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CIVIL STATUS DOCUMEN TATION IN NON - GOVERNMENT AREAS OF NORTHERN SYRIA 1
CIVIL STATUS DOCUMEN TATION IN NON - GOVERNMENT AREAS OF NORTHERN SYRIA 1

CIVIL STATUS DOCUMEN TATION IN NON - GOVERNMENT AREAS OF NORTHERN SYRIA

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:

human ity, 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

E XECUTIVE 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, arbitra ry 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, t he findings of the Protection Needs Overview are striking: 91% of sub - districts ranked “lack or lo ss 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; an d 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 , c omprising 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 humanitaria n workers.

FINDINGS 2

Ø Birth and marriage registration with the formal Government of Syria (GoS) system remains largely unavailable to individual s 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 und er 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 - is - going - to - get - worse - melissa - fleming - united - nations 2 As explained in the “ Metho do logy ” section below, t he 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.

Idlib - one in Sarmada and one in Adana - however, t hese 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 C ourt s 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 regard ed registration as important, however, only 26 % had registered their marriages and 26% had registered the births o f 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 personn el 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 t he sole reason that people are not registering using the non - state procedures. M any 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 respon dents 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 experience d by those who had register ed 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 ha nd, 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 w ithout documents, some IDPs have faced challenges acc essing services and humanitarian assistance. While an administrative instruction from the Government of Syria allowing access to registration/civil

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 c ivil r egistration at the two GoS registration centers in Idlib only in practice r emains open to people who have previously registered there, and does not provide a solution for IDPs.

CONCLUSION AND RECOM MENDATIONS

How can humanitarian actors support access to civil registration in non - government controlled areas of northern Syria? T he 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 there fore seem limited. It is also notable that respondents voiced a strong preference for solutions that focused on strengthening local, non - state procedures, and ensuring that documents issued under the se procedure s are more widely recognized . P rogrammatically 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 peo ple 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 outline d 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 regi str ation 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 introdu ce a community paralegal sch eme, 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 bene fit individuals to access to documentation C onsideration 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 bar rier. 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 document s or have been unable to ut ilize the formal GoS civil registration system since the conflict began .

Ø Humanitarian organizations and service providers operating in northern Syria should provide assistance and service s on the basis of need alone , s hould 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 shou ld 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 m edical 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 regardin g 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 stateless ness.

BACKGROUND

Lack of civil documentation : a global protection problem

Civil documentation, and the ability to prove one’s identity, is paramount to protection. D uring 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 registr ation.

In situations of conflict and displacement around the globe, undocumented individuals are exposed to a multitude of protection risks,

i ncluding family separation, trafficking, exploitation, discrimination, arbitrary arrest and detention, and limitations on freedom of movement. A ccess to basic services such as health care and education, the formal labour market, as well as humanitarian aid can, in many instances, be dependent on

Having a legal identity is a fundamental human right

Universal Declaration on Human Rights, Articles 6,

15

International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 16, 24

Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women , Article 9

Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement , Principle 20

6

being able to prove one’s identity 3 . Birth r egistration is often the first legal acknowledgement of a child’s existence and who the parents are , and unregistered children in situations of conflict a nd di splacement run the risk of becoming stateless in the future.

Undocumented Syrians: “A ticking time - bomb”

With a n 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. T he 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 known 4 , 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:

“L ack of personal identity documentation is the main safety and dignity concern affecting indiv iduals 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 documentatio n have been disrupted, resulting in difficulties accessing assistance and services, and proving custody, inheritance and ownership. In particular, documentation for newborns, particularly in non-Government- controlled areas is a major issue, resulting in ri sk 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 W hole of S yria Needs A ssessment 7 , in August 2015. Participants in the assessment were asked to rank the protection threat s 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 the ir top three protection th reats. One third of sub - districts ranked it as their number one protection threat (see pie chart below) .

B oth Aleppo and Idlib, where the assessment which is the focus of this report was conducted, ranked “lack or loss of personal civil documents” as the i r 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 ://w ww .humanitarianresponse.info/sites/www.humanitarianresponse.info/files/assessments/141028_Syria_MS NA_Report_FINAL.p df

6 2015 Protection Needs Overview, Whole of Syria Protection Sector. Access at:

https://www.humanitarianrespo nse.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

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

of sub - districts identified it as their number one threat. Findings from IRC’s own protection

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 children 8 .

