Stateless Syrian Children in Lebanon.. A Cipher Difficult to Decode
Though it is considered the least of the rights which human beings must get once they are born, the registration of Syrian births in Lebanon has turned into a cipher, which Syrian refugees need to decode. They are forced to add another element to a long list of legal and humanitarian difficulties facing them, especially in Lebanon.
The fact that most of the Syrian refugees did not enter Lebanon legally, did not have identification documents and most of them lacked a legal residence permit, which the Lebanese government is supposed to grant, prevented Syrian parents from having an explicit confirmation that acknowledges their children’s, born in Lebanon, Syrian origins. These children are thus turned into mere names and stateless beings in the records of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Birth Registration is Available.. But
The Syrian lawyer Sabah Hallak, a member of the Syrian Women’s League, told Enab Baladi that the registration of Syrian births in Lebanon is available if the parents’ status is legal.
The Syrian Embassy in Lebanon grants newborns documents of identification on the condition that their parents have a residency, in addition to other documents which prove their marriage, such as a marriage certificate or a family register.
“Most of the Syrian people in Lebanon get married (in a religious manner) without legal certificates, which prevents them from registering their children in the future,” she added.
UNHCR estimates that 70 percent of the Syrians living in Lebanon do not have an official residency status and therefore cannot register their new-borns either in the Syrian Embassy or in the Lebanese Ministry of the Interior, which may subsequently deprive them of citizenship.
Hallak also said that there are other difficulties which face Syrian people during the registration of their children, such as costs since the Syrian Embassy is located far away from the points where Syrian refugees are located. In addition to this, there are the costs required for the certification of official papers, which give Syrian families another burden, especially as the United Nations’ aid is being cut.
Concerning solutions, Hallak said, “The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is working to register Syrian births in Lebanon but without granting them the citizenship of any country. However, this might contribute to acknowledging them later.”
Some organizations, including the Lebanese Kafa (Enough), offer free of charge legal consultancies to Syrian refugees helping them settle their situation.
Syrian refugees can also review the Syrian Embassy in case they lost their identity documents for it began to offer the people these services though they are costly, according to Hallak.
Stateless Syrian Children Have No Residency or Identity Documents
With the number of Syrians in Lebanon exceeding the 1.2 million, according to UNHCR, the economic burden on the government increased, especially that it considers itself as unable to support such a number of refugees, as they make up a quarter of Lebanon’s population.
With the increase in the number of Syrian births in Lebanon, the number of unregistered Syrian children exceeded the 260,000, according to the National News Agency’s interview with the Lebanese Parliament Member who is also a member of the Development and Liberation Bloc, Yaseen Jaber, at the end of October.
Noha Burhan, the mother of two children, said that she could not register her two children (Ahmad, two-years and a half and Lujain one-year-old) because she and her husband did not have a legal residency, or even a personal identity document or an official marriage certificate.
She explained that the Lebanese General Security destroyed all her family’s identity documents when they entered Lebanon, as she planned to travel with the help of the United Nations through the resettlement program.
“However, the journey was canceled after we sent our papers to the Lebanese General Security, which destroyed them assuming that we had already traveled,” she said.
Dr. Ahmed (a pseudonym), who does not have a legal residency, tried to avoid the same mistake with his children. Therefore, he registered them in Syria on his family register and entrusted his father to do that for him. According to that procedure, he intended to get a Lebanese residence permit for his children.
However, an unexpected obstacle surprised him for it was difficult to prove that his children entered Lebanon in a legal manner. Suddenly, their situation became illegal. The children were treated as if born in Syria and then smuggled to Lebanon, according to what the doctor told Enab Baladi.
Another obstacle might face Dr. Ahmed if he does not get a residence permit for his children; they will not be accepted in the Lebanese official schools. Accordingly, he will be forced to enroll them in schools that are not acknowledged at a local and international level.
He advised Syrian people in Lebanon not to register their children in Syria and to wait for an official solution to this dilemma.
