Stateless children in Syria facing uncertain future


Stateless children are a long-term dilemma caused by extreme groups in Syria. In Hawl, Roj camp, and other areas in northeast Syria, in addition to Idlib in northwest Syria, thousands of children were born stateless either to foreign parents or at least to foreign fathers who entered Syria illegally.

These foreigners have headed to Syria since 2012 with their eyes set on Jihad. They joined different extreme groups and unofficially took wives or husbands.

This phenomenon created the problem of stateless children and deprived them of their legal rights to education, health care, freedom of movement, and others. Moreover, these children live in an extreme atmosphere and dire conditions that will leave them to face a dangerous and unknown future.

International organizations used many terms to describe individuals not granted citizenship by any state and do not have identifications, such as Stateless, Invisible, and Most Vulnerable and Persecuted, and other terms that explain the extent of the vulnerability of this group in the hosting community.

This report issued by the Documentation and Monitoring Department of North Press tackles the issue of the stateless children born to parents who joined or connected to extreme groups to shed light on a dilemma that foreshadows a catastrophic future for these children and the current tragic situation they live in. The report includes testimonies of Syrian mothers of these children that were interviewed in addition to security, administrative, and human rights sources.

We interviewed 13 individuals, and it is worth mentioning that all of the names listed in the report are pseudonyms for safety and security reasons.

Northeast Syria

“I was forced to lie and pretend my daughter’s father is a Syrian so I can get her out with me from Hawl camp,” Fatima said, a woman in her thirties who hails from Raqqa, the former capital of the Islamic State (ISIS) Caliphate in northern Syria.

Fatima was forcibly married off by her father to a Moroccan ISIS militant, but he abandoned her after giving birth to a girl with a birth defect.

“Talking to you today is a risk because I changed my daughter’s identity. I regret marrying an ISIS militant. I destroyed my disabled daughter’s future and that of mine,” she added.

Fatima had to forge her daughter’s birth certificate as being born to Syrian parents so she could register her in humanitarian organizations to treat and care for her.

On the other hand, Khadija, who also hails from Raqqa, married an American ISIS militant and had two daughters with him. His fate is still unknown.

Khadija left Hawl camp two years ago based on guarantees from local tribes. She had to change her daughters’ identification papers so they do not stay in Hawl camp, which is far from a suitable place for children.

“My girls are innocent. I want them to go to school like their peers,” she told North Press.

“I can easily move in the region because I have identification papers that prove my Syrian citizenship, but I faced troubles when I wanted to enroll my children in a school. I have no family booklet or a marriage certificate or any identification paper that proves my daughters are really mine,” she added.

Aysha’s situation is not so different. She was married to a Saudi ISIS militant and had two children. “My house is near the school. Everyday my girl asks me, ‘why cannot I go to school?’ I tried many times to persuade the teachers to admit her into the school without identification papers, but they refused,” she said.

“I cannot read or write so that I cannot teach her at home. My life has been ruined, but my children have nothing to do with that,” she added.

The local community does not accept the women who left Hawl camp and their children where they face harassment. Meanwhile, the foreign women are still in the camp with their children under the age of 12. Meanwhile, children above 12 are separated from their mothers and put in rehabilitation centers to keep them away from the extreme atmosphere in the camp and to protect them from the physical and sexual abuse of ISIS women who still believe in the group’s ideology.

Even though five years have passed since the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), with the support of the US-led Global Coalition, eliminated ISIS in the town of Baghouz in Deir ez-Zor, it is impossible to grant ISIS children identification papers. The more difficult mission is to identify the true nationality of the children since the mothers married more than one person and from different nationalities, not to mention that the fathers are either killed or detained or abandoned their children.

Northwest Syria

“After my French husband, who I only knew his nickname, was killed, I stayed with my children in a camp for widows in Idlib, facing hard economic and living conditions,” Sirin, a woman in her thirties from the city of Harem in northern Idlib Governorate, said. She complains about how her husband left without leaving any money or even a place to stay or information about the lineage of the children.

She was forced into marrying a French jihadist known as Abu Baraa al-Muhajer, a fighter in the ranks of an Islamic group in Idlib. She stayed married to him for five years and had three children with him until he was killed in a battle in the countryside of Hama.

Sirin’s children do not have a nationality, which makes it harder to receive assistance from NGOs that require providing identification papers. Additionally, the Salvation Government affiliated with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, formerly al-Nusra Front) declines to issue identification papers for the children because “there is no ID of the father.”

