Syria: Ajanib and Maktoumeen – Bashar al-Assad grants some, not all, stateless Kurds citizenship

Yesterday SANA announced that Bashar al-Assad had granted citizenship to those registered in the registry for foreigners in Hassake. According to Syrian state TV all 250 000 stateless Kurds would be granted Syria citizenship, but that is not the case. To understand the situation for stateless Kurds in Syria we have to go back to 1962 and the census conducted in the Hassake-region.

On 5 October 1962 the Syrian government conducted a one day census in the Hassake region to verify who of among the Kurds had moved into the area after 1945 (from Turkey and Iraq). This was a step in the arabization campaign of the region, with an aim to re-distribute land to Arab families. In can also be noted that at that time 80% of the cotton and corn came from the Hasake-region. Oil was also plentiful in the region.

Those families who could not produce documents or who missed out on the census lost their Syrian citizenship. As far as I now it was Kurds not Arabs who lost their citizenship in the census of 1962, around 120 000. An estimation put the number of stateless Kurds today between 200 000 – 300 000.

But among the stateless Kurds there is a difference between those who could not produce documents proving that they had lived in the area prior to 1945 and those who missed out on the census. The first group was registered as ajanib – meaning ‘foreigner’ in arabic. The others who missed out on the census are called maktoumeen – meaning ‘hidden’ in arabic. Ajanib and maktoumeen are not allowed to own property such as land, house, car etc. To solve this stateless kurds have had to have Syrian citizens or stateless Palestinians register property for them, i.e. ‘ownership’ by proxy. Ajanib are issued id-cards (orange in colour, to be exact) by the civil registry for foreigners in Hassake. They can also be granted laissez passer from ministry of interior with a validity for two years for one exit and entry only, if there are ‘compelling’ grounds, such as the need to visit another country for medical treatment. And yes, the application has to approved by the mukhabarat, in this case likely the political security and/or state security. Maktoumeen are not issued any official id-card (although they can be obtain a certificate of identity from the local mukthar). They cannot obtain any travel documents and are thus barred from leaving Syria legally. When it comes to matters of education ajanib are allowed to study at university – but are not issued any certificate on completion of study. Maktoumeen are not allowed to study at university, but maktoumeen children can attend school. But they are not issued any certificate/records proving that they have passed final exam. For matters of marriage things get a bit sticky. In Syria nationality is passed on through the father. If the father is a Syria citizen and the mother ajanib or maktoumeen the child can become a Syrian citizen if the marriage have been registered – which is not an easy feat when there is a stateless kurd involved – especially a maktoumeen (and yes, the mukhabarat/-es have to approve…). If the marriage has not been registered (i.e. approved) the child will in that case will become maktoumeen no matter the fathers nationality/status.

Those who have been granted citizenship by yesterdays decree are those registered in the registry for foreigners in Hasake, the ajanib. According to Syrian authorities this decree covers 250 000 individuals. Others have put it on around 220 000. What is for certain is that not all stateless have been granted citizenship. The number of maktoumeen in Syria is estimated to between 80 000 and 160 000.


About Leif Eriksson

Leif Eriksson has worked in the field of asylum at the Swedish Migration Agency specializing in the Middle East, Schengen and the Dublin Regulation, as Migration Attaché and head of the migration section at the Swedish Embassy in Damascus 2005 - 2008, as a resettlement consultant at the UNHCR branch office in Damascus 2008 - 2009, Consul at the Swedish Consulate General in Jerusalem 2012 - 2013 and associate RSD/RST officer at UNHCR in Beirut 2013 - 2014. He currently lives in Tbilisi, Georgia.
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