
Ø Registration should be free or low cost.
Ø Offices should be in safe locations.
Ø There should be one central office with branch offices throughout the non-government
controlled areas. One respondent highlighted the need to link the offices through an
electronic database.
Ø There should be unified procedures and standards across registration centers.
Ø Centers need to be staffed with specialized and experienced employees, and provided
with the necessary equipment.

There were some other interesting suggestions provided. Many respondents, particularly civil
registration personnel, highlighted the need to focus on awareness raising- making the local
population more aware of the local procedures and the importance of registration. One
respondent suggested that registration should be brought down to the local level, by training
people at the village level to do documentation work. Another highlighted the need to preserve
old documents in registries that were formally run by the GoS.








32

CONCLUSION


“The documents issued by the government are difficult to obtain in two ways. The first is
the fear of getting arrested when going there, and the second is that the fees are high if
they resort to middlemen. On the other hand, the documents issued in the liberated
areas are easy to access and the fees are small, but their recognition is local and not
international.” – Local Council representative in Azaz

Although the sample sizes were limited, the data gathered has been able to offer significant
insight into the procedures, challenges and gaps in civil registration procedures in Idlib and
Aleppo governorates.

Registration with the GoS remains largely off limits to the population, for reasons of personal
security and the prohibitive costs of engaging a middleman to facilitate the process. A
patchwork of local, non-state procedures has emerged and, although levels of birth and
marriage registration appear to be very low, an increasing number of people are choosing to use
them.

Levels of registration among respondents were very low despite their almost universal
recognition that it is important to register births and marriages. So why were people not using
the non-state procedures? The data suggests several reasons. Firstly, some respondents were
aware of the non-state procedures but did not use them as they did not feel the documents
issued would be widely recognized. The issue of recognition, and scope of the areas in which the
documents are acknowledged deserves further inquiry. Almost all of those who had obtained
birth and marriage certificates felt that there had been some benefit within a limited
geographical scope in terms of freedom of movement and access to services. Others had not
used these non-state procedures either because they were unaware of them (the data suggest a
low level of awareness) or because they are unavailable where they live. Finally, it is
understandable that people are prioritizing their immediate needs for necessities such as food
and shelter over civil registration, and that registration only becomes an immediate priority
when it is required for accessing such assistance and services.

How can humanitarian actors support civil registration in non-government controlled areas of
northern Syria? The GoS civil registration system is off limits to the majority of assessment
respondents for security reasons, most particularly because they are fearful that registering with
the GoS will create risks to their personal security. The majority of birth registration and
marriage respondents believed that they were wanted by the Syrian Government and would
therefore want to keep their whereabouts unknown. Non-state procedures on the other hand,
while appearing to be safer, more accessible and conferring benefit locally in terms of enabling
access to services and entitlements, are ultimately limited by their lack of recognition and
legitimacy outside of non-government controlled areas – and also present other potential
medium/longer-term risks of association depending on the evolution of the conflict. This
presents programmers with two imperfect options.

33

Programmatically, it therefore makes sense firstly to ensure that the populations have increased
access to information on both the GoS and non-state procedures, enabling them to make an
informed decisions on how and where to register. Secondly, for those individuals who require
support to access registration, programming could facilitate their access to GoS procedures
(where safe to do so), and otherwise to the non-state procedures (recognizing the limitations of
the documents that are issued, as well as the protection risks it may entail for some) based on
their wishes. Running in tandem with programmatic efforts, advocacy should be focused on
increasing access to services and entitlements (such as education, freedom of movement,
humanitarian aid) where documentary requirements currently constitute a barrier. This would
not entail formal recognition of documents issued by non-state actors, but rather a simplifying
or waiving of prohibitive documentary requirements, recognizing that many individuals will have
either lost documents or have been unable to utilize the formal GoS civil registration system
since the conflict began.

RECOMMENDATIONS



1. PROGRAMMATIC RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CONSIDERATION BY HUMANITARIAN ACTORS
WITH EXPERTISE IN LEGAL DOCUMENTATION PROGRAMMING

Ø Continue gathering information on the civil registration processes, the challenges accessing
these, and the protection risks associated with not having documentation.

