STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We report next on a generation of stateless youth, a byproduct of the war in Syria. Millions of Syrians have fled the conflict, often leaving without legal documents. Now they're having babies born without clear legal status - many thousands, though the exact numbers are unknown. NPR's Deborah Amos was near the Turkey-Syria border recently and sent this report.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Just when you thought things couldn't get worse for refugees, it turns out that having a baby can change everything.

(BABY CRYING)

AYAMAN: (Imitating baby talk).

AMOS: In a small apartment in Istanbul, Ayaman, a new father cradles his infant daughter, Leen. He doesn't give his last name, he says, out of fear for the safety of his family. He fled Syria two years ago. And in what seemed the tip stability of Turkey, he married soon after. It was a religious ceremony, but the marriage is invalid under Turkish law.

AYAMAN: (Through translator) My marriage is not registered in Turkey, here.

AMOS: So you got married here, had a baby here and neither of those things are registered?

AYAMAN: (Through translator) Yeah, that's right. So I cannot imagine what this life we will live without any papers.

AMOS: This is the quiet