What was once a land steeped in history and diverse culture is now a war-torn nation reduced to rubble.
More than 36,000 newborn Syrian babies in Lebanon are stateless, with no identification documents, the UN refugee agency has told Al Jazeera.
The registration data of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees indicates that, as of the end of March 2015, nearly 51,000 Syrian children were born in Lebanon since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict.
The UNHCR does not keep track of births among refugees that are not registered with it.
Dana Sleiman, UNHCR’s public information officer in Lebanon, told Al Jazeera that living with a stateless status prevents children from realising basic human rights.
She said this could include being denied access to public services, such as education and health care; a lack of protection from child labour, early marriage, illegal adoption or sexual exploitation, and the inability to travel, marry or work legally.
Sleiman told Al Jazeera there were also a number of challenges that can make birth registration a difficult and costly process for parents of non-Lebanese newborn children.
“For various reasons, parents of newborn children may not have all the civil status documentation requested, such as identity documents and marriage certificates.
“Identity documents, usually a valid ID or passport, are required for obtaining a birth certificate from the mukhtar, or registering with the PSD,” Sleiman said.
Many refugees may have lost their documents after being displaced or their documents have expired and they have difficulty replacing them.
Also, many refugees may not have registered their marriage in Syria, such as those married informally through customary traditions, or may not be able to prove their marriage in Lebanon, Sleiman said.
|The process: How legal status can be obtained in Lebanon|
Once a child is born in Lebanon, parents must obtain a birth notification document from an authorised doctor or midwife.
Next, they must obtain a birth certificate from a mukhtar (village leader) near the place of birth and then register the birth certificate with the Personal Status Department (PSD). This registration involves two steps:
a) Nofous (local registry office), nearest to the place where the child was born
b) Foreigners’ Register, at the governorate, for finalisation and execution of the process.
All the steps above, except for the finalisation with the Foreigners’ Registry, must be completed within one year of the birth of the child.
She said many parents lack valid legal residency in Lebanon, which also hinders the process.
“In order to renew their legal residency in Lebanon, refugees must pay $200 for each family member above 15 years of age, which is prohibitive for many refugees,” Sleiman said.
“Additional renewal requirements since the beginning of 2015, such as a certified housing commitment, notarised pledge not to work and proof of financial means, are making renewal of legal residency even more difficult for refugees.”
Hadi Haddad from the Ministry of Social Affairs in Lebanon told Al Jazeera that they consider the registration of Syrian newborns a priority in the humanitarian response.
“The ministry is continuously working on facilitating the procedures and requirements for the acquisition of the birth certificate,” he said.
“It has launched a series of meetings on the issue of birth registration with the purpose of mapping out all the obstacles/challenges being faced by those seeking to obtain a birth certificate, and ensuring that the efforts undertaken by relevant actors are harmonized and most suitable in addressing the obstacles faced.”
Haddad also told Al Jazeera that the impact of not having the birth certificate is mainly, but not limited to, as undocumented persons they may not access their most basic rights (e.g. education, healthcare, employment…)
“The solution lies in identifying all the obstacles faced by them and trying to address them. Furthermore, when safe return to Syria becomes a possibility, they may not accompany their families across the border,” Haddad adds.
In Lebanon alone, almost 1.2 million Syrian refugees are registered with the UN. More than half of the Syrian refugee figures are children.