The assessment shed important light on civil registration in non-government controlled areas of
Aleppo and Idlib. The findings also raised a number of questions, for which further inquiry is
required:

v Legitimacy: To what extent are documents currently being issued in northern Syria
recognized in Turkey and further afield? How widely are they currently recognized in
non-government controlled areas? Are there protection risks associated with having
documents issued by a non-state actor?
v Gender discrimination: Is there gender discrimination within the civil registration
system in northern Syria? Syrian nationality law is discriminatory in that citizenship
is transmitted through the father alone (with few exceptions for children born to
Syrian mothers in Syria), however, the assessment did not reveal how things are
currently playing out in northern Syria. For example, do mothers face additional
challenges in registering births when fathers are not present/when children are
born outside of wedlock/when there is no marriage certificate?
v IDPs: What special procedures, if any, are in place for IDPs who do not possess the
documents required to register births and marriages?

Further information gathering in 2016 could be undertaken through a variety of means including
protection monitoring, qualitative assessment and community-led information gathering on,
and mapping of, Civil registration procedures and challenges.

34

Ø Increase awareness on the procedures and the importance of civil registration

The assessment revealed gaps in the knowledge of the affected population, services providers
and humanitarian workers on civil registration procedures. Awareness-raising on civil
registration procedures should be a cornerstone of any documentation program.

v IRC are proposing to introduce a community paralegal model, which is already
successfully implemented in other countries in the region. In this model, male and
female community paralegals would conduct information sessions and provide oneon-one advice. Topics anticipated to be handled by paralegals might include
personal status documents such as marriage, divorce, and birth/death certificates.
The paralegals would then cascade this knowledge through training and engaging
with community focal points (CFPs). CFPs would be recruited from among
community leaders, both male and female. They would be well positioned to
respond as a community resource and to facilitate accessible information provision
on a consistent basis. This programme will, through linkages and engagement with
the Damascus Hub, leverage and learn best practices and lessons from UNHCR
Syria’s long-established Outreach Volunteer system/network which functions in
government-controlled areas.
v As well as providing information on how to access different procedures, including
the risks and benefits, to the general population, awareness raising efforts should
specifically target a number of key actors, particularly service providers and
humanitarian workers. These actors should be in a position to provide individuals
with basic information on documentation and have a clear understanding that IDPs
might lack the necessary documentation required to access services and be
prepared to make exceptions.

Ø Facilitate access to documentation services

v As well as providing general-awareness-raising at the community level, individual
counselling on how to access forms of documentation which are available in the
local area, including information about the benefits, limitations and risks of those
documents could be provided. A focus could be placed on facilitating access to
either GoS procedures (where safe to do so) or the non-state procedures
(recognizing the limitations of the documents that are issued) based on the wishes
of the individual.
v Through collaborating with health sector actors, support could be provided to
health centers in the issuance birth notifications. Other options for the issuing of
birth notifications for those not born in health facilities could also be explored.
Options to consider could be the issuance of birth notifications by recognized
community health workers. Although a birth notification does not constitute
registration in itself, it is a vital document that can be used to obtain a birth
certificate at a later date once there is access to civil registration facilities.


2. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE PROTECTION CLUSTER AND THE WHOLE OF SYRIA PROTECTION
SECTOR

35

Ø Establish a civil documentation task force or relevant coordination body under the Protection
Cluster
Given the prioritization currently being given to civil documentation by the Whole of Syria (WoS)
Protection Sector, and the fact that it has been identified as such a pressing need, a task force or
relevant coordination body could drive action forward. The possible focus could be:


v Further developing a strategy for increasing access to civil registration in northern
Syria.
v Information sharing on trends and interventions.
v Identification of advocacy priorities around civil documentation. A number of key
priorities have already been identified by the Whole of Syria Protection Sector in a
note prepared for the “Supporting Syria and the Region” conference held in London
in February 2016 (see Annex II). Recognizing that a lack of formal documentation
can severely hinder an individual’s enjoyment of their rights, a key priority should be
to advocate for increased access to services and entitlements (such as education,
freedom of movement, humanitarian aid) where documentary requirements
currently constitute a barrier.

