The ruling coalition in Turkey, which mainly includes the Justice and Development Party and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party, and the coalitions of opposition parties collide over the issue of allowing Syrian refugees to stay on Turkish soil or voluntarily deporting them. Syrian refugees, however, have other issues to worry about, mainly the registration of births across Turkish cities where children of Syrian parents are born. How is this done? What are the obstacles impeding registration? Has the issue also turned into a point of controversy between the ruling coalition and its opponents?
Turkish hospitals, both private and public, grant newborns birth certificates that include all the child’s details, including name, family name, birth date, and parents’ country of origin. Later, one of the parents would notarize the birth certificate at the Personal Status Department, which is known in Turkish as Nufus Mudurlugu. The parents could then have a passport issued for the newborn, as several sources from Turkish hospitals told Majalla.
The issue arises not in the issuance of the birth certificate, but during the notarization process. A certificate cannot be notarized if the mother is under the legal age. In this case, no passport can be issued for the newborn, even if the parents have valid Syrian passports, because the Turkish law does not recognize a marriage if any of the parents is younger than 18 years old.
What happens when a birth certificate is not notarized?
Majalla talked to several Syrian families living in Turkey, who have not been able to notarize their children’s birth certificates because the mothers had not attained the legal age. Accordingly, the children were not registered at the Personal Status Department. The families concurred that the newborns’ vaccines were a major matter for them because their children were not allowed to have them.
The father of a newborn revealed that he managed to secure vaccines for his child, thanks to help of a Syrian doctor working at a private medical center, and had to pay for that. He pointed out that the issue of not notarizing birth certificates could mean that his child will not be able to enroll in a kindergarten or a school in the upcoming years.
He continued: “When enrolling a Syrian child in a kindergarten or a school in Turkey, a notarized birth certificate should be submitted, as well as a proof of a temporary residence known as a ‘Kimlik.’ In case a birth certificate is not officiated, a child is not granted the right to education.”
Although this issue can be resolved once the mother attains legal age, this mostly happens as the child reaches the elementary education stage. This has been especially common amidst the spike in child marriages among Syrian refugees, with many girls getting married at the age of 14 or 15.
Another Syrian refugee who finally managed to enroll his child in school with the start of the 2022-2023 academic year, said, “My wife reached the legal age a few months ago, and we finally managed to notarize the marriage, as well as the birth certificate of our 5-year-old daughter. However, our daughter is currently struggling with learning Turkish because she was not enrolled in a kindergarten.”
Speaking to Majalla, the Syrian refugee warned “against giving birth before both the mother and the father reach the legal age, in order not to jeopardize the future of their children’s education.”
The issue of notarizing marriage and birth certificates once the parents reach the legal age might appear simple compared to the children with unregistered records who do not have any birth certificate having been born in rural areas in Turkey without their mothers resorting to doctors and hospitals.
Until today, there are no official figures on the number of Syrian children with unregistered records inside Turkey. Children born to Syrian parents also face the problem of statelessness if their parents are unable to register their births in Syria. Several obstacles impede this, most notably having no relatives in areas controlled by the Syrian regime to register them in Syria, or not being able to pay the fees required by Syrian embassies and consulates abroad, especially the fines for delaying birth registration. This contributes to dooming these children as stateless.
Majalla could not get comments from deputies in the Turkish parliament from the ruling party on this issue, especially since the Justice and Development Party is working to “voluntarily return the Syrians to their country,” in coordination with international organizations dealing with refugees through a plan that is not yet clear.
The largest opposition party in Turkey, the Republican People's Party, describes the Syrian births inside Turkish territory as a “demographic change” in some areas, and accordingly submitted a proposal to Parliament last week.
A couple of days ago, however, the Turkish Parliament rejected the proposal, which called for controlling the number of Syrians and their distribution in the country’s states, most notably Hatay, which is known in Arabic as “Antakya.” Hatay ranked third among Turkish cities in terms of Syrian refugee population.