Sirin managed to falsify her children’s nationality papers to make their life easier after suffering for so long.

Sara, also from Idlib, was abandoned by her Tunisian husband when she was seven months pregnant and left Idlib for Turkey, she told North Press, “A year and a half after we married, he left me under the excuse of having a private matter in Turkey.”

She added, “I offered to go with him but he refused and has not returned since then.”

She married off to the Tunisian militant by a sheikh without registering the marriage in local courts. Now her one year and half child has no identification papers that prove he is her son.

Sara and her son live in her parents’ house, who unlike other families agreed to their daughter’s return but her child does not have official identification papers.

It is very difficult to register her son under her father’s surname so that he can have the right to have an education and a better life.

Muhammad, a journalist in Idlib, said that “Most of the children of foreign militants are not included in the educational plan imposed by the Education Ministry affiliated with the Salvation Government.”

These children are taught Quran in mosques where they live, according to the journalist.

He explains that most of them live in harsh economic and living conditions. Often, the boys are subjected to exploitation and forced conscription. The girls are married off under age and are more prone to sexual abuse, especially those living in camps.


According to a statistic by the Documentation and Monitoring Department, the number of stateless children present in camps in northeast Syria is over 7,000 children.

300 Syrian children born to non-Syrian fathers left Hawl camp and where distributed as follows: 30 children in Raqqa, 20 in Tabqa, and about 200 children in Deir ez-Zor, whereas in Hasakah the Conflict Resolution Committees, affiliated with the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), have not reached a statistic yet.

Meanwhile, the Social Affairs Board affiliated with the HTS in Idlib speculated that more than 5,000 stateless children are present in its regions.

Our department obtained secret documents from the Foreign Fighters’ Affairs Office affiliated with the HTS that confirm the presence of foreign men and women who have joined extreme factions in northwest Syria, which means the number of stateless children is ever-increasing.

According to the statistic obtained from the Foreign Fighters’ Affairs Office, there are over 2,500 militants in HTS’ ranks, in addition to more than 2,000 others in other factions. These militants have different nationalities and came from Europe, Russia, Chechnya, Pakistan, Iran, North Africa and various Arabic countries.

The statistic shows that about 900 foreign women are present in Idlib. Some of them are widowed and have married Syrian militants and leaders because they were unable to return to their home country.

According to a source in the HTS’ General Security Apparatus, the issue of the foreign militants in Idlib is one of the most significant negotiation cards that the HTS has in determining the fate of the region in coordination with Turkish authorities.

In regards to the stateless children in Idlib, there are no signs of a solution for this dilemma since the non-Syrian fathers’ true identity are unknown, thereby the children lose their rights and become vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse.

Legal perspective

According to Syrian law, Syrian citizenship laws do not apply to the children of foreign militants since these children are regarded as children of unknown parentage in addition to the absence of a marriage contract, a family book, or any documents confirming the fathers identity.

The Syrian lawyer Khaled Omar explains that, based on the Syrian citizenship law, children who have Syrian mothers and foreign fathers are entitled to have Syrian citizenship if they are born in Syria. However, cases of children similar to the cases mentioned in the report cannot be granted citizenship.

“It is not about a legal permit. It is a political issue more than a legal one. In other words, granting citizenship to these children requires military, political, and administrative stability, and resolving this issue mainly relies on resolving the Syrian crisis as a whole. But as a temporary solution, a law can be issued to organize their civil affairs until a final solution can be reached for the issue,” he added.

These children are considered victims of extremist groups, and they have the right to have a nationality, which is a fundamental human right. In addition, international humanitarian law states that countries’ right to decide who their nationals are is not absolute, and they must comply particularly with their obligations toward human rights about either granting or revoking of the citizenship.

According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, every child is entitled to a nationality even if he or she is stateless, and article 8 of the Convention provides for “appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to promptly re-establishing his or her identity”.


  • The Syrian government, AANES, and HTS must grant these children civil documents.
  • All parties to the conflict in Syria must not exploit these children or subject them to any physical or psychological harm.
  • All parties to the conflict in Syria in addition to states with nationals in Syria must support their safe and voluntary return to their original countries and guarantee their integration in the community.
  • All parties to the conflict in Syria and the United Nations offices must protect these children’s rights and ensure a safe and dignified life for them.
  • UN Security Council must strive with relevant parties to solve the issue of stateless children.