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Syrians' dilemma

Reuters
Saturday, January 13, 2018

BEKAA, Lebanon - In a tent in Lebanon surrounded by snow, Syrian refugees Ammar and Khadija were married by a tribal leader from their homeland in a wedding they would soon come to regret.

What they had hoped would be a milestone on the path back to normal life became the start of a bureaucratic nightmare.

One year on, it shows no sign of ending for them, their newly born son or for many other refugees from Syria, whose misery at losing their homes has been compounded by a new fear they may never be able to return.

It is a dilemma with knock-on effects for stability in Lebanon, sheltering more than a million Syrian refugees, and potentially for other countries in the Middle East and Europe they may flee to if tension spills over.

After they had agreed their union with the sheikh in the insulated tent that had become home to Khadija's family, the newlyweds both spent months digging potatoes in the Bekaa valley, one of Lebanon's poorest districts, to make ends meet.

Only after they had a baby boy, Khalaf, did they realise the wedding had been a mistake.

When the couple went to register his birth at the local registry, they were told they could not because they had no official marriage certificate.

Without registration, Khalaf is not entitled to a Syrian passport or other ID enabling him to go there. Without proper paperwork, he also risks future detention in Lebanon.

Asked why they did not get married by an approved religious authority, Ammar and Khadija looked at each other before answering: "We didn't know."

Laws and legislation seem very remote from the informal settlements in the northern Bekaa Valley, where Syrian refugee tents sit on the rocky ground amongst tobacco fields. Marriages by unregistered sheikhs are common but hard to quantify because authorities often never hear of them.

For whereas in Syria, verbal tribal or religious marriages are easy to register, Lebanon has complex and costly procedures.

You first need to be married by a sheikh approved by one of the various religious courts that deal with family matters, who gives you a contract. Then you have to get a marriage certificate from a local notary, transfer it to the local civil registry and register it at the Foreigners' Registry.

Most Syrians do not complete the process, as it requires legal residency in the country, which must be renewed annually and costs $200, although the fee was waived for some refugees this year.








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