Establishing Legal Identity for Displaced Syrians

Martin Clutterbuck, Laura Cunial, Paola Barsanti and Tina Gewis

Forced Migration Review 57, February 2018, pp. 59-61


Protracted conflict in Syria, the destruction or closure of civil registries, and complicated processes for issuing documents to refugees in host countries, have had a serious detrimental effect on many Syrians’ ability to prove their legal identity. In Syria, the ‘family booklet’ is the primary civil record and the basis for obtaining all other civil documents; 40 percent of IDPs no longer have a family booklet, and those that do have not been able to add children to it if they are displaced in non-government controlled areas. Children become eligible for national identity cards when they reach age 14, but a quarter of IDPs aged 14 and over do not have a national identity card due to the closure of civil registries. In host countries, many Syrians cannot access civil registration procedures due to: (a) lack of documentation (e.g. marriage certificate and proof of legal stay is often required);  (b) lack of familiarity with procedures (including strict time limits for registration); (c) fear of repercussions of approaching their own embassy; (d) costs; and (e) language barriers in Turkey. Refugees often resort to returning to Syria to access documents or purchasing forged documents, which exposes them to protection risks. The authors identify several practical steps towards full realization of the right to legal documentation, including: (i) restoration of national civil registration systems in Syria; (ii) a process for replacement of documents issued by non-governmental actors; (iii) a non-punitive process to replace forged documents; (iv) measures established by host countries to provide documentation to Syrian refugees that can be retained when refugees cross international borders.