Lebanon eases birth registration rules for Syrian refugees
New rules remove need for costly court process for unregistered births, easing access to education, health and other services for more than 50,000 children.
Mohammad Jarjowi, legal officer at the International Rescue Committee, sitting with Syrian refugee Mohammad Al Masry, his wife Najah, and two daughters Mimas, 4, and Ruqaya, 10-months.
© UNHCR/Houssam Hariri
Firaz has worked in construction all his life, but dreams of better opportunities for his three young children. “I don’t want them to end up with limited options like me. With an education, I hope they can work in medicine or engineering back home, rather than jobs that just put food on the table,” he said.
Until recently, however, this ambition looked out of reach for his four-year-old daughter, Yara. Her birth was never registered with the authorities in Lebanon, where they have lived since fleeing Idlib, Syria, in 2012. They are among some 976,000 registered refugees from the Syrian conflict currently residing in Lebanon.
The lack of formal documentation can pose significant problems, hindering a child’s chances of enrolling in school, accessing immunizations and other forms of healthcare, and even preventing them from travelling.
In Lebanon, a newborn child must be registered within one year of birth. Failure to meet the deadline means the only recourse is a costly and complex court process, something many impoverished refugee families are unable to take on.
But following an important legal change earlier this year, the government waived the one year timeframe for Syrian children born in Lebanon between January 2011 and February 2018, allowing their parents to register their birth without going to court.
The measure will enable more than 50,000 unregistered Syrian children to acquire the necessary paperwork, in a country where a 2017 UN survey found that only 17 per cent of Syrian refugees under the age of five had their births registered with the competent Lebanese civil registry.
"Legal documents are very important for refugees."
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, together with its legal partners are providing legal advice to families like Firaz’ to help them navigate the new procedures.
“Legal documents are very important for refugees. They help improve their living and financial situations,” explained Mohammad Jarjowi, legal officer at the International Rescue Committee. “’This new measure saves refugees time and cost, and offers relief to all those who were not being able to process the certificates of their children.”
With some Syrian families in Lebanon now considering returning to their country, having birth certificates for their children becomes even more crucial in order to cross the border, prove their family ties, and allow the children to enroll in school and access public services as they seek to rebuild their lives in Syria.
Clutching Yara’s new registration certificate, as well as the papers for his newborn son Mohammad, Firaz is visibly relieved that his dream of a better life for his children is now back on track.
“It was mainly my fault and I did not know, but now all their documents are legal,” Firaz said. “’I want my children to receive their education and I don’t want them to be unregistered. I want them to always be legal.”