Fearing Resettlement..Deliberate Denial of Refugee Numbers
The Lebanese government considers the registration of the new births in the refugee commission in Lebanon or in the Ministry of Interior, authorized to register foreigners, as an act to resettle them in the country. These worries erupt from the idea that these births’ lack of a citizenship would ultimately give them the right to have the nationality of the country in which they were born due to the pressure of the international organizations.
Thus, since 2015, Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil has called for halting the registration of Syrian births for fear of demographic changes in the region.
Bassil, who refused to empty Syria of its people, says that he encouraged the resettlement of Syrian refugees, not in Lebanon but in another country that is able to carry their burdens.
However, UNHCR responded to Bassil’s demands by saying that it will not stop registering the names of Syrian new-borns in its records at the request of the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs, which has the authority to make a decision to stop or continue the registration process.
The registration in the UNHCR records doesn’t negate the importance of registering Syrian births in the Lebanese Directorate of General Personal Status, without which these children might end up stateless.
Fadi Al-Qadi, a Middle East human rights specialist, told Enab Baladi that the international law must not be that tolerant of the idea that there is a human being who comes to the world, on the soil of a certain country, without getting his or her private data registered and officially documented.
He considered that not registering Syrian births due to fear of resettlement is only another part of the arbitrary restrictions imposed on the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, which are used to force them to leave.
“There is no legal explanation for this. They are merely practices of an apparently arbitrary nature, which aim to put obstacles and restrictions on Syrians without any justification,” he continued to say.
He criticized UNHCR for not taking quick action to push forward the problem of Syrian births registration, “such an issue should not burden or embarrass UNHCR, which is hampered by the slow pace of its procedures.”
Calls for the Return of People Who the Syrian Regime Doesn’t Acknowledge as Syrians
In the past a few months, the official trends were directed to calling on the Syrian refugees to return to their country. “These calls were beautified by stressing the need for the return to be a safe one.”
However, what those who demanded the return of Syrians overlooked was the inability of the families of 260,000 children, who were born in Lebanon without registration, to return to Syria without having documents which attest for their origin.
This was what Jaber Yassin, a member of the Lebanese Parliament, meant when he said that the presence of Syrian births who are not registered in the Lebanese Personal Status Departments would obstruct the efforts aiming to achieve the return of Syrian people to their country.
He told the National News Agency that “If the parents of the unregistered births wanted to return to Syria, without documents which prove their origin, they will be sent back at the borders, accordingly, the whole family will stay in Lebanon.”
It is expected that the calls for the deportation of Syrians will later turn into demands to rectify their legal status; in a manner that ensures the return if the deportation calls were taken seriously.
In September, the Lebanese authorities have issued two resolutions to facilitate the legal status of the Syrian citizens based in Lebanon.
The first was issued by the General Directorate of Public Security to facilitate the conditions of residency renewal for Syrians by exempting them from the requirement of leaving Lebanon to change the guarantor.
And the second was issued by the Directorate of Personal Status and aims to simplify the procedures for the registration of marriage certificates and new-borns by exempting them from the residence permit in some cases.
However, the two resolutions did not yet reach the phase of implementation, according to what people said to Enab Baladi.
The Lebanese Ministry of Displaced Syrians Affairs Denies
The Lebanese Ministry of Displaced Syrians Affairs considers that the registration of Syrian birth is really taking place. Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Mouin Merehbi said that the problem lies in the situation of the families whose children became more than one year old and have not been officially registered at the Syrian Embassy or the Personal Status Departments.
To Al-Mashareq Website Merehbi assured that “the ministry is working to modify the personal status law, especially the article relating to those who are one year old and above to liberate them from the stateless people’s list and put them on a special list.”
He urged Syrian refugees to register their children within a year of their birth, a thing that ensures that they get identity documents and pave the way for their return with their families to Syria.
Merehbi did not address the problem of many of the Syrian people in Lebanon, who lost their official documents, the thing that is hindering them from registering their children before they are one year old.
Merhebi concluded by talking about the efforts of his ministry to solve some problems, through cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior, to find legal solutions that facilitate the registration of Syrian births, in line with the general policy of the Lebanese government.