Securing Status: Syrian refugees and the documentation of legal status, identity, and family relationships in Jordan
I. Executive Summary
Nearly six years into the Syrian conflict, Syria’s neighbours are grappling with the challenge of accommodating significant numbers of Syrian refugees over the long term. In Jordan, there are more than 656,000 Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of September 2016. Close to 80 per cent of these registered refugees live outside refugee camps, in Jordanian cities, towns, and rural areas. In this report, the term “Syrian refugee” is used mainly to describe people of Syrian nationality who have registered with UNHCR, but also encompasses Syrians who have not registered with UNHCR and are seeking international protection in Jordan.
This report describes Syrian refugees’ experiences obtaining government-issued identity cards and birth and marriage certificates outside the camps – documentation that enables refugees to prove their legal status, identity, and family relationships in Jordan.
This report outlines the relevant official processes, the challenges refugees encounter, and the consequences faced by those who lack documentation. Seventy-two Syrian refugee families living in host communities in Amman and the north of Jordan were interviewed for this report in early 2016.
The report focuses on issues surrounding “legal documentation,” a term referring in this context primarily to new Ministry of the Interior Service Cards (“new MoI cards”), but also encompassing asylum seeker certificates (UNHCR-issued documentation), Syrian passports, and Syrian identity cards. The new MoI card is a particularly important piece of legal documentation because possession of a card confirms that its holder is officially entitled to live outside refugee camps. Given the card’s significance, this report focuses on challenges refugees may encounter in the process to obtain a new MoI card. In an effort to help identify solutions, the report also explores reasons why some refugees may not possess new MoI cards.
The largest groups of concern are refugees who are ineligible to receive new MoI cards and refugees who are eligible, but have not yet obtained new MoI cards because they lack the documents necessary to receive a card through the normal issuance process. Every Syrian in Jordan must register with the Government of Jordan, which in early 2015 began a process to re-register all Syrians in the country; as of October 2016, that process, known as the Urban Verification Exercise (“UVE”), is ongoing. Through the UVE, Syrians living in host communities outside the camps receive new MoI cards. (Refugees in camps also receive camp-based new MoI cards – which are valid only while refugees remain living the camps – but in this report “new MoI card” refers exclusively to cards issued outside the camps to refugees living in host communities.)
The new MoI card is a plastic card that contains identifying personal information, such as the holder’s name and date of birth, as well as biometric data. It entitles the holder to move freely throughout Jordan. In the district in which the new MoI card was issued, it also allows the holder to access public services, such as health and education. The UVE has focused on registered refugees, rather than the broader Syrian population living in Jordan, and this report likewise focuses on registered refugees. As of the end of August 2016, out of the 515,000 refugees registered with UNHCR as living outside the camps, nearly 363,000 had obtained new MoI cards and around 152,000 had not.
As discussed below, NRC estimates that at least 17,000 additional refugees living in host communities are ineligible to receive new MoI cards.5 Refugees without new MoI cards live in situations of legal uncertainty, without access to essential services and at risk of arrest, detention, forced relocation to refugee camps, and possible refoulement (forced return to a country where they may be subjected to persecution; refoulement is a violation of international law). Nonetheless, the significant work undertaken by Jordanian authorities during the UVE to issue new MoI cards to more than 360,000 Syrian refugees must be acknowledged. In addition to conferring legal status, facilitating freedom of movement, and providing access to services, the new MoI card helps establish nationality for Syrians born in Jordan, which may support eventual voluntary repatriation or resettlement efforts.
More generally, the availability of a government-issued identity card supports protection activities and service provision to refugees by allowing authorities to identify refugees’ needs, as well as assisting in community acceptance of refugees. Refugees interviewed for this report had a range of experiences with the UVE. Some easily completed the process and welcomed the security and access to services that the card provided. Others encountered challenges in the process of applying for cards and some were unable to obtain them. Some problems, such as long queues at police stations, were largely logistical and temporary.
Other challenges related to documents refugees were required to produce. In some cases, documentation issues were resolvable, but required refugees to take additional steps: for example, refugees whose Syrian identity documents had been retained by Jordanian authorities when they entered the country had to request and retrieve these documents before they could receive a new MoI card.