A lack of civil documentation is not just a current threat - the future consequences for

undocume nted individuals may also be grave. Unable to prove their link to Syria, tens of

thousands of children m ay be denied a nationality in the future - a situation described by UNHCR

as a “ticking time - bomb” 9 . Foreign ers, who have ( or may in future have ) childr en 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, t here has been little understanding or discussion of the ad hoc civil registration procedures in non-government controlled areas inside Syria. Registration processes a nd gaps in accessing documentation for both the host community and IDPs in areas under shifting control

of entities with limited governance structure s are unclear. There have also been reports that

some of the civil registries in Syria have been deliberat ely 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 con trolled areas of northern Syria; the obsta cles 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 S ituation 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 - is - going - 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, n o 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, availab le at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d81e7b12.html.

accessing registration; and the protection risks that are created and/ or exacerbate d 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 . Aroun d 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 potenti al 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 fr om 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 g overnorates. Both a desk review and field key informant interviews were conducted, with a total number of 10 0 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 current capacity of these actors? What are the procedures for registration of births and marriages?

institutions

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

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 registering births and marriages?

consequences

Detailed questionnaires were developed for 5 different cate gories 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 registratio n in conflict and displacement situations generally , and repo r ts 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 P rotection Needs Assessors, who also contribute d to data collection.

The 5 categories of stakeholder are detailed in the table below:

Affected

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 procedu res, 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.

population: birth

certificates

Affected

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.

population :

marriage

certificates

Civil registration

11 respo ndents 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 c ategory will be

personnel

 

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 t he provision of services. This category will be referred as “service provider respondents” throughout the report.

Humanitarian

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

workers

Assessment Locations

Locations were chosen based on a number of factors. Firstly, they had to be relatively accessi ble, 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

Controlling

Comments

Governorate

District

Sub - district

Group

Idlib

Idlib City

Hazzano

J.Al Nusra

Idlib recently fell under the control of the NSA, and Local Councils are currently being established.

Harem

Sarmada

J.Al Nusra;

Sarmada has a very powerful sharia court that covers almost the whole region.

Limited

presence of

 

Ahrar

Al

Sham

Atmeh

Qah cluster

J.Al Nusra

The cluster contains over 60,000 IDPs in its population.

camp

Aleppo

A’azaz

Tal Refaat

J.Al

Sharia courts that are powerful and relatively independent e.g. they look into disputes between civilians and the differing armed groups.

Shamya ;

Ahrar

Al

Sham

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

filte rs or simply by counting. For the open - ended questions a summary o f the response, and sometimes quotes, were included in the database . This information enabled case studies and illustrative quotes, which are fe atured in the report, to be identifie d. 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 10 0 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 identi fied 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 female - headed 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. D ata 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 test ing 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 .

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 non - government 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 b efore 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 fo und 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). T here 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 therefo re 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 t he 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 conta gious diseases are

 

highligh ted

 

iv.

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

Birth Certificates:

 

I ssuing b irth certificates can be carried out in two different ways depending on the location where the child was born.

1)

C hild ren 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 t he 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 th e civil registration secretariat without the need to certify it from the “District Mukhtar”.)

2)

C hild ren born out side 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 . How ever , these exceptions are rarely implemented in practice due, in part, to protection concerns and difficulties unwed mothers may face for reporti ng 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, de ceased , 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 de ceased or missing for other reasons . N ot all of the se 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 t wo pathways 12 to obtaining birth and marriage docum entation 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 ce nters

1. Registration with the GoS, usually through a “ middleman ” . Middlemen are used by those who are unable to travel to GoS civil registration office s 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 repo rt.