Ø The Protection Cluster and WoS Protection Sector should sensitize humanitarian actors on
why increasing access to civil documentation is a protection priority, what documents people
may be in possession of, and what they as humanitarian actors might be able to do to support
those without documents. In particular, the protection and health sectors should discuss the
issuance of birth notifications at health facilities and by community health workers.
Ø Support further information gathering in northern Syria (as outlined above), and consider
similar assessments in other parts of Syria.
Ø Coordinate with actors working on documentation for Syrian refugees in, Jordan, Syria,
Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey, to ensure that assessments, as well as programmatic and advocacy
efforts are aligned and information is shared appropriately. The extent to which documents
issued inside northern Syria are recognized in neighboring countries should be further explored.
Where appropriate protection actors should advocate for humanitarian actors and governments
not to restrict access to services or discriminate based on documentation issued by Non
Government of Syria actors.
Ø
Ø The Whole of Syria Protection Sector should continue to promote exchange of information
amongst relevant colleagues in all hubs, and promote civil registration as a priority issue
within the overall humanitarian response, in line with the recent Humanitarian Response Plan
and subsequent prioritization of project submissions for humanitarian funding in the protection
sector, as well as potential WoS protection advocacy initiatives.


3. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HUMANITARIAN ORGANIZATIONS AND SERVICE PROVIDERS
OPERATING IN NORTHERN SYRIA

Ø Services and assistance should be provided to individuals on the basis of need alone. Flexibility
should be exercised in the delivery of services and individuals and families without documents
should not be denied services. This is particularly relevant for IDPs who may have lost
documents and are not from the local area.

36

Ø Service providers and humanitarian workers should have a basic understanding of civil
registration processes. These actors should be in a position to provide individuals with basic
information on the benefits and risks of registering and how to register. They should also have a
clear understanding that IDPs and female-headed households might lack the necessary
documentation often required for accessing services.
Ø Maternal health services should be expanded, including increasing the number of skilled birth
attendants (such as licensed doctors and midwives) who are authorized to issue birth
notifications.


4. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR DONORS

Ø Donors must allocate increased funding for programming that addresses gaps in birth and civil
registration as part of the humanitarian response inside Syria and surrounding countries.
While civil registration may not be an immediate, life-saving priority it is a vital means of
protection before, during and after emergencies. As well as preventing and mitigating
protection risks in the immediate term, it helps to reduce the risk of future statelessness.

37

ANNEX I: Civil registration in Syria before the conflict



To understand the development of the civil registration structures outside of State controlled
areas it is important to understand the structure pre-conflict, which still exists now in State
controlled areas. It is these structures that provided the basis for civil documentation that most
families already possess, it is these structures that some individuals in non-regime controlled
areas are still attempting to access, and it is also these structures that often form the basis of
new procedures that have emerged in areas no longer controlled by the GoS. It is important to
note that no official assessments/surveys have been carried out to estimate the proportion of
people without personal civil documents before the conflict. It is difficult to access information
or statistics prior to the 2011 conflict in Syria. Information on the procedures can be obtained
but there are no available reports that detail gaps in the system under the Syrian regime.

The Civil Registration System in Syria

In 1957 the foundation of the existing civil code system was issued (Civil Status Code No. 376 of
1957). Although it has been amended numerous times in the past years, it has firmly
established some bases and procedures that serve as a foundation for the legal and
administrative framework of the present civil registration system of the Syrian State. 18
Currently, the Civil Registration Authority (Under the Ministry of Interior) is responsible for
registering births, deaths, marriages, divorces, issuing ID cards and maintaining a database of
records on personal status. As of 2008, there were 14 offices in governorate capitals and over
200 branch offices in the districts19.

Every individual has the right to request the semi-original copies of his or her civil registry along
with all the other related documents. This right is also entitled to the ascendants and
descendants, legal procurator, the spouse, or other official departments.20 Between 2001 and
2007, existing paper records were entered into an electronic database from which documents
could be printed. The stated principles of the Syrian civil registration system include that it is:

Mandatory: It is considered the family’s responsibility to declare and report events that occur in
the family (births, deaths etc.) within thirty days if the event happened inside the country, and
sixty days if abroad. If the person fails to report the incident within that period he/she will be
fined.
Confidential: Only authorized officials have the right to access the registry information within
the limits of their mandate. In case of lawsuits, the information can only be accessed by a court
order.
Reliable: The records hold a legal force of proof and are considered legitimate everywhere, even
currently in many non-governmental controlled areas.

