Thousands of Syrian Kurds continue to suffer from statelessness

The local Kurdish-led self-administrations that rule large parts of the northeast of Syria say they want to solve this issue.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – According to Thomas McGee, an expert on stateless Kurds of Syria, thousands of Syrian Kurds remain stateless due to a government decree from 1962. As a result, they have difficulties with access to education, owning property, or travel.

According to Asharq al-Awsat, a report by the NGO, Syrian for Truth and Justice, reveals that 19,000 Kurds remain deprived of citizenship, while another 46,000 are stateless.

McGee, who studied this subject since 2009, said it is unclear how many are stateless. “People give figures here and there, but they are never reliable,” he told Kurdistan 24.

A report by the Syrian NGO will be published in Geneva on Sept. 18 during the 39th session of the UN’s Human Rights Council and will show how the decree destroyed the lives of thousands of Kurds. McGee will present his own presentation at this conference.

In 1962, the Syrian state stripped Syrian Kurds of their citizenship after a census. As a result, 300,000 Syrian Kurds were stateless in 2009.

“They were accusing the Kurds of coming from Turkey to Syria. Some Kurds were considered Syrian people; others were considered foreigners [ajanib] from Turkey,” Aziz Biro, a stateless Kurd, told Kurdistan 24.

“The second were the maktumin al-qaid (literally those with ‘concealed’ files), who did not present themselves at all during the 1962 census,” McGee explained.

However, in 2011, this was partially solved through “presidential agree 49,” which officially granted Syrian Arab citizenship to the ajanib of Hassaka.

However, although the so-called ajanib were granted citizenship, thousands of the so-called maktumin did not get a status.

“This decree made no mention of the other category of stateless Kurds, the maktumin, who have essentially still been deprived of citizenship and access to naturalization like the ajanib,” McGee said.

Many of them have left Syria since 2011and sometimes experience difficulties in being recognized as Syrian refugees in Europe since they do not have papers.

Another small group has reportedly managed to access nationality in Syria through bribes and connections to sympathetic officials.

“In addition to this, there are ajanib who remain stateless because they did not follow-through the lengthy process of naturalization after 2011,” McGee added.

When the Syrian government ruled northeast Syria, stateless Kurds were not allowed to own houses under their own names.

“Importantly, they have less freedom of movement to travel within, and to leave Syria, and are more likely to be stopped at checkpoints and potentially detained,” McGee noted.

In the past, the stateless Kurds have faced problems with finding jobs or applying to universities. For instance, under President Bashar al-Assad, they “couldn’t work in the public sector and cannot work as a taxi driver as they cannot get the driving license for that,” McGee said.

“Marriages cannot be registered, nor births of children,”he added.

But now, the local Kurdish-led self-administrations that rule large parts of the northeast of Syria since 2012 say things have partially changed. A human rights official in the local administration in Jazira told Kurdistan 24 they want to solve this issue.

“Stateless people don’t have any kind of official documents from the government,” he said. “As for the maktumin, we as the administration will try to help them.”

According to the constitution of the local self-administrations in northeastern Syria, thereis no discrimination between those who are stateless and those with a nationality.

“While the Kurdish authorities in Syria have made school open to stateless Kurdish children, they would likely face difficulties in getting education certificates (school and university) recognized by Damascus,” McGee said.

“My wife and I couldn’t finish our studies,” Biro told Kurdistan24. “We also couldn’t get Syrian government jobs.”

According to McGee, statelessness could become an issue if the Syrian government and the Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria reach a deal over the future of northeastern Syria, which is now de-facto autonomous.

A few weeks ago, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) visited Damascus and held talks with the government. So far, they have not reached a solution.

Biro called on the local administrations to demand a solution from Damascus.

“A solution is delayed by the Syrian regime. We ask the administration and the regime to solve this issue.”

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany