Read caption Hamza, 8, is delighted to finally have his birth certificate, ensuring his right to an education and medical assistance. “I want to be a doctor in the future,” he says. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

Yemen: the document that changes the future

Kristine Kolstad and Thale Jenssen|Published 28. Mar 2019
A single document can determine the future of a displaced family. In Yemen, we provide birth certificates so that children are able to access life-saving health care, protection, education – and have evidence of their own existence.

When the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) intervened in Al-Mishqafa camp in Lahj, southern Yemen, our team realised just how many camp residents lacked civil documentation.

Before long, we were arranging meetings in the camp, informing its inhabitants about the importance of civil documentation.

Read also: Salah dreams of bombs and death

Why civil documentation is important 

Birth certificates open up a world of health care. They give children access to medical treatment and the vaccinations they need to stay healthy. Every year, millions of children die from preventable diseases before they reach the age of five. Unregistered children are often unable to gain access to health care services or pay more for those services than a registered child.

Birth certificates create a permanent record of a child’s existence. They can provide protection, guarantees children’s legal rights and give children the legal proof of their family ties, ensuring they receive what belongs to them.

If a disaster strikes and children are separated from their families, a reunion could be next to impossible without proper identification. But with birth registration, government officials can safely unite families and account for every child.

Read also: Rebuilding bombed schools in Yemen

Ruaa Mohammed, Information Counselling Legal Assistance (ICLA) Assistant, and Nuhad Mubarak, ICLA Officer, are explaining child birth certificates to Nour, whose son Hamza received his that day.

Al-Mishqafa camp was established in late 2016 and initially hosted 60 displaced households (approximately 420 people). By 2018 the number of the households increased to 300 (2,100 people), at which time NRC, with funding from UNHCR, began providing cash assistance via its Information Counselling Legal Advice and Protection Programmes. The program further supported displaced families with IDs, supplying 88 people with ID cards, and 165 children with birth certificates. 

In November 2018, NRC’s shelter department built 312 shelters and 120 latrines. The camp population is still in need of continuous support as they lack consistent access to food and safe water, and struggle daily with camp conditions that expose them to insects, snakes, scorpions and very windy, dry weather during the summer season.

Photo: NRC
Read caption NRC's Ruaa Mohammed and Nuhad Mubarak explain to Hamza’s mother, Nour, about the birth certificates her children received that day. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

Enabling children to get an education.

Birth certificates also enable children to get an education. With a birth certificate, a child will have the necessary documentation needed to enrol in publicly funded schools. But without it, a child can be kept from participating at school.

Eight-year-old Hamza has never had a birth certificate. In the years his family have been displaced, this has prevented him from being able to register at schools. Now, his future looks brighter.

After his mother attended the Norwegian Refugee Council’s information session in the camp, she made sure Hamza and his siblings received their birth certificates. Hamza is delighted.

"I want to go to school and make new friends. I want to be a doctor in the future. I’m so happy that I finally have a birth certificate," he says.

Read also: Malka assists those fleeing the same war she escaped 

How we work in the camp

Al-Mishqafa camp, where Hamza lives, was established in late 2016. Four months ago, we rebuilt the entire camp, providing better shelters for all of the 312 families living there.

With funding from UNHCR, we’ve provided information sessions, birth certificates and cash assistance to the people in the camp, enabling them to buy food, clean water and medicines.

If provided with more funding to our programmes, we aim to rebuild more camps like Al-Mishqafa, with proper shelters and latrines, preserving the safety and dignity of displaced families in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.