Syrian Babies Born To Refugees Face A Future In Limbo
Thousands of Syrian infants born to refugee parents are now stateless. Their births are unregistered and will pose many difficult challenges in this long-term conflict.
The exact numbers are far from certain. A recent report by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, suggests that 75 percent of Syrians born in Lebanon since 2011 have not been properly registered. Many families don't have any identification documents, which were destroyed in the fighting or left behind in a panicked escape.
The numbers are even harder to come by in Turkey, where hundreds of thousands of refugees are unregistered. They slipped across the border for safety, but their babies born in Turkey have no official status.
"I can't imagine how we will live this life without any papers," says Ayaman, as he cradles his infant daughter, Leen. He doesn't give his last name, out of fear for the safety of his family.
He fled Syria two years ago, and in the relative stability of Turkey, married soon after. But the religious ceremony was invalid under Turkish law without the proper documents from Syria. So his marriage is undocumented as well.
A Problem In Several Countries
This is a quiet crisis for Syrian refugees across the region.
"It's a mess," says Amin Barroudi, with the Assistance Coordination Unit, the humanitarian wing of the Syrian opposition, based in Gaziantep, Turkey.
"Marriages are not registered, deaths are not registered; also the newborns," he says of the large population of Syrian refugees in Turkey. Many Syrians without documentation are smuggled across the Turkish frontier. They are safe, but their children could face many potential problems down the road.
According to Sanem Guner, the Turkish director of the Hollings Center in Istanbul, a U.S.-funded think tank, the kids "won't be entitled to go to school. They won't be entitled to any sort of aid. They won't be entitled to any sort of citizenship rights inside Turkey. They won't be able to travel."
When the crisis began, Turkey opened its borders for fleeing Syrians. The Turkish government built what were called "five-star" camps along the border.
But it was a temporary fix. Even now, the Turkish government has no official refugee policy, says Guner. Syrians are classified as temporary guests. It is a policy based on the calculation that Syria's President Bashar Assad would soon be gone.
"It was a miscalculation of the timing, a miscalculation of the conflict," Guner adds.
Many Adult Refugees Have Never Registered
In the fourth year of the war, more than 300,000 Syrians are now settled in Gaziantep, a Turkish border town. A recent study by a Turkish group, the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants, showed that more than 100,000 Syrian refugees are unregistered.
The report showed that only 19 percent of Syrians entered the country with a passport and 3 percent came through a border crossing. Some 78 percent came through other routes. Many Syrians don't register for fear that the information will get back to Syrian authorities.
Ebrahim Jamkurt heads a new center for Syrian refugees in Gaziantep. The center provides translators and councilors to encourage registration, but Jamkurt admits it won't be easy.
"They are trying to make the procedure easier," he says of the Turkish government, "but it is really difficult to handle with so high numbers. And that is why they haven't fixed it until now."
For now, there is no fix for Mohammad, another Syrian father afraid to give his last name.
"The thing scaring me is to live without citizenship and to be stuck here in Turkey," he says.
He has two young children, both born in Syria and registered back home. But a third child, his infant daughter Shana, is stateless.
"We didn't plan on a baby, frankly, but that's what happened," he says.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We report next on a generation of stateless youth, a byproduct of the war in Syria. Millions of Syrians have fled the conflict, often leaving without legal documents. Now they're having babies born without clear legal status - many thousands, though the exact numbers are unknown. NPR's Deborah Amos was near the Turkey-Syria border recently and sent this report.
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Just when you thought things couldn't get worse for refugees, it turns out that having a baby can change everything.
AYAMAN: (Imitating baby talk).
AMOS: In a small apartment in Istanbul, Ayaman, a new father cradles his infant daughter, Leen. He doesn't give his last name, he says, out of fear for the safety of his family. He fled Syria two years ago. And in what seemed the tip stability of Turkey, he married soon after. It was a religious ceremony, but the marriage is invalid under Turkish law.
AYAMAN: (Through translator) My marriage is not registered in Turkey, here.
AMOS: So you got married here, had a baby here and neither of those things are registered?
AYAMAN: (Through translator) Yeah, that's right. So I cannot imagine what this life we will live without any papers.
AMOS: This is the quiet crisis for Syrian refugees as the war grinds on into a fourth year. And it's not just in Turkey. A recent report by the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, showed that 75 percent of Syrian born in Lebanon, since 2011, have not been properly registered. For many families, it's impossible. They don't have identification documents, destroyed in the fighting or left behind in a panicked escape. In Turkey, many Syrians are smuggled into the country. Any children born are in legal limbo.
SANEM GUNER: There is no legal status for babies who are being born to parents who don't have a legal status here, anyway.
AMOS: That's Sanem Guner, the Turkish director of the Hollings Center in Istanbul, a U.S.-funded think tank.
GUNER: They won't be entitled to go to school. They won't be entitled for any sort of aid. They won't be entitled to any sort of citizenship rights. Inside Turkey, they won't be able to travel, go anywhere.
AMOS: When the crisis began, Turkey opened its borders for fleeing Syrians - built camps to host them. But it was a temporary fix. Even now, the Turks have no official refugee policy, says Guner. Syrians are classified as temporary guests. A policy based on the calculation that Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, would soon be gone and the war over.
GUNER: It was a miscalculation of the timing, a miscalculation of the conflict. So they thought that this was a temporary situation.
AMOS: In the fourth year of the war, more than 300,000 Syrians are now settled in Gaziantep, a Turkish border town. A recent study by a Turkish aid group shows more than 100,000 are unregistered, says Ebrahim Jamkurt. Many say they're afraid the information will get back to Syria. He heads a new center to encourage registration with the Turkish authorities.
EBRAHIM JAMKURT: They are trying to make the procedure easier, but it is really difficult to handle with so high numbers. And that is why they can't fix until now.
AMOS: So there's no fix for Mohammed, another Syrian father afraid to give his last name. He has two children born in Syria and registered back home. But his new daughter, Shana, she's stateless.
MOHAMMED: (Through translator) I think, the most thing scaring me is to live without citizenship and to be stuck here in Turkey. I cannot move in with my family. We don't plan to get a baby. Frankly, that's what happened.
AMOS: And that's what's happened to thousands more Syrian refugees. Deborah Amos, NPR news. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.