Syria Grants Nationality to Stateless Kurds

London, 8 April 2011

The Equal Rights Trust welcomes Syria’s move to grant citizenship to ethnic Kurds who have been stateless for five decades. This is a positive step which if implemented properly will resolve one of the most entrenched cases of statelessness in the world, and allow hundreds of thousands of people to fully enjoy the benefits of citizenship for the first time.

The Government-operated Syrian Arab News Agency reported on 7 April 2011 that President Bashar al-Assad issued Legislative Decree No. 49 (the Decree), securing Syrian nationality for those Kurds registered as “Hasaka foreigners”. The Decree, which is one of a series of measures taken by the President to appease the public, was issued a week after Kurdish protestors joined widespread anti-government demonstrations in Hasaka.

The country’s largest non-Arab minority, the Hasaka Kurds were rendered stateless by a 1962 census carried out amid government fears that illegal Turkish immigrants had fraudulently registered as Syrians. Over the past five decades, stateless Kurds faced many restrictions on their rights and suffered persistent discrimination as non-citizens, including through prohibitions on property ownership and employment in the public service, as well as on establishing their own radio stations and teaching in Kurdish schools. Without Syrian passports, their freedom of movement was also heavily restricted.

“We congratulate Syria on this important decision to recognise its population of stateless Kurds as citizens,” Executive Director of The Equal Rights Trust, Dimitrina Petrova, said today. “We hope that they will now be able to enjoy all of their human rights as equals, free from discrimination. It is imperative that proper administrative measures are put in place to expedite the provision of citizenship to the Kurds from Hasaka, and all past injustices and disadvantages they faced are rectified through positive action.”

At least 150,000 stateless persons of Kurdish origin are registered in the North-Eastern region of Hasaka. However, an estimated 300,000 – 360,000 stateless persons who identify as Kurds live in Syria. It is not clear how many will receive citizenship.

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