The only government services available in the camp for Nada's daughters, including schooling and food distribution, are inaccessible. The school in the camp requires children to provide documentation to enroll and government assistance is only distributed to those with IDs.  

NRC has found that, in displacement camps alone, about 45,000 children, or one in every five children, are now estimated to be missing birth certificates.

Photo: Tom Peyre-Costa/NRC

No documents, no future

When Eman, a woman from Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul, was about to deliver her baby, the hospital refused to take her in because she had lost her civil ID.

“I was in so much pain and went to a hospital in Mosul, but they refused to allow me in.”

More than one year since the end of the war in Iraq, thousands of people are still missing their documentation, deprived from their most basic rights as citizens and facing complete exclusion from their society.

Read also: 45,000 children may become stateless in post-IS Iraq.

Why civil documentation is important

One of the most basic human rights, the right to be recognised as a person before the law and possess legal identity, is fundamental to enabling an individual to claim other rights, including the right to a nationality, freedom of movement, and to access a range of basic services such as education, healthcare and adequate housing

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.

Birth certificates give children access to medical treatment and the vaccinations they need to stay healthy. Unregistered children are often unable to gain access to health care services or pay more for those services than a registered child.

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 are more able to safely unite families and account for every child.

No documents, no healthcare

“I went to another hospital, hoping they might understand my situation, but they wouldn’t help me unless I brought my ID.” Eman is married, but she is unable to prove her identity or that she is married because her husband is missing. He went missing back in 2017, during the military operations to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group (IS).  Eman hasn’t heard from him since she fled.

The hospital staff questioned her about her husband and whether her pregnancy was a result of an affair. “They threatened to keep my child in the hospital until the father showed up, if I insisted on giving birth there.” For Eman, this was unacceptable. She went home and delivered her child without medical assistance, with no doctor to help her.

Her daughter never received a birth certificate. Now she is almost two years old and has not even been vaccinated yet. The child suffers from bronchitis and kidney stones but receives no medical care.

When Eman heard about a hospital in Hamam Al-Alil camp, in Mosul governorate, where they provide medical assistance to undocumented people, she tried to go, but was stopped at the checkpoint. She did not have the required ID documents to pass.

Faseeh has not left his camp for two years now. "When ISIS attacked, we fled to Kirkuk. We didn't take anything with us but what we were wearing. We had nothing. My brothers and I can't leave the camp, they don't let us go home to Hawija," he said.

Freedom of movement is severely limited when lacking civil documents, restricting IDPs from returning to home, but also traveling between cities and towns. Iraqis without documentation are also at increased risk of arbitrary arrest or detention at checkpoints.

* Name was changed for protection concerns.
Photo: Tom Peyre-Costa/NRC
Read caption Faseeh (name has been changed) hasn’t been outside the camp he lives in for two years. The authorities don’t allow anyone to leave the camp without civil documents. Photo: Tom Peyre-Costa/NRC

Children don’t receive vaccination

In the city of Hawija, located in the central part of the country in Kirkuk governorate, children without birth certificates are not receiving vaccinations, according to Salah, a medical assistant at the directorate of health.

The undocumented families cannot go to hospitals to receive the vaccinations need for their children. They count on campaigns led by individual efforts from some local clinics and NGOs for their children to get vaccinated. “Lack of vaccination caused the emergence of new types of diseases such as Measles, which did not exist before IS.”

Those who don’t have birth certificates they are more exposed to diseases. “The emergence of these diseases stared with the children born under the IS group period, as most of them have no birth certificates.”

Across Iraq, an estimated 8 per cent of displaced Iraqis outside of camps and 10 per cent of Iraqi families residing in camps are missing at least one form of civil ID.

According to a new study conducted by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and our partners, the financial cost of issuing, updating or renewing documentation is the most significant barrier to accessing documentation. This leads many to not even attempt to renew or update their documentation. Another barrier is overcrowded civil directorates and lack of understanding of the process.

Iraqi laws and international obligations

The Iraqi Constitution says that, “Anyone who is born to an Iraqi father or to an Iraqi mother shall be considered an Iraqi” and that all “Iraqis are equal before the law without discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, origin, colour, religion, sect, belief or opinion, or economic or social status.” It also says that “an Iraqi citizen by birth may not have his citizenship withdrawn for any reason” and that “Any person who had his citizenship withdrawn shall have the right to demand its reinstatement.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms every person’s right to a nationality. The Iraqi government has made come commitments to align to international standards on this matter, including signing up to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which says that every child has the right to be registered at birth, acquire nationality and preserve his or her identity.

Not allowed to leave the camp

Hana, a mother of seven children, lives in a camp for displaced people in Kirkuk governorate, in central Iraq. When their hometown in Mosul was under the control of IS group, the entire documentation issuing process stopped. Three of her children are undocumented. This is causing immense problems for the family, especially.

Hana’s two-year-old suffers from asthma. “He got sick after fleeing to the camp. The tents can be very cold during winter. My child needs healthcare and I cannot even take him to a hospital close to the camp.”

The authorities don’t allow anyone leave the camp without civil documents.

“Under IS’ control, there was no system to issue official documents such as birth certificates. We only had the vaccine card for new born babies,” Hana explains.

Undocumented people living outside the camps also lack access to assistance from government and sometimes from humanitarian organisations too.

Read caption Hana’s two-year-old suffers from asthma. “He got sick after fleeing to the camp. The tents can be very cold during winter. My child needs healthcare and I cannot even take him to a hospital close to the camp.” Photo: Tom Peyre-Costa/NRC

Risk being removed from school

At the school in Hamam Al-Alil camp in Mosul, headmaster Ibrahim confirms that children need ID to register in schools.

There are high numbers of undocumented children in the camp. Ibrahim allows all the children to attend classes, also those who don’t have an ID, but says they risk being thrown out of the school by authorities at any time.

“Because they don’t have the needed documents, my children are unable to attend school. They lost their future and their dreams,” says Nada, a divorced woman and a mother of seven children living in the camp. Like many people, she’s not able to pay for transportation and fees for issuing new documents.

NRC estimates that about 45,000 children in camps across Iraq alone are missing birth certificates or other civil documentation, putting them at high risk of being sentenced to a life on the margins of Iraqi society.

Hana shares Nada’s concern for the future of her children. “I believe my children will not have a future without education. It’s the only way for my children to reach their dreams, but now this dream is taken from them too.”

NRC provides legal assistance

In Mosul, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) provides information to displaced Iraqis about civil documentation, registration, access to available services and housing, land and property rights in addition to individual counselling and assistance.

We assist people who lack civil documentation by providing group-information sessions and mobile legal counselling, producing public information materials and guidance on obtaining civil documentation in Iraq, and coordinating with relevant government authorities to assist displaced Iraqis and local people obtain civil and legal documents that they have lost.