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 r equired 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.

has the ability to travel to government - controlled areas. The option that Zeinah took was

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 wa s widely recognized and known about by respondents throughout all the 5 ca tegories. 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 bec ause 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 . T wo of the civil registry personnel respondents in the assessment were working in the center in Sarmada. They provid ed brief details o f 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 usi ng 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

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 require ments 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) ” : T he 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 e stablish a civil registry system that can preserve people’s rights from being lost alon g with creating a reliable data base . Syrian l awyers 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 inclu des 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 document s and sends another copy to be stored in the central civil registry directorate within the “ Mi nistry 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 r equirements 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

Marriage Registration

1. Medical report from the hospital \ m idwife

1. Presence of both parties, along w ith the wife’s male guardian (Or other legal proctor)

2. Both parents’ ID cards

3. Marriage certificate

2. Both parents ’ ID cards

4. Two adult male Muslim witnesses (Each male witness can be replaced with two Muslim

3. Two adult male Muslim witnesses (Each male witness can be replaced with two Muslim

female witnesses based on the Islamic law)

female witnesses based on the Islamic law)

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

- 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. R egistration records are reportedly not shared beyond the particular local council , and the documents issued are predomin antly 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. A ll documents issued are reportedly saved within the courts and not shared with other actors. Whereas Shari’a courts in areas under government co ntrol still follow national law, in a reas 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 responsibil ity 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:

Requirements

Birth notification or “proof of birth” . All of the health serv ice provider respondents said that birth notifications were produced at the facilities at which they worked.

Responsible person

One of the parents

Required time

30 minutes – 1 hour

Costs

Small (exact amounts not provided)

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 the ir child was born. At the registration center they were asked for a c ivil ID and the birth notification . One of these respondent s 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 res pondents 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 numbe r of actors who are registering births:

Ø One informal “Ci vil Status Office” in Idlib city under the “ I nterim G overnment (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 s aid that a marriage certificate was required. No information was provided on whether any of these requirements could be wa i ved. 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 Syri an Pounds ( Approximately 2.3USD).

v Marriage registration in Aleppo

Three actors were identified as being responsible for registering marriages: the civil registr ies under the “ IG ” , the S haria Court and Local Councils:

Requirements

v

Testimony of witnesses.

v

Marriage contract from religious marriage

v

C ivil ID s of spouses .

v

None of th ese actors specified that a military status certificate or a medical certificate was required.

Responsible person

The spouses

Required time

Approximately 30 minutes

Costs

Small (exact amounts not provided)

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 the se 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 inform al 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 mar riages in Idlib, all had obtained docum entation 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 Poun ds (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 po pulation overwhelmingly regar d registration as important

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

Do you think registraaon is important?

15

10

5

0

Do you think registraaon is important? 15 10 5 0 Important Not important Idlib Aleppo

Important

Not important

Idlib

Aleppo

B irth registration: 18 out of 19 respondents said that registering the births of children is important. One respondent in Idlib said that registration was not important, however, f urther analysis of the data revealed that they were actually referring to the non - state process e s , which they do not prioritize as they feel the documents are not widely

recognized. 12 birth registration r espondents in Idlib specifically highlighted that registration is important to avoid statelessness.

Marriage registration: All 20 respondents sai d they felt it is important to register marriages. The majority of respondents highlighted that t he 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 req uired 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 school 14 .

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? Have you registered your marriage? Yes- with
Have you registered the birth
of your child?
Have you registered your
marriage?
Yes-
with
GoS
Yes
Yes-
5%
26%
locally
21%
No
No
74%
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.n o/arch/_img/9208964.pdf

 

Birth registration

Marriage registration

Idlib

Aleppo

Idlib

Aleppo

Total no # of respondents

17

2

17

3

Did not register

14

0

1

4

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 regist ered the birth of their child at local registration center s 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 birth 15 .

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 registrat ion 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 hum anitarian 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 at taches to civil registration be reconciled with the se 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 chose n 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

v

The main reason given for not registering births and marriages was personal security 16

Reasons for not registering births and marriages (% of respondents) 100 90 80 70 60
Reasons for not registering births and marriages (% of
respondents)
100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
Birth
10
0
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 the ir marriage or the birth of their last child, personal s ecurity was the major reason for not doing so. 87% of birth registration respondents an d 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 registra tion respondents); lack of knowledge of the procedures (1 marriage registration respondent); and that they do not rega rd 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 register ing with non - state actors or whether protection or security risks might be associated wi th 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 th e reason(s) for not registering. Respondents were permitted to give more than one reason.

