After nearly six years of war, a generation of births, deaths, marriages and divorces have gone unrecorded. A newly married couple has no state recognition that their union exists; for young children, they were likely born with no birth certificates.
In Syria and much of the Middle East, births, deaths, marriages, divorces and all issues pertaining to a family are catalogued and compiled in family ledgers; small booklets resembling passports.
Ledgers are used to register a child for school, get married, travel or access any sort of social service.
In wartime Syria, such documentation is more immediately needed to receive aid from humanitarian organizations.
In one small town in south Idlib, an opposition local council is now issuing its own family ledgers.
A newly issued family ledgers in south Idlib. Photo courtesy of Abu Shadi al-Hamawi.
“We are waiting for the other councils to catch up and establish a unified civil registration for the entire province,” Abu Shadi al-Hamawi, an independent citizen journalist affiliated with the local council in rebel-controlled southern Idlib province, tells Syria Direct’s Alaa Nassar.
The Local Council of the Free People of Halfaya has issued more than 350 new family ledgers, says al-Hamawi.
This standardized civil registry “is one of the essential building blocks for forming local administration” and “will play an important role in the future of a new Syria,” the activist says.
Q: What kinds of problems have displaced people and residents of rebel-controlled areas in general face in their daily lives without official documents?
In the case of regime defectors, their official documents and military service documents are with the regime. They do not have anything except a driver’s license, but only a few still have that. Even if they do have it, a driver’s license isn’t an officially recognized document that verifies their identity.
One of the major problems is that recently married men [traveling] with their wives are detained at rebel checkpoints since they do not have personal identity documents or proof that the women with them are their wives. The first question the rebels ask is, “what proof do you have that you are so-and-so or that she is your wife?” But now all their personal information and that of their wives are fully documented [in the family ledgers].
To add to the hardships that young people face, cases of new births are undocumented and there isn’t official documentation proving the child’s existence. The lack of verification of births deprives the child of his civil rights as an individual as well as his right to access the essential aid that organizations provide, such as baby formula and diapers.
Q: Where did the idea of issuing family ledgers come from?
A comprehensive family ledger records marriage contracts, divorce, births and deaths. They are also meant to help with displaced people’s struggles [to procure aid] from humanitarian and aid organizations.
Q: Have special local councils for displaced people been established in any other areas?
All the liberated areas operate according to their particular local councils. The Halfaya council is ahead of the others and took this measure to handle the issues faced by displaced people in the area. We are waiting for the other councils to catch up and establish a unified civil registration for the entire province. It is the beginning of a very successful experiment that has been widely well received.
Q: What is the benefit of issuing family ledgers to people who have been displaced? Have people welcomed the idea?
After the villages were liberated and were no longer under regime control, the regime started firing all cadres of employees (the municipality, the public registry, the postal service, water and electricity). Also, during the war, thousands have lost their lives, thousands of children have been born and dozens of young people have gotten married.
Yet none of this has been documented because of the regime’s refusal to recognize records and documents that come form the liberated areas on the one hand, and the fear of young men who are wanted [by the regime] to enlist.
After the local councils were formed, some council organizers intended to issue documents for people who were recently married. This was well received by civilians because the majority of them have children and some of them are newly displaced families without verifiable documents. They now have legitimacy in the eyes of humanitarian organizations, which require them in order to get aid.
Q: Why is the new family ledger important?
The family ledger that was issued recently is really not that different from those previously issued by the regime except that it is yellow and carries the stamp of the Local Council for the Free People of Halfaya instead of the regime’s. But one of the most significant instructions written inside is that this document cannot be brought to regime-held areas.
The family ledger also can’t be forged because after the information about an individual and his family is processed, each page is laminated with sticky transparent laminate, similar to that of the family ledger and military service book issued by the regime. You can’t write on the laminate, forge it, or tamper with the laminate because doing so would immediately damage the ledger and show that it had been tampered with.
The old family ledger was just a normal sheet of yellow paper and the information was written haphazardly. It wasn’t laminated so it was easy to forge it or tamper with it, not to mention easily damaged.
Q: Will the ledgers contribute to the development of a civil registry across all of the rebel-controlled areas in Idlib?
After successfully issuing the family ledgers to local families, coordination is now beginning between other local councils to standardize civil registration for all of the rebel-controlled villages to achieve a uniform database for the province and the countryside.
Of course this will play an important role in the future of a new Syria. The civil registry will be one of the essential building blocks for forming local administration in a new government. Thanks to the new civil registry, we have dispensed with the regime and its old documents and we will not need them anymore. We will prove to the world that our people and our leaders can govern a new, free Syria without the Assad regime.