Damascus’ Ghouta’s Deaths and Births Linger in Waiting

A little girl in the city of Duma, while it was controlled by the opposition, eastern Damascus – April17, 2018 (AFP)

A little girl in the city of Duma, while it was controlled by the opposition, eastern Damascus – April17, 2018 (AFP)

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“I never expected that I day would come, where I find my little baby and myself lonely in this world, which nihilates her presence and my being her mother.”

Maryam, one of the women displaced from Eastern Ghouta, waits outside the building of the “General Secretariat for Development,” which she describes as the only means, left for the people who could not afford to pay a lawyer.

Maryam, who refused to mention her full name, tells Enab Baladi that “one of the neighbors has directed me to this office. People said that it is run by Asma al-Assad, aiming at assigning lawyers to the people displaced from Eastern Ghouta as to register incidents, including marriage, births and deaths, which happened years ago, as there were not civil register offices in previous years.”

Despite the long time that people spend, after they were displaced from Eastern Ghouta, waiting to receive judicial decisions, many of them are forced keep up as they have no other solution. Others, however, get enough with waiting and resort to lawyers from outside the “General Secretariat” office.

Maryam adds: “I applied to the office to hire a lawyer who would file a suit to document my marriage, the birth of my child and the death of my husband, for I got married in 2016 according to a sharia-based contract, just like all the citizens in Ghouta, for there were not Sharia Courts or civil register offices, after the regime shut them down in 2013.”

 

The eastern Ghouta was suffering a siege imposed by the Assad’s forces, preventing them from exiting and entering the area, amidst a total absent of all the state departments, triggering the besieged people to create their own mechanisms and alternative bodies to document their civil affairs.

Maryam’s husband and the father of her daughter died in an aerial attack on eastern Ghouta by the Russia-backed Syrian aircrafts in 2017. Then she left Ghouta with the other displaced people after the Syrian regime controlled it late in March 2018, as a result of an extensive shelling campaign, ending up in a makeshift housing center in an area near Damascus.

Ammar, a lawyer from Damascus, says: “The women are many who resort to me as to document their marriages and their children’s births, some of whom are widows, others are wives to detainees at the Syrian regime’s prisons. I send them to the Development Office, which helps them hire a lawyer for free.”

“But they come back a few months later, complaining about the delay of the suits filed through the office, for many of them are forced to wait for more than ten months, without any progress in the suit, though this type of suits is considered simple and does not require a long time, especially that they are based on the testimony of witnesses in the first place,” the lawyer added.

 

The Suits’ Delays Force People to Pay a Lot of Money

Sawsan is one of the women who cancelled the suit she filed through the “Development Office” and resorted to Lawyer Ammar. Sawsan says to Enab Baladi: “After waiting for long months, I was surprised that the suit of documenting my marriage and the birth of my two children has never made a progress, for the number of applicants is massive, in addition to the slow judicial procedures at the courts if the lawyer is working for free.”

“When we pay the lawyer, he can pay the employees at the court as to give us close dates, while, in our case, we find ourselves forced to wait for more than two months between the hearings,” Sawsan says.

Sawsan paid the lawyer 150 thousand Syrian pounds, the equivalent of about $300, as to file a suit to document her marriage and the birth of her two children, because her husband was detained during the arrest campaign that targeted the town of Kafr Batna, which followed the settlement deals, adding: “After I hired a private lawyer, I got a judicial decision in two months only. My cousin, nonetheless, is yet waiting for her turn at the Development Office.”

 

Thousands Are Not Registered

During the opposition factions’ control over eastern Ghouta for more than five years, the area witnessed thousands of civil affairs, including marriages, divorces, births and deaths, which all have not been officially registered at the Syrian regime’s affiliated establishments.

The local councils and the revolutionary leaderships addressed the issue and registered these affairs in special records.

Prior to the forced displacement of the Ghouta’s people, a few of the factions neglected some of these records, which became liable to damage, in addition to the aircraft shelling which targeted dozens of the area’s local councils and the opposition affiliated Civil Registry Offices in the last military campaign.

On October 15, the government of the Syrian regime reopened the Civil Registry Office in the town of Kafr Batna, after it was partially restored. However, the office is not functioning completely so far.

The government of the Syrian regime has not officially announced the reopening of the office in the area, which it moved to Jaramana, rural Damascus, when it was closed in eastern Ghouta.

Shutting down the area’s “Civil Registry” led to losing all the records after the opposition’s control of eastern Ghouta, in addition to the people’s inability at registering the new births and documenting the marriage and divorce contracts, creating one of the challenges that faced the people after the Assad’s forces controlled the area.

A Delay Paid for by Eastern Ghouta’s People

According to the information received by Enab Baladi, the marriage contracts are documented at the courts, with paying fines for the delay of the documentation and the new births’ data’s registration. The people are also forced to file suits to document marriages, in case the husband is dead; then, his death gets documented as to register the births resulting of this marriage.

Ahmad, whose brother died during the shelling on eastern Ghouta, says: “After we got out of Ghouta, my family and I, along with my dead brother’s family, I had to document the births of my brother’s children, born during the siege. Accordingly, I hired a lawyer to document my brother’s death and to prove his parenthood of his children. This cost us a lot of money, due to fines, resulting of the delay in documenting the death and the births though the fault is not ours, for if there were civil registry offices, we would not have been late.”

Ahmad wonders why the displaced people are not being abolished from paying the fines, especially that they were not willingly late, in addition to the fact that the majority of them have lost their houses and jobs.

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