A source from the Republican People's Party revealed to Majalla that “the proposal aimed to regulate the numbers of Syrians in all Turkish states, so that their percentage in each state should not exceed the percentage of Turkish citizens. However, the ruling coalition voted by a majority against this draft resolution.”
In addition to the demographic change that the main opposition party accuses the Syrians of causing in some states, the same party confirmed that Antakya suffers from economic problems due to the large number of refugees there. About half a million Syrians live in said state, according to official Turkish statistics, but the opposition claims that the number is about 800,000.
Suzan Sahin, Republican People's Party Hatay Deputy, underlined that “the city's residents face poverty and that the Syrian refugees are one of the main problems for them.” She also compared the numbers of refugees in Hatay to the number of Turkish citizens who come from the state.
She added, speaking to the parliament, that "the population of Hatay is 1,670,000, which means that half of the population is non-Turkish.” She also noted that “75 percent of the births in the city are given by Syrian women.”
She continued, “Syrian families reproduce at a high rate, with some of them bearing as many as six children in as little as six years.”
The deputy on behalf of the opposition party also noted that economic movement in the state in terms of exports, imports and gold trade takes place only through Syrian merchants who are getting richer by the day. As for the Turkish residents of Hatay, they are getting poorer.
The deputy also opposed granting Turkish residency to the large number of Syrians residing in Hatay. She said, “Another issue threatening Hatay is the increase in the number of naturalized Syrian voters, who now stand at 18,000, compared to 13,000 two years ago.
Sahin did not discuss only the Syrian refugees in Antakya, but also expressed her opposition to their presence in the town of Reyhanli, which is located on its outskirts.
She stressed that “the number of Turkish residents in Reyhanli amounted to about 98,000, but according to official records, 129,000 Syrian refugees live there, which is more than the number of the Turkish population." She warned that "they are likely to become mayors or representatives in parliament in the future.”
Mayor of Hatay Metropolitan Municipality Lütfü Savaş had warned in early March that the majority of the state's residents after 12 years would be Syrians. Savaş expressed his opposition to granting the refugees Turkish citizenship, describing the move as a “big mistake.”
Savaş added that “the increase in the number of Syrians has pushed the future of Hatay to the brink,” noting that “three out of four newborns in Hatay are Syrians.” He called on the authorities to take measures in this regard, without specifying them.
He noted, “If no measures are taken in this regard, the mayor of Hatay after 12 years will be a Syrian, because the majority of the population at that time will be of Syrian origin, especially since their number today is 800,000 in the state among the 1,670,000 living in Hatay.” He also questioned the validity of figures that estimate the number of Syrians in Hatay to be about half a million refugees.
In 2021 and 2022, Syrian communities in Turkey have experienced riots. This was followed by incitement campaigns demanding their deportation, waged by Turkish political parties and figures from various parties in the country. The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party and the ruling party are an exception, as their leaders speak of a "voluntary return" of Syrians to their country.
The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey is estimated at more than 3.5 million. Most of them fled to Turkey after the war that ravaged in their country more than a decade ago, which followed popular protests calling for the departure of President Bashar al-Assad.
This weekend, former presidential candidate Muharrem Ince, who resigned last year from the main opposition party, warned against the continued presence of Syrian refugees in Turkey.
Ince said in a speech he delivered during the inauguration of his party’s new headquarters that “the Syrians’ visits have taken longer than they should, and there will be no such guests in Turkey should I become the president.” He added: “We will send the Syrians back to their country then, and I will establish relations with Assad and appoint an ambassador to Damascus.” His stance is in accordance with his previous party’s stand regarding the presence of Syrian refugees. The Republican People's Party previously revealed its intent to deport Syrians if it comes to power after the presidential and parliamentary elections that are supposed to be held next year.
* Jiwan Soz is a researcher and journalist who focuses on Syrian and Turkish affairs and minorities in the Middle East. He is also a member of Syndicat National des Journalistes (National Syndicate of Journalists [SNJ]). He tweets at @JiwanSoz1