Protecting a Stateless Generation

Protecting a Stateless Generation

Christina Hendryx and Domenique Sherab - Project Officer ARDD-Legal Aid​


ARDD-Legal Aid was delighted to hear about the passing of the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda for 2030 and the commitment it expresses to ending the most intractable developmental and rights concerns. ARDD-Legal Aid has a long and demonstrated commitment to such goals. Our mandate is to increase access to justice within Jordan to create a society defined by equity and free of injustice.Protecting a Stateless Generation Since the beginning of the Syria crisis, ARDD-Legal Aid has worked closely with Syrians to support them accessing their rights while they wait to return to Syria. When Syrian refugees first arrived in Jordan many came with no official documents of their marriages, divorces or births. With or without documents, many did not expect to stay for an extended period, so new marriages, divorces and births were not registered in accordance with Jordanian law. This exposed Syrians and their children to a multitude of issues, including the inability to access health and education services. Children born during the Syrian crisis face the most severe consequences of missing documentation. Children without proper birth registration may become stateless, which could prevent them from legally returning to and settling in Syria in the future.

Coming from a different country with different procedures, many Syrian refugees were unaware of the importance and process of birth registration within the Kingdom, mistakenly believing that birth notifications issued by the hospitals function as birth certificates. Without the required paperwork, whether lost in the flight from Syria or never obtained, parents cannot register the births of their children. On top of this, Syrian refugees who have not legally registered their marriage are unable to register births because Jordan does not recognize children of “illegitimate” union. This not only denies the child a nationality but also exposes the couple to other legal problems.

The confusion about marriage certificates is, in fact, a difference in culture. In Syria, a marriage only needs to be witnessed by a Sheikh to be legalized while in Jordan a marriage will only be legal if the couple registers with the court. As a result, many marriages between Syrian refugees have not been recognized by the Jordanian government. Unratified marriages performed in Syria must be affixed through the Sharia courts, which can be a long and relatively expensive process. Marriages illegally performed outside of the Sharia court in Jordan may additionally result in jail time and a hefty fine.

Through our ongoing work with Syrian refugees ARDD-Legal Aid realized the severity of the issue and took action  in cooperation with UNHCR and the Jordanian government to make birth registration and marriage registration a priority for Syrian refugees. UNHCR opened the Rabaa Al-Sarhan centre in Za’atari to allow residents to obtain copies of lost documents needed to register births, while the Jordanian Civil Status Department agreed to accept copies of identification documents if the originals were lost during flight from Syria. Further, ARDD-Legal Aid’s office in Za’atari campaigned for birth registration in the camp, informing families of the importance of birth registration at free informational sessions. Through the advocacy of ARDD-Legal Aid and its partners, the Jordanian government temporarily waived the late birth registration penalty, allowing families to register their children.

Addressing the issue of birth registration was not enough, however, so ARDD-Legal Aid, in association with the UNHCR, actively advocated to waive fines associated with unregistered marriages. Because of these advocacy efforts, the Cabinet exempted Syrian refugees from the 1000JD penalty on unregistered marriages for several months in 2014 and most recently in May-July 2015. This exemption provided the opportunity for many couples to legally register their marriages and ensure that at least this legal challenge could be removed.

We are proud of our humble efforts and will continue to advocate to better support the rights and dignity of all marginalized communities within Jordan.  

Related resources: ARDD-Legal Aid

Photos: Kelly Kirk