In Aleppo, t here 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 inter esting information did emerge. Two main eleme nts 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. Unfortun ately 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 usi ng 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, a pproximately 68% reported inability to access their former neighborhoo ds 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 an d marriage registration respondents with security and high costs being given as the primary barriers to registration in GoS - controlled areas. T he costs related to registration appear to be more related to engaging a middleman rather than the cost of the ad ministrative 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 Procedur es and Institutions section above, appear to be fairly accessible in safety and with low cost.

W hy 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 unavailab le 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

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%

individuals felt tha t local actors were responsible for birth registration , and 31% did not know who was responsible, suggest s that most respondents were either unaware of local non - state procedures , or that they simply were not available in their locality.

of

Who is responsible for birth registraaon? (Idlib)

No answer

16% GoS 37% Don't know 31%
16%
GoS
37%
Don't
know
31%

Local Actors

16%

But lack of awar eness and/or 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 partic ular that they are understood to be not recognized internationally (the issue of recognition is discussed in more detail in the “I mpac t of R egistration” section below ). A small number of birth re gistration 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 understan d 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 a n immediate pr iority 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, reg istering 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 ca me out of their homes because of the shelling and were displaced from ISIS areas have no documents at all and here they are strug g ling to get them”

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

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 an d 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 with out document s . Host community respon dents were more likely to have registered births and marriages, however, there were several IDP respondents in the sample who had registered births and marriage s 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 ye ar report states: “A n 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 do cuments 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

O nly 3 birth registration respondents answered the question s relate d 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

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 q uestions related to the impact of their registration :

2 respondents in Idlib said there has been a positive impact. On e 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 be ing 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 bene fits of birth and marriage registration. T he positive impacts that they highlighted are displayed below :

How is issuing documents helping people in your area?

100%

90%

80%

70%

60%

50%

40%

30%

20%

10%

0%

in your area? 100% 90% 80% 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% Free movement
in your area? 100% 90% 80% 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% Free movement
in your area? 100% 90% 80% 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% Free movement

Free movement

Accessing Services/aid

Resolving civil disputes

Idlib

Aleppo

All civil registr ation personnel respondents said that registration has a positive benefit in terms of being able to access services and aid. 100% of civil registr ation 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.

When comparing information provi ded by respondents in the birth registration, marriage registration and civil registry personnel categories, a mixed picture emerges in terms of the impact of registering birth s and marriages using the non - state procedures. On the one hand, registration do es 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 docum ents has geographical limitations , in particular that they are not recognized in neighbori ng 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 regis tration 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 the se 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 non - government controlled areas. There is a need for more exploration into the acceptance from area to area and by different armed groups of issued documents. Th e 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

C ivil 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
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

Problems traveling (91% of respondents in Idlib and 45% in Aleppo) and problems accessing services/aid (55% in Idlib and 45% in Aleppo) we re 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 in terviews 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 documen ts 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 no n - 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 (the y 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. So me 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 we re consistent in saying they had no documentation requi rements. 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 se rvices if they had no documents. Some representative quotes are provided below:

Ø W e register them [students] once they co me, 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 “ W e never distinguish between who has documents and the ones who don’t because of the difficult conditions we are living in ” - Camp c oordinator 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 Sarm ada

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 provi ded 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 person nel 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 capac ity 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 regi stration is weak in Idlib, but very good in Aleppo

Is there any / sufficient communicaaon between different stakeholders on the registraaon procedures? 40 35
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 e very 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 sai d 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 provider, civil registration personnel and humanitarian worker categories said
Only one respondent from the service
provider, civil registration personnel
and humanitarian worker categories
said that they had heard of an
organization providing legal advice. This
res pondent highlighted the work of the
Free Lawyers League, who they said
were an independent organization who
provide support to the legal offices of
the local councils.
Have you heard of any other organizaaon
offering help or legal advice for families
going through civil registraaon procedures?
40
30
Idlib
20
10
Aleppo
0
Yes
No
No answer

7.

RESPONDENT SUGGESTIO NS FOR IMPROVING CIVIL REGI STRATION

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

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 office s th rough 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 registr ation 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 sugges ted 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.

