The UNHCR registration center in Khalda is capable of carrying out up to 2,500 interviews in a single day. Today however, on a hot Monday in August 2015, there is no queue of people snaking back and forth in front of the center in West Amman. This is partly the result of the low number of new registrants, unlike at the beginning of the crisis when up to 3000 Syrian refugees flowed over the country’s border every day, today most of those visiting the center do so to renew their Asylum Seekers Certificate.
But it is also the result of an efficient and compassionate system that takes into consideration the harrowing and difficult journey that has landed people here. It is a system that is designed to limit inconveniences – same day registration and on-site referrals mean that very rarely does anyone have to make a return journey to the center, something that can be prohibitively expensive for some – and that aims to humanize the bureaucratic process of documenting human beings. But registration achieves more than a mere headcount.
“Registration may not be the first step in the refugee journey” explains Aoife McDonnell, External Relations Officer with UNHRC, “but it is the first step in accessing assistance.”
In the pages that follow, three families explain the importance of registration in their own words.
Abu Khaled is originally from Dara’a in Syria, where he used to work as a farmer and merchant. He is sitting in the waiting room with his wife, surrounded by nine of his 12 children. He is here to renew his Asylum Seekers Certificate, the vital piece of paper that enables him and his family to access critical support, like the monthly cash assistance of JOD150 which they use to cover their monthly rent of JOD170. Since their savings ran out, they make-up the remaining JOD30 by selling personal items like jewelry, or borrowing from a money lender, driving the family further into debt. But for Abu Khaled and his family, having been forced their home because of insecurity, and facing an uncertain future, the most important “service” , as he describes it, that the certificate provides is security. “It is peace of mind for me to know that if I ever have a problem, UNHCR will stand by me.”
Umm Khaled and her two children, Khaled and Hind, crossed into Jordan in May 2015, and are among the minority at the Khalda Center: they are registering with UNHCR for the first time. Khaled is sitting patiently between his older sister and his mum, staring out into the middle distance. Unlike the other young children who scurry around the waiting room or venture outside into the heat to scale the playground equipment, Khaled stays seated, quiet. It is not clear if he could join in with the other kids, even if he wanted to, as both his legs are encased in casts that extend from just below the knee all the way down to, and even in between, his toes. Umm Khaled explains that his physical and intellectual impairments are the result of a lack of oxygen to his brain when he was younger, though she doesn’t elaborate further. She explained that back in Syria he wasn’t able to see a specialist for more than three years because of the fighting. “It was very hard for me, as his mother, because there was nothing I could do to help him” she said. “But not now, we have a solution. We are in Jordan.”
When Talal, his wife Ahlam, and their four children Houda (13), Abdullah (11), Mohammad (7) and Aham (5) entered Jordan over two years ago, they were transferred directly to Za’atari. But life in the camp was difficult. Back then there was no electricity, services were scarce, and the family’s tent provided little respite from the hot desert sun. Eventually, Talal and his family were able to join their extended family living in Jordanian cities, where over 80 per cent of Syrian refugees reside. The entire family is registered with UNHCR, meaning that Abdullah and his younger brothers can go to school, and the family is eligible to receive assistance from NGOs and other charity organisations.
But the memory of home is a visceral one. “Ahlam” means “dreams” in Arabic, and when asked about her dreams, without hesitation Ahlam replies “to return to Syria.”
Special thanks to UNHCR for organizing a site visit for this story.
Sector: Social Protection
Project name: Quality of registration and profiling improved or maintained Civil registration and civil status documentation strengthened
JRP Specific Objective: REF 1: Access to territory and international protection is improved and protection space preserved
JRP Project Title: REF 1.2 Continuous registration and profiling of Syrian refugees
Project Budget: USD 3.2 million
Financing Agency: UNHCR
Implementing Partner: UNHCR