Many Syrians now living in Turkey faces huge bureaucratic hurdles while trying to obtain the right government-issued documents, which put them in a state of waiting and having no certain future.
Aref al-Krez is a young Syrian guy. The 24-year-old Syrian refugee and father of a young daughter has a world of worries about her future and his role in it.
His daughter Perla, age 2, has an uncertain legal status in Turkey, limiting both her rights and future opportunities, like so many of the Syrian children born in Turkey to refugee parents.
Turkey has taken in far more Syrian refugees than any other country — 2.7 million refugees since the Syrian war began in 2011, according to the United Nations refugee agency. But Turkey isn’t making it easy for them to put down roots and build new lives.
For starters, Turkey does not legally consider them “refugees.” Rather, the Turkish government calls them “guests.” As a result, Syrian children born in Turkey are not given citizenship and face great difficulty in obtaining even basic identity documents.
In his small apartment in Gaziantep, the de facto capital of Turkey’s Syrian exile community, Krez details the difficulties he’s already had in trying to get his family’s paperwork in order.
“I’m very worried,” he says, smiling at Perla, who’s doing an impromptu dance. “I don’t want her to be stuck in this vague system her whole life. I want her to have the opportunity to reach her dreams.”
Without a well-defined legal status, be it citizenship or just residency, Perla will be unable to legally leave the country for study or work.
Documents that refer to just one parent
In the short term, she lacks papers that define her relationship to her mother and father. In Turkey, many Syrian children who are born in Turkish hospitals are identified as having only one parent, the mother, leaving the children in a legal limbo that limits the family’s options for the future.
Krez says that because his daughter isn’t legally registered as his by the Turkish government, he’s afraid to travel too far with her, for fear his family might reach a checkpoint where he can’t prove his relation to Perla.
Perla’s identification difficulties will be compounded later. Under the current law in Turkey, the children of Syrian refugees can’t obtain a Turkish passport, making it impossible for them to legally leave and re-enter the country.
“Being a Syrian is like being a criminal,” Krez laments, adding that those without any identifying documents are even worse off than he. “They are like nobodies. No travel. No work. No respect.”
It’s also exceptionally frustrating. The road to obtaining the proper paperwork begins for many Syria refugees with a seemingly insurmountable Catch-22.
First, Syrians need to show Turkish authorities their “Family Book,” a passport-shaped booklet that records a family’s marriages and births. Syrians who escaped the fighting with their Family Book issued by the Syrian government can often obtain the Turkish equivalent.
Another essential document for Syrians in Turkey is the guest registration card known as a “Kimlik,” which gives the bearer access to health care and other government services like education.
The Kimlik is theoretically available to any Syrian who arrives in Turkey with an accepted form of Syrian ID — even a student ID will do. However, the Kimlik system is extremely slow in providing Syrian refugees with this document, and Turkish officials acknowledge the system is overwhelmed with requests.
The dizzying paperwork process is even more difficult for those who were forced to flee Syria without proper identification. They face a brick wall that can only, sometimes, be circumvented with a payment to the right official or finding someone back in Syria to get them a Family Book.
Such efforts can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, money most Syrian refugees don’t have.