18

Technical Report on the Status of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in ESCWA Region, United Nations,
ESA/STAT/2009/9
19
As above
20
Legislative Decree No. 26 of the private Syrian civil registration in 2007

38

Syrian civil documents21

The following general procedures are utilized in the majority of Muslim cases, where at times
specific or additional procedures are applicable for non-Sunni Muslims, Christians, and Jews22 or
in the case of marriages where one of the parties was a non-Syrian citizen or if the marriage had
taken place abroad. It is also important to note that these are the officially recognized
procedures - it is not clear that these procedures were always followed or what flaws and gaps
may have been prevalent.

Marriage Certificates:
The marriage age is defined as 18 for males, and 17 for females (15 with the authorization of the
guardian). There is a two stage process:

The first stage is Katb Al Ketab (or religious marriage): Handled by an authorized official, such as
Sharia Judge, Kateb bil Adel, Ma’zoun,Sheikh, or Imam. Marriage needs both parties’ consent to
be completed, and therefore requires the presence of both parties, along with two adult Muslim
witnesses
Stage two is to register this marriage in order to obtain its legal recognition. The marriage
certificate has to be sent to the civil status department to be registered in a period of ten days
from the marriage date. Couples who wish to get married need to provide the following
documents at the Sharia court:

A certificate from the district Mukhtar (local leader), which includes specific information about
the party (name, age, address, guardians etc.)
A certified copy of the civil registry that shows their current civil status, or a form of ID: civil ID or
birth certificate
A medical certificate from a doctor that ensures that contagious diseases are highlighted
A document from the military recruitment department, indicating that the person has already
achieved their obligatory military service or that they are legally exempt or that it has been
postponed.
If the party is a foreigner, then the consent of the Department of Security of the MoI is required.

With certain restrictions, polygamy is allowed in Syria and would follow the same procedure for
registration. According to personal status law, the Qadi can withhold permission for a man to
marry a second wife if it is held that he is not in a position to support them both. Furthermore,
the approval of the first wife is now required.

Birth Certificates:
It is important to note that Syrian nationality law follows predominantly paternal jus sanguinis
nationality legislation – meaning that nationality is only transmitted through blood and is not
related to where a person was born. Ensuring that a child can prove who their parents are
therefore is vital in accessing Syrian nationality.
Issuing birth certificates can be carried out in two different ways depending on the location where

21

Legislative Decree No. 26 of the private Syrian civil registration in 2007

22 For example, after getting married in church, Christian receive a confirmation document from the

Archbishopric which they then need to lodge with a civil status department to register as a new family.

39

the child was born.

In the case where the child is born in Syria: the father is the main person responsible for
registering the birth. The birth certificate can be acquired from the “District Mukhtar” and then
sent along with the medical report from the obstetrician/midwife to the civil registration
secretariat to be registered and for the family records to be updated. (If the birth took a place in
an official facility, like hospitals, prisons, confinements, etc. birth certificates will be sent directly
by the principal of these facilities to the civil registration secretariat without the need to certify it
from the “District Mukhtar”.). In the absence of a father, a mother is able to register the birth of
the child and the father’s name can be included on the certificate if she has the relevant marriage
documentation.
In cases where the child is born out of Syria; Syrian law stipulates that in order to register a child
that was born outside of Syria the regulations of the host country must be followed. Birth
certificates can then be brought to the Syrian embassy for registration.

Divorce Certificates
The body responsible for looking into the divorce claims is the Sharia court. The husband needs
to provide the divorce summoning along with two updated copies of the civil registry record for
him and his wife and a copy of the marriage certificate. Women can also go to court to seek a
divorce under specific circumstances, including neglect or periods of long absence by the
husband. The competent authority who ruled the divorce presents the divorce certificate to the
civil registration secretariat. Afterwards the secretariat will record the divorce incident on both
civil registries of the couple and issue the divorce certificates.
When married abroad Syrian law states that individuals should follow the registration system of
the country they are in and ensure that the local embassy or consulate is informed of a divorce.

