Understanding statelessness among Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Published 28. Aug 2022
2022 marks 60 years since many Syrian Kurds lost their citizenship in a 1962 census, and 11 years since the start of the conflict that forcibly displaced more than one million Syrian Kurds into the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI).

For as many as eight percent of the Syrian population in Dohuk governorate, legal residency in KRI is the first government-issued documentation they have held. This is because one in twelve Syrian refugees in Dohuk is stateless, denied citizenship and basic rights in Syria such as education, property ownership, freedom of movement and the right to vote, with only informal evidence of their country of origin.

In August 2022, NRC surveyed 1,281 in-camp and out-of-camp households across Dohuk governorate to understand the scope of statelessness amongst Syrian Kurds displaced in KRI, as well as the implications of statelessness for durable solutions. While both stateless Kurds from Syria and Syrian citizens are eligible for residency under KRI law, this equal legal status belies the additional barriers faced by stateless Syrian Kurds.

Both ajanib and maktoumeen Syrian Kurds in focus group discussions expressed significant uncertainty about their future prospects. More than a quarter intend to travel onwards beyond KRI in the next year, where they are likely to face additional barriers when lodging asylum claims. Many report that the repercussions of statelessness in Syria have been replicated in displacement: maktoum and ajnabi children often lack educational documents from Syria that would allow them to pursue educational and vocational opportunities in KRI, and even for the population of Syrian Kurds who could legally apply for citizenship under a 2011 law, the practical barriers to this pathway, such as cost and the need to lodge the application in Syria, render it nearly impossible.

These findings highlight the vulnerabilities faced by stateless Syrian Kurds in KRI in displacement, the impact of statelessness on their ability to achieve durable solutions, and areas where information gaps persist.