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JIBREEN, Syria – Fatima Museitif got married three years ago and soon gave birth to two boys. Her husband died last year but since she was living in a rebel-held eastern neighborhood of Aleppo, she couldn't obtain a marriage certificate, a death certificate for her husband or birth certificates for her children.
Now the 22-year-old is waiting for those documents as a Syrian non-governmental organization and the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, have set up an office at a shelter for displaced people just south of Aleppo so the displaced can finally obtain official government certificates or new identity cards.
Syrian rebels took control of large parts of east Aleppo in July 2012, and for more than four years residents in rebel-held areas were not able to register themselves because the state had no presence. Those who registered themselves at courthouses or local offices run by the rebels received documents that are not recognized by the Syrian government.
In December, government forces captured all of eastern Aleppo, bringing the city under full state control for the first time in more than four years. The capture of Aleppo was the biggest victory for President Bashar Assad since Syria's crisis began in March 2011.
Thousands of east Aleppo residents left their neighborhoods and moved to nearby areas, including this village that is a main shelter for the tens of thousands of mostly impoverished displaced people. Many of those who left are, like Museitif, living without official documents — making their movement difficult in a country where security is extremely tight amid a war now in its sixth year.
In Jibreen, scores of men and women gathered outside the Free Legal Support Program that is run by UNHCR and the Syrian Trust for Development — a local NGO that was established by Syria's First Lady Asma Assad to help individuals in need.
The office opens four days a week and is usually packed with people seeking official documents.
Fatima Akkam, a lawyer who works at the office said that since late last year, the Jibreen office has registered some 500 legal cases — mostly new identity cards to replace lost or damaged ones or to register marriages or births. She said another 900 cases are currently being processed. In addition to the Jibreen office, there are six offices in Aleppo and nearby villages — raising the number of cases into the thousands.
Whoever seeks a certificate need to bring two witnesses who know and can identify the person. The witnesses get their fingerprints taken and sign the document.
Sobhi Deebo, a lawyer and official at the office, said most of those seeking documents come as a group that knows one another, which helps with the identification process.
"They know that this child belongs to this specific family. Those people are coming here as witnesses for the birth certificates, identification cards," Deebo said. "These are our first steps to offer this service."