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Thomas McGee

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Interview Conducted by Thomas Mcgee. Thomas McGee is a researcher and humanitarian practitioner specialising in the Middle East. Speaking Arabic and Kurdish, he has conducted extensive field research with Syrian/Kurdish communities since 2009. Thomas graduated from Cambridge University and holds MA in Kurdish Studies from Exeter, writing his thesis on stateless identity for Syria’s Kurds. He has published on Kurdish statelessness in Tilburg Law Review and contributed to the MENA Nationality and Statelessness Research Project. The names has been changed to protect the interviewees’ identity.

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Axin - an interview

Thomas McGee

All seven of Axin’s children are stateless. She is a Syrian citizen herself, but under Syrian law, nationality is transmitted through the father and not the mother. Her husband, the children’s father, is stateless. He belongs to a group of Kurds known as the Ajnab whose statelessness resulted from an arbitrary one-day census, conducted in a single area of Syria, in 1962. Those Kurds who participate in the census but could not provide sufficient documentation to prove their connection with Syria were registered as Ajnabi (foreigner) and this status has been inherited from father to children across the generations born since. Axin’s children missed out on a nationality as a consequence of multiple discrimination, on the grounds of both gender and ethnicity. Here, she reflects back on the challenges faced by her now-adult children, growing up stateless in Syria:

I first realised when registering my children in the civil registry. We were unable to receive the food rations for our children that are allocated to all citizens at a subsidised price.

My children always suffered psychologically from the discrimination by all governmental bodies and education agencies … in the state directorates and schools. They were deprived from participating in most activities such as festivities, competitions, trips, sports teams, which contributed some additional marks towards the final class grades. This really affected their personalities a lot, and they always felt they were discriminated against as a result of race and nationality. During their later studies, I was shocked that they were deprived of certificates demonstrating their successes at the key educational milestones (the Brévet certificate in ninth grade and Baccalaureate in twelfth grade).

My eldest daughter was affected the most out of my children. She is very ambitious. She was a top student at school. She likes music and plays the piano. She was prevented from pursuing university education even though she had passed the school leaving exams. For the rest of my children, their big sister was a role model and the deprivation she faced really affected their ability to have a normal childhood too. Society did not have mercy on them either; instead adding further pressure by confronting them and telling them it is not feasible to continue their academic achievements. My younger children would always ask me if they would face the same fate as their elder sister. As a mother, there is nothing more difficult than facing such prejudice and seeing your children without a future.      

I have never had peace of mind about my children. I always had a feeling of fear, despair and anxiety about their future: fearing that they would not be entitled to pursue university education or legally travel outside the country or own property or have the opportunity to get married properly. Since getting married with an Ajnabi means that the children of that marriage will be deprived of the same rights, this leads to social isolation and sometimes rejection within the community, even at an early age.  I feel proud of their successes in the face of all of this.

As a mother, there is nothing more difficult than facing such prejudice and seeing your children without a future