The meaning and the use of Identity papers: Reflections on Syrian experience

The Syrian civil war is an on-going 5 year war that not only has claimed the lives of many Syrians but has also sparked the largest human mass migration in recent decades. In relation to this, all focus has turned to Europe and the United States of America in the last few months where millions of Syrian refugees are attempting to cross borders either legally or illegally in efforts to seek asylum in these foreign lands in a bid to escape war and restart their lives.

Identity can be viewed as a possession that one obtains as a birth right and builds it along the course of his life. However, when war strips everything away, identity may just be the only possession one may possibly own. Identity through the means of identity papers may just be the very last option for Syrian refugees escaping war to rebuild their lives abroad. It is then that identity papers become a symbol of nationality and residence to these refugees and may just be the most important papers they hold till asylum is granted.

While sceptics may debate the authenticity of these identity papers, the undisputed use and purpose of the papers is to primarily establish the identity of these Syrian refugees both on local and foreign grounds. Additionally, identity papers also identify the personal background and criminal history of the asylum seekers. Not only is this crucial in granting one asylum but it has also become more important in the recent wake of terrorism in Europe. “If you don’t enforce the integrity of your identity, you’ll lose it”. Thus, identity papers do play a significant part in enforcing the identity of the Syrian refugees either by protecting them from being mistakenly accused as a terrorist or acting as a vital lead to identifying and affirming possible terror suspects at large.

Apart from establishing identity, the identity papers allows for the refugees to apply for political asylum in foreign lands. As long as a refugee has applied for political asylum in a specific country, until that application has been fully processed with an outcome, he is not allowed to apply for political asylum in another country.This then also helps countries granting asylum to manage the inflow of refugees and account for whom political asylum is being granted to and on what basis. This is fundamental for a country’s migration policy and state security.

Hence, the meaning and use of identity papers in the Syrian experience may hold various interpretations, but it does reaffirm the importance of identity and the prospects of a safer life for the Syrian refugees escaping war. When a piece of paper defines who someone is and has the capacity to allow him to live a safer life away from war, we can only try to speculate the meaning and the use of the very paper as the actual meaning and use of what it holds for him is indescribable by anyone other than the person himself.



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