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 signifi cant 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 pa tchwork 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 regis tration 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 we re 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 wer e unaware of them (the data suggest a low level of awareness) or beca u se 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 registrati on 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 loca lly 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.

Programmatically, it therefore makes sense firstly to ensure that the populations have increased access to information on both the GoS and non - state procedures, enab ling 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 - st ate 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 ser vices 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 w aiving 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 RECOMME NDATIONS FOR CONSIDERATION BY HUMANITARIAN ACTORS WITH EXPERTISE IN LE GAL DOCUMENTATION PR OGRAMMING

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 pro tection 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 transm itted 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 register ing 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.

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 , w hich is already successfully implemented in other countries in the region. In this model, male and female community paralegals would conduct information sessions and provide one - on - one advice. T opics 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 lead ers, 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 l earn 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 documenta tion 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 commun ity level, individual counselling on how to access forms of documentation which are available in the local area, including information about the benefit s, 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, s upport could be provided to health centers in the issu ance birth notifications. O ther 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

Ø

Establish a civil documentation task force or relevant coordination body under the P rotection

luster

C

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 . Th e 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 pr otection 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 notificatio ns 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 ref ugees 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 actor s.

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 Humani tarian Response Plan and subsequent prioritization of project submissions for humanitarian funding in the protection sector, as well as potential WoS protection advocacy initiatives .

3.

RECOMMENDATION S FOR HUMANITARIAN ORGANIZATIONS AND SERVICE PROVIDERS OP ERATING 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.

Ø

Service provider s 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 t erm, it helps to reduce the risk of future statelessness.

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 e merged 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 informa tion 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 establ ished some bases and procedures that serve as a foundation for the le gal 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 car ds 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 districts 19 .

Every individual has the right to request the semi - original copies of his or her civil r egistry 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 d atabase from which documents could be printed. The stated principles of the Syrian c ivil r egistration s ystem 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 fail s 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 - governmenta l controlled areas.

18 Technical Report on the Status of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in ESCWA Regi on, United Nations,

ESA/STAT/2009/9

19 As above

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

Syrian civil documents 21

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, Christi ans, and Jews 22 or in the case of ma rriages 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 flaw s 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). T here 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 Musl im

 

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 m arried need to provide the following documents at the Sharia court:

A

certificate from t he district Mukhtar (local leader ), which includes specific information about

the party (name, age, address, guardians etc.)

certified copy of the civil registry that shows their current civil status, or a form of ID: civil ID or birth certificate

A

A medical certificate from a doctor that ensures that conta gious 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 legal ly 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 par ents are therefore is vital in access ing Syrian nationality. I ssuing b irth 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.

the child was born.

In the case where the child is born in Syria: the fath er 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 th e 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 regis tration 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 cau se 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 barrie rs to access civil registry:

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 discriminat ion.

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 o r to a foreigner who

either has no n ationality or has one but does not recognize the

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 ma rriage contracts with no legal binding, meaning paternity can still not be proven. The situation of the s tateless Kurds in Syria also highlights the problematic nature of the gender discrimination. Many children of stateless Kurdish fathers and national m others cannot regulate their status through their mothers.

How ever , these

D ue 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 problem 24 . 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 discri minatory 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, c hildren 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 imple mented). 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

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 12 0,000 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 situat ion. 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 wa s 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 - Hasakah 28 There has been little research to date to unde rstand 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 non - sympathetic 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 i f 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 T

ilburg University - Statelessness

 
 

Programme , The Stateless Syrians

, May 2013, access at h ttp://www.refworld.org/docid/52a983124.html

27

T

ilburg 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 T

ilburg University - Statelessness Programme ,

http://www.refworld.org/docid/52a983124.html

The Stateless Syrians

, May 2013, access at

30 ARAB COMMISSION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS - Stateless in Syria, 2004, access at

http://hem.bredband.net/dccls2/r1.htm

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 oblig ations

Syria had never acceded to the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless P ersons or the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Stateless ness . 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 hav e 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

ANNEX II: RECOMMENDATION S ON ACCESS TO CIVIL REGISTRATION

(D eveloped 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 non - discrimination 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 civ il 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 - di scrimination 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 documen tation 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 documentat ion are destroyed.