A researcher from Melbourne University is looking at how statelessness is affecting the Kurds of Syria, incorporating the discriminatory census which took place during the 1960s and the more recent civil war in the country.
Thomas McGee is a PhD researcher at the Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness at the University of Melbourne’s Law School.
His most recent research project focuses on 'Syria’s changing statelessness landscape' since the start of the country’s civil war in 2011 – looking at the new kinds of statelessness that have developed and new experiences for individuals who were already stateless because of the conflict.
This builds on the research he conducted about the stateless Kurds of Syria for his Masters in Kurdish Studies at the University of Exeter, UK.
“It was actually just after I graduated from university. While most of my friends were moving to the city and searching for jobs there, I wanted to do something different," he said.
"I heard about the possibility to teach English in Syria as part of a graduate exchange program, so I applied for this opportunity. It was initially supposed to be for a six-month period, but enjoying living in Aleppo, I ended up staying for more than two years.”
In August 1962, the then government of Syria - the Ba’ath Party - conducted a special population census only for the province of Jazira, which was predominantly Kurdish.
As a result, around 120,000 Kurds in Jazira, which was 20 per cent of Syrian Kurds, were stripped of their Syrian citizenship even though they were in possession of Syrian identity cards.
“For more than a decade now, I have worked on the issue of the Kurds in Northeast Syria who were made stateless by a discriminatory census in 1962. I have researched the impacts that being deprived of citizenship has had on the lives of those affected by this form of statelessness.
“These two experiences of statelessness have overlapped in the formation of Kurdish identity. More recently, I have researched the experiences of stateless Kurds from Syria in Europe when claiming asylum.”
As part of his research on stateless people, he believes that not enough light is being shed on the problem and its impact on peoples' daily lives - particularly in the case of Kurds.
“My present research is really to shed light on statelessness as a problem and because it’s unlike being a refugee being a stateless person hasn’t been studied very much in general so I’m looking at how being stateless is impacting people’s daily lives and particularly in the case of the Kurds.”
He said being deprived of one’s nationality is one issue that impacts people‘s lives but at the same time it’s possible to consider all Kurds in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran to some extent are stateless in the sense that there is no independent state for Kurdistan.
It has been nine years since the war began in Syria, this war has its toll on the country’s population.
More than half of the country's population is displaced—either internally (IDPs) or as refugees. With 6.2 million IDPs, Syria has the highest number of internally displaced people in the world.
Meanwhile, more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees have sought safe haven away from the conflict, primarily in neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, the highest number in absolute terms, while Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world, including more than one million Syrian refugees.
Regarding stability in Syria and for the Kurds in the region Mr McGee said he’s "both pessimistic and optimistic at the same time".
"The population in Syria, in general, has shown huge resilience in enduring almost a decade of conflict. Despite the tragedy experienced daily, people have developed ingenious coping mechanisms, and many have adapted to the crisis in remarkable ways.”
“I am hopeful that the Kurds of Syria will face a brighter future than before 2011 given that they have had almost a decade of putting self-rule into practice. Of course, the situation is also very precarious, and much depends on the will and actions of external actors and the surrounding politics.”