Death Certificates:
The duty of reporting the death falls on the relatives who attended the incident, or acknowledged
it. This could be the doctor who confirmed it. The regulations also state that anyone who knew
about a death can report it.
In the case of death by a natural causes the death certificate can be obtained through the
Mukhtar. It shall include the names of the inheritors along with the cause of death certified by a
doctor. In areas where doctors are not available it is sufficient for the Mukhtar to testify that the
cause of death was by natural causes. In the case of absent or missing persons, courts can make a
decision that person is dead based on an examination of the circumstances. To issue the death
certificate evidence for quittance is needed which is issued from the directorate of supply at
which point the inheritors are required to hand over the deceased’s identity and electoral cards.
Afterwards, the document is sent to the civil registry secretariat where the records will be
updated.






Groups facing barriers to access civil registry:

40

Although there is limited information on flaws in this system, there is some available research
on some groups that have historically had problems of access to documentation due to various
layers of administrative discrimination.

Women:
Claiming Syrian citizenship is based most predominantly on the ability to prove that the father of
an individual is Syrian. Syrian nationality law only permits Syrian fathers to transmit citizenship,
with very few exceptions for mothers to do the same.23 . The exceptions are that nationality can
be acquired when there is an absence of a paternal link such as foundlings who are found on
Syrian territory and children who are born to an unknown Syrian father or to a foreigner who
either has no nationality or has one but does not recognize the child.. However, these
exceptions are rarely implemented in practice. Even where the father is present, often
marriages have not been formalized by law and only done through Islamic customary traditional
marriage contracts with no legal binding, meaning paternity can still not be proven. The
situation of the stateless Kurds in Syria also highlights the problematic nature of the gender
discrimination. Many children of stateless Kurdish fathers and national mothers cannot regulate
their status through their mothers.

Due to the nature of the conflict, tens of thousands of Syrian fathers are fighting, missing,
imprisoned, abroad or dead. Whilst absent, there are many children born in exile as well as
being born in Syria without proof of paternity. This is not a small scale problem24. These
precarious situations have meant that when children are born, some will have no record of their
births at all, and others may acquire a birth certificate that does not list their father’s name
because he is unknown, has no proof that he is married to the mother, is dead, or missing. That
is not to say that all of the children born in these households are stateless, but rather to show
the significant problem that gender discriminatory nationality law creates in such a context
where fathers are not present in terms of both accessing documentation and accessing
nationality.

According to the Personal Status Law, the marriage of a Muslim woman with a non-Muslim man
is not considered as valid, and, as a result, children born out of this marriage are not always
recognized nor registered. Additionally, children born out of wedlock cannot be affiliated to
their father, a situation which means they cannot obtain citizenship and also at times leads to
their abandonment and subsequent institutionalization (although safeguards are made for them
in the nationality law against statelessness it is rarely implemented). Finally, a mother who
wants to register her child born out of rape, incest or out of wedlock is required to request a
police report to initiate an investigation into the circumstances of the conception of the child
which may prevent women from coming forward to register their children.

23

Article 3 Legislative Decree 276 - Nationality Law [Syrian Arab Republic], Legislative Decree 276, 24
November 1969
24
Estimates now show that over 145,000 Syrian refugee households in neighbouring countries, more than
a quarter of the half a million households overall, are headed by women without the father present.
There are no estimates for the IDPS inside Syria. UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Woman
Alone: The fight for survival by Syria's refugee women, 2 July 2014, available at:
http://www.refworld.org/docid/53be84aa4.html

41

Kurds:
The majority of substantially Kurdish areas are based in non-governmental controlled areas and
therefore it is essential to understand historical problems many in this community have faced
with access to civil registration. The Kurdish community in Syria have experienced varying forms
of discrimination by the Syrian government especially during the years of pan-Arab ideology that
spread throughout the country. 25 Anecdotal reports suggest that access to documents has
sometimes been impeded by discriminating officials who have put in layers of obstacles for
Kurds trying to obtain civil documentation. Additionally, in 1962, the Syrian government
ordered that a census be carried out solely in the al-Hasakah province, and as a consequence of
this census, some 120,000 Kurds were denationalized and lost their Syrian citizenship -
approximately 20 percent of the whole Kurdish community. As the vast majority of these
individuals held no other nationality, they were rendered stateless by this one-day census. The
size of the stateless Kurdish population has since grown significantly as the statuses of ajnabi
and maktoum – the two terms allocated to this group - are hereditary.26

