AMMAN- The Syrian embassy in Amman has recently reduced the fees to register Syrians born abroad, a decision which could make registration easier for the families of the tens of thousands of Syrian children born in Jordan during the civil war and facilitate refugee returns to Syria from Jordan. 

This change comes as part of a series of measures aimed at “decreasing the number of civil registration procedures in the embassy, as well as reducing the financial burden on those that [want] to return [to Syria],” according to a source in the embassy who spoke under the condition of anonymity.

The new procedures, which went into effect in early June, allow those Syrians born in Jordan to return to their country if they show a Jordanian birth certificate and a one-way “crossing ticket”  from the embassy. Previously, those Jordanian-born Syrians were required to provide a “civil registration” certificate in order to get a crossing ticket, which was quite costly to obtain from the Syrian embassy.  

Suha al-Hussein, a 24-year-old mother, started thinking about visiting Syria after the Naseeb (Jaber) Syrian-Jordanian border was re-opened in October 2018, after being closed for three years. However, she first had to gather $175 in order to pay the late penalty for her daughter’s civil registration.

She was thus surprised at the Syrian embassy in Amman last week when she found that the procedures to return to Syria with her daughter had become “significantly more accommodating.” 

Al-Hussein just had to pay $50 to get a crossing ticket for her daughter who could be registered in Syria and get a passport for her there. 

According to the source in the Syrian embassy in Amman, currently, a Syrian citizen must pay “$25 in fees to certify Jordanian birth certificates and an additional $25 for the crossing ticket to Syria.” 

The fees to certify the authenticity of birth certificates at the embassy can cost up to $75 for children under three-months-old, in addition to a $50 late penalty for children under one year if their births were not registered immediately ($125 total), or a $100 late penalty if they reached one-years-old before being registered ($175 total). 

As such, some Syrians have chosen to make the journey to Syria to register their children rather than doing so at the embassy, as late penalties are “much lower” within the country. 

Bilal Homsi, 35-years-old, sent his wife and children to his village in Syria to benefit from these lower fees.

“My [oldest] son is three-years-old, and my daughter is six-months-old. The cost of registering them at the embassy with the late penalties [is] $300.” However, with the new changes to the registration procedure, he only paid $100 to certify their birth certificates and get crossing tickets to Syria.

According to article 68 of the Civil Registration Law, “A fee of 10,00 Syrian Lira (around $20) is taken from the party responsible for reporting [a birth] to the civil registration office if the birth is not reported within one year after its occurrence.” 

A lawyer from Damascus clarified: “There is a financial penalty imposed on every infant not reported to the state’s registry, whether they were born inside or outside Syria, who is older than a year. [If the child is not reported], then the police will ask the parent to appear before the court to verify the child’s documents.” 

“It’s necessary to certify any official documents that come from a foreign country with [that country’s] foreign ministry and with the Syrian embassy.” 

According to a statement by Mohammad Hawari, the spokesman for UNHCR in Jordan, in March 2019, more than 160 thousand Syrians have been born in Jordan since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.

Overwhelming security concerns

Officially, the Syrian government has made the return of refugees and IDPs its “utmost priority,” and is “making a huge effort to secure a good future for them,” according to a statement made by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem. However, the flow of returning Syrian refugees has been tepid thus far, according to official statistics by UNHCR and neighboring host countries. 

UNHCR has estimated that around 20,000 Syrians have returned from Jordan in 2018 and the first half of 2019. There are 664,330 Syrian refugees remaining in Jordan. 

Additionally, Jumana Ghunaimat, Jordan’s Minister of State for Media Affairs and official Government Spokesperson, requested that the international community take more responsibility for Syrian refugees in Jordan, pointing to the low rate of returnees. She emphasized that the Kingdom would never force refugees to return to Syria. 

The idea of a so-called “safe return” and the fate of those who have undertaken the journey back to Syria has been the main subject of discussions among the Syrian community across Jordan in recent months. Many are concerned about the hundreds of refugees who have been arrested by the Syrian government upon their return. 

“The government’s [reforms] ease the financial burden on us,” al-Homsi said. “However, this does not rid us of our fears of [the security conditions], especially among young men.” 

“I am not wanted by any security agency in Syria, but the talk of returnees being arrested, as well as the forced military draft, has caused us to abandon the idea of returning for now.”