By Abdelhaq Hammam and Avery Edelman
DAMASCUS: When Abo Abada’s youngest son was born two years ago in the opposition-held suburbs east of Damascus, he immediately tried to register the birth on his family ledger, a Syrian government-issued booklet that records births, deaths, marriages and divorces.
“I tried by all means,” he told the Syrian Voice, “but I wasn’t able to document the birth of my new son.”
Instead, Abo Abada received a temporary, paper identification from an opposition-affiliated local council in his town, a practice which has become commonplace since pro-government forces began a crippling siege on his home region, know as the Eastern Ghouta, in 2013, thereby restricting access to registration offices in government-held territory.
Abo Abada told the Syrian Voice that the temporary identification is easily damaged and he fears it may not be sufficient for his son to register public services like education and healthcare, which are limited to those who can prove familial relations and lineage through a family ledger.
“I’m very worried about [my son’s] future,” he added.
In order to address the challenge faced by Abo Abada and others like him, a civil registry department in Douma, the de facto capital of East Ghouta, began issuing its own family ledgers on May 7.
The department plans to gradually distribute 25,000 of the booklets to families in the city and its suburbs. Each booklet will cost 500 Syrian pounds [about $1.00].
The new, “high-quality” ledgers “simulate the family ledgers previously issued by the government, with some minor differences,” according to Amir Kayki, president of the Douma Local Council’s Civil Registry Department.
By issuing its own ledgers, Kayki says the local council aims to “preserve the accuracy of data and registered information” in Douma and to ensure that such information can be efficiently used for public services.
He noted that the Douma council based its new ledger on a model already used in opposition areas of Aleppo province since 2015 and that opposition councils across Syria are coordinating to develop a unified registration system.
Rights activist and lawyer Hasan Mahmoud, a Douma resident, spoke to the Syrian Voice about the importance of a civil registry which can be considered “the trusted source to update personal status changes like marriage, divorce, birth and death.”
He warned that without the documents produced by such an entity, personal rights, such as a child’s right to a name, citizenship, an education and humanitarian aid can be lost.
He nonetheless told the Syrian Voice that the value of a ledger like the one issued in East Ghouta “depends on recognition of the entity that issued it.”
In the case of Douma, he said, that entity is the Syrian Interim Government, a body fulfilling administrative government functions across opposition-held territories in Syria.
The ledger will therefore only be recognized nationally and internationally by those who acknowledge the interim government’s authority, according to Mahmoud.
For residents of East Ghouta who have relatives in government-held Damascus, the issue of recognition is of particular concern.
Some tell the Syrian Voice that they will continue to depend only on government-issued family documents, regardless of the obstacles, claiming that merely holding a document issued by the opposition could result in punishment by the Syrian regime.
Despite the challenges faced by the new system, Salah al-Din, also a Douma resident, says the new family ledger reflects “the ability of liberated government institutions to be comparable to those of the [Syrian] regime, with regards to organization, documentation and archiving, in addition to credibility.”
Throughout the Syrian conflict, opposition groups have struggled to provide a variety of public services to residents in areas under their control.
Original Arabic article found here.