In 2011 however the government adopted a decree that could significantly change this
situation. A first order entitled the ajanib (those stateless Kurds registered as “foreigners”) to
the provision of social services, while a second one stated that they should be treated like Syrian
citizens in terms of employment.27 Then in March 2011, there was the adoption of Decree 49.
This Presidential Decree was passed stating that the authorities will grant "Syrian Arab
nationality" to people registered as "foreigners" – ajanib- in the province of al-Hasakah28 There
has been little research to date to understand further to what extent this decree has been
implemented or any statistics on how many people have benefited, and those who were given
the term maktoum would not be able to benefit.29

Political dissidents:
There have been anecdotal reports that individuals and their families who were seen to be nonsympathetic to the Al-Baath government have been at risk of the government refusing to renew
documentation or even denationalize them. This is particularly true for many of those who had
to leave the country because of their political opinions and/or actions - particularly after March
8, 1963 when the state of emergency was declared – due to the arbitrary decisions that were
made against them and their families.

This voluntary or enforced displacement prevented them from obtaining any documentation
that proves their nationality and deprived them their basic rights such as registering their
marriage or children. There are estimates that such cases constitute approximately 27,000 and
potentially more if grandchildren are counted.30 It is not clear whether the state carried this out

25

OHCHR, Persecution and Discrimination against Kurdish Citizens in Syria, access at
http://lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/session12/SY/KIS-KurdsinSyria-eng.pdf
26
For more information on this census and the consequences see Tilburg University - Statelessness
Programme , The Stateless Syrians, May 2013, access at http://www.refworld.org/docid/52a983124.html
27
Tilburg University - Statelessness Programme , The Stateless Syrians, May 2013, access at
http://www.refworld.org/docid/52a983124.html
28
Presidential Decree No 49 of 7 April 2011
29
Tilburg University - Statelessness Programme , The Stateless Syrians, May 2013, access at
http://www.refworld.org/docid/52a983124.html
30
ARAB COMMISSION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS- Stateless in Syria, 2004, access at
http://hem.bredband.net/dccls2/r1.htm

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under the rule of law (by for example enforcing Article 21.G of the nationality law)31 or whether
these were arbitrary administrative decisions.

Syria’s international obligations

Syria had never acceded to the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons or the 1961
Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. It has put a reservation to Article 9 of the
Convention on the Eradication of Discrimination Against Women, the article which specifically
stipulates for equal nationality rights (for citizenship to be transmitted equally through mother
and fathers). It is however party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child which states very
particularly that States have responsibility in ensuring that no child is born without being
registered or obtaining a nationality. It is also party to the Arab Charter on Human Rights which
requires for equal and non-discriminatory access to nationality for all in Article 29.






























31

Article 21.G on residence abroad in a non-Arab country for more than three years without notifying the
authority as found in Legislative Decree 276 - Nationality Law [Syrian Arab Republic], Legislative Decree
276, 24 November 1969

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ANNEX II: RECOMMENDATIONS ON ACCESS TO CIVIL REGISTRATION
(Developed by the WoS Protection Sector ahead of the “Supporting Syria and the Region”
conference in London, February 2016)


• Advocate for an agreement from all parties to ensure non-penalization and nondiscrimination of individuals on the basis of the documents they are able to obtain.

• Promote the harmonization of forms and procedures in areas not controlled by the
government, by encouraging the issuance of civil status documentation in all instances in
accordance with established Syrian law.

• Increase support for civil registration staffing and infrastructure to enhance capacity of civil
registration authorities.

• Finalize legislative reform to remove gender-discrimination from Syria’s nationality and
personal status laws, as recommended by the CRC and CEDAW Committees.

• Expand maternal health services, including skilled birth attendants (such as licensed doctors
and midwives) who are authorized to issue medical birth notifications.

• Support legal initiatives, including legal aid for registering vital events (such as births,
marriages, divorces and deaths) as well as advocacy for allowing more legal aid
organisations to operate in Syria.

• Establish mobile documentation clinics and strengthen services to expand the reach and
capacity of civil registration services.

• Digitalize and centralize records to ease document issuance in remote locations, and
preserve data even if physical registries or individual documentation are destroyed.




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