Nationality, the Syrian refugee crisis and statelessness

The Syrian Civil War and subsequent refugee crisis is an affair of intense global implication.  It is making an impact on international and domestic policies in states and regions across the globe.  It has saddened me to see a country and people I have long known and loved become synonymous with death, destruction and displacement.  Oftentimes I long for the old days when most people in the world would have been hard-pressed to locate Syria on a map.  Too often looked in this predicament called “Syria” are millions of individual lives that have been tragically turned upside down.  The scale of the statistics is staggering: over 400,000 deaths, 6.5 million internally displaced and over 4.8 million displaced to another country.  Immeasurable numbers of Syrians are struggling to forge life in situations where lifelessness seems the dominant reality.  Every development of this conflict seems to present a new chapter of an unending nightmare.

In the midst of this displacement crisis is the global crisis of statelessness.  For many Syrians statelessness is a daily reality that undermines their pursuits of the most basic rights, opportunities and experiences.  For countless others, the condition looms silently in the shadows constantly threatening to undermine futures.  Though now emerging in new ways, statelessness is a reality that that has long existed in Syria; the current crisis is simply fanning more flames in the hellishness of war.

I have become rather familiar with this problem over the past few years because 1) I have engaged in intensive studies on statelessness in recent months and 2) many of my Syrian refugee family members are directly encountering statelessness and its threat.  The recent release of Understanding Statelessness in the Syrian Refugee Context from the Institute of Statelessness and Inclusion and the Norwegian Refugee Council is a boon of knowledge and clarification concerning this complex situation. The document provides a comprehensive picture of Syrian nationality and statelessness from legal and social dimensions and provides a toolkit with specific information pertaining to the various countries hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees.  In an unexpected way I found the report to be rather optimistic and positive (which is surprising because I usually find seems most statelessness literature rather despairing and draining).  This isn’t because the problem is minimized or downplayed in the report but because it emphasizes the pathways and opportunities for statelessness to be curtailed among Syria’s displaced populations.  It affirms that nationality is in reach for many, many Syrians and provides information on the practical ways this can be achieved.

Even so, many challenges exist that make this report urgent and significant.  The stakes are high and action is needed in order to see that many Syrians actualize their right to nationality.  Churches in Lebanon and elsewhere in the MENA region have in many ways been at the forefront of responding to the Syrian refugee crisis.  The situation has demanded that churches stretch their reach into new horizons of humanitarian action.  The resulting consequence in many contexts has been spiritual and practical renewal as faith communities discover that the very heart of the gospel is revealed and magnified by serving “the least of these.”  As many church leaders in the region are testifying, we are experiencing a new season in the life of the Church in the Middle East, and it isn’t all doom and gloom.  My hope is that as churches worldwide continue their outreach to refugees, especially Syrian refugees, that they will recognize nationality as an urgent human need and take action to provide this to those in need.  It’s a big undertaking, but this document is a great way to start the process.

Please visit for more information about this important topic.


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