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Egyptian children in Turkey left in limbo after Cairo’s refusal to issue birth certificates

Middle East Eye documented nine cases where children of Egyptian parents had not received the identity documents needed to obtain travel documents
An Egyptian dissident waves his country's flag during a protest outside the Egyptian consulate in Istanbul in 2019 (AFP)
By Shaimaa Elhadidy in Istanbul, Turkey

For more than two years, since the day he was born, Yumna’s son has lived in Turkey without any formal nationality, despite being entitled to Egyptian citizenship by virtue of his parents.

Ziad is one of nine cases documented by Middle East Eye, and possibly one of dozens more, of children of Egyptian background born in Turkey who have been struggling to acquire birth certificates confirming their Egyptian nationality.

Egypt requires that birth certificates are issued by its own authorities in order to process the nationality status of a citizen born abroad.

The situation puts families in a precarious situation, unable to travel and register their children for services in their host country, as they cannot secure the necessary Egyptian identification documents.

Turkish residency and eventual citizenship meanwhile requires documents from an applicant's original country. Even children born to parents who have formalised their residency require documents from the country where they have nationality.

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According to some Egyptian residents based in Turkey, the difficulties have a political element, as Turkey has served as a favoured destination for Egyptian political dissidents looking to escape repressive measures against opposition voices since the 2013 coup that brought President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to power.

Ziad has hospital certification confirming his status as a child born on Turkish soil to Egyptian parents.

Yumna translated that document into Arabic at the Egyptian consulate in Istanbul and sent it to her father in Egypt, to obtain an official birth certificate from the General Administration for Passports, Immigration and Citizenship in the Abbasiya district of Cairo.

Even with near-monthly visits to the Foreign Births Department in Abbasiya and weekly visits to a local civil registry office, Yumna’s father has had no success.

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“Despite these efforts, no birth certificate has been issued for my son," Yumna tells MEE.

She has now spent more than two years trying to register Ziad’s birth.

She adds that when her father enquired about the status of the paperwork during his last visit, he was told: “It's not in our hands; it's with the National Security. Go to them.”

Any child born to an Egyptian parent is guaranteed Egyptian nationality by law.

Article six of the Egyptian constitution states: “Nationality is a right for those born to an Egyptian father or an Egyptian mother, and legal recognition of them and the granting of official documents that confirm their personal data is a right guaranteed by the law and regulated by it." 

However, this right is seemingly not applied to many children born in Turkey.

Pursuing the case in Egypt is complicated by the fact that Yumna’s father was previously arrested for attending protests after the 2013 coup. She now advises her father against pursuing the matter further in case he is detained again.

'Security clearance'

The case is by no means a rarity. Another Egyptian based in Turkey named Iman said she still has not managed to obtain a birth certificate for her two-year-old daughter.

Like Yumna, Iman had to enlist the help of relatives inside Egypt to pursue the matter, with little luck.

“We stopped following up at Abbasiya due to my elderly mother's exhaustion from the journey,” she told Middle East Eye, adding that her daughter's birth certificate has been stuck at the ”security clearance“ stage for years.

While many cases may involve a political element, Iman emphasised that “neither my husband nor I have any political issues causing this delay”.

Since a 2013 coup, the Sisi government has targeted people it suspects of being dissidents at home and abroad (AFP)

A third woman named Rofida, who like Yumna and Iman chose not to give her full name for fear of consequences, said that her daughter’s application for a certificate was also stuck at the “security clearance” stage.

Middle East Eye has knowledge of several other families in similar situations and contacted Egypt’s General Administration for Passports for information about the cases mentioned. At the time of publication, the officials had not replied. 

Bureaucratic dead end

The issue is not limited to birth certificates, and some Egyptians in Turkey face a bureaucratic dead-end trying to obtain any official document.

When Yumna inquired about why a passport renewal application had received no response, she said that the Egyptian consulate in Istanbul told her to return to Egypt.

“A member of staff told me, ‘Go back to Egypt; or else your time and money will be wasted for nothing’, nothing can be fixed here.”

There is, of course, no guarantee the problems would be fixed in Egypt, and returning presents its own series of risks.

Dissidents in Istanbul at a 2019 protest against human rights abuses in Egypt (AFP/Ozan Kose)

Egypt has a track record of arresting people it considers political dissidents upon their arrival in their country.

In Yumna’s case, as her passport is expired, she would have to travel on a temporary travel document. That in itself would warrant extra security checks upon arrival in Cairo.

As the daughter of a former political detainee who has a record of working for human rights causes, the threat of imprisonment is a definite possibility in her eyes.

“Literally, we're stuck,” she added.

As Yumna and Ziad’s case demonstrates, the trouble with getting a birth certificate represents just one hurdle.

One woman Middle East Eye spoke to, named Zainab, said that she had no issue getting a birth certificate for her child; a passport however has proved much harder to obtain. 

“I obtained my son's birth certificate from Egypt in just 14 days,“ she said. ”But unfortunately, I tried applying for my son's passport at the Egyptian consulate in Istanbul two years ago, but it remains pending due to a lack of security approval."

Even security clearance is no guarantee of obtaining a passport, as demonstrated in the case of the grandmother of a three-year-old, who said that, after getting clearance, the child’s passport application has taken four months so far, as Egyptian officials conduct additional security checks.

A life without papers

The consequences of a life without documents extends beyond the ability to travel, and has consequences for Yumna in Turkey.

Without proper nationality papers, even accessing treatment in a government hospital is fraught with difficulty.

“We managed (Ziad’s) vaccinations at an official health clinic for six months. But they later declined us due to having no residence permit,” she said. “I explained our political situation; other times, I begged.”

The mother was forced to delay some of her child’s vaccinations until Ziad’s residency was formalised under a humanitarian residency permit, which took a year and a half to arrive.

'I explained our political situation; other times, I begged'

- Yumna

In another case MEE is familiar with, a six-year-old girl named Zahra has been left unable to attend school because documentation from the Egyptians has still not arrived.

In that instance, the troubles with the Egyptian bureaucracy were further compounded by an error in the Turkish system, which inexplicably cancelled her humanitarian visa. 

The troubles facing Egyptians in Turkey as a result of their government’s bureaucracy have become so widespread that groups have sprung up to help those in difficulties.

Through a mixture of political lobbying and personal contacts, these organisations have in some instances managed to help Egyptians get the Turkish residency papers they need.

Middle East Eye reached out to one such union, which was founded in 2018 and is called the Egyptian Community in Türkiye.

Paperwork stalled 

Nader Fattouh, a community board member and media committee head, stated, “There is a general problem with the Egyptian consulate in Istanbul in obtaining official documents.”

He added: “Most paperwork is stalled. Passports, ID cards, and authorisations are on hold or need Egyptian security clearance from Egypt.” 

Fattouh explained that because Turkey has hosted a number of political dissidents from Egypt, the consulate considers them “adversaries”. 

This is despite the fact that many Egyptians in Turkey have no political ties, including many who are students.

“Birth certificates cannot be obtained from the consulate in Istanbul except in very rare cases. Therefore, families turn to relatives in Egypt."

Middle East Eye has tried reaching the consulate via two emails listed on their official page but has not received a response.

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