This Sida funded programme, by the end of 2015, consists of eleven documentation centres in Syria that work to fill the vacuum that was caused when civil registries closed down following the regimes retreat from large parts of Syria.
ILAC’s engagement in Syria consists of three components, two of which are funded by Sida and one by AIJA. Apart from the documentation centres, the second component is focused on building the capacity of Syrian partner organisations including the Free and Independent Judicial Council (FIJC) and the Free Syrian Lawyers Association (FSLA). The third component, which was conceived of and funded by ILAC member AIJA, is a training programme in English, offered to senior Syrian lawyers and judges in Gaziantep in Turkey.
Documentation centres in Syria
ILAC funds documentation centres in areas outside regime control and outside areas controlled by ISIL. Inquiries into areas controlled by Kurdish forces indicate that civil registries are still in operation and funded by the regime in those areas.
By the end of 2015, ILAC is funding and monitoring operations at eleven centres in Syria, eight in the North, in Aleppo and Idlib, one in Homs and two in Daraa in the South. In addition, we plan to open two new centres in the coming months. We have a long list of candidate locations but are limited by the funding currently provided to us by Sida. The three strongest candidates are Alyarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, Duma outside Damascus and Latakia in the North.
Agreements with regional and local authorities
Centres operate by agreement with regional and local councils and local authorities and all practical aspects of operations such as location of centres are agreed with them. Staff is recruited primarily from civil registries in operation before the war as well as from local bar associations. Centres in each region are monitored by a regional coordinator who is paid for by ILAC and each centres has a designated judge as a coordinator in Gaziantep.
Centres operate in accordance with Syrian law to the farthest extent possible. Adherence to law and procedure is monitored by FIJC and the Interim Ministry of Justice (MOJ). Identification of applicants at centres is verified by use of the original databases for documents that were saved or salvaged.
There are currently two other programmes offering documentation services in the same areas. ILAC is in dialogue on how to coordinate our efforts.
Humanitarian protection and response to vulnerability
An assessment of perceived humanitarian protection needs in Syria has found that “[a]t a national level, civil documentation emerges as a critical issue with 91% of sub- districts identifying it as a top-3 protection issue. 34% of sub-districts consider it their primary issue”. This placed it as the number one protection issue in Syria, ahead of other concerns such as explosions.
ILAC has agreed to join the UNHCR protection cluster in Gaziantep to ensure that we coordinate with humanitarian efforts. We also look to the cluster for help in identifying and addressing issues faced by vulnerable groups such as women heads of households or internally displaced persons. Such issues were also a prominent aspect of the appeal for funding.
Housing, land and property
One issue identified by FIJC and local bar associations as critical in areas where ILAC operates is housing, land and property (HLP). Displacement and depletion of resources has driven a lot of Syrians to try to sell their land and property inside Syria. Several initiatives by Syrian partners have been initiated to assist in witnessing and registering such transfers but there is no concerted national effort to address legal and practical issues during and after the conflict.
ILAC has initiated discussions with the Norwegian Refugee Council and UNHCR as well as with local partners on ways to address these concerns.
Any follow-up questions should be directed to Mikael Ekman, Legal Officer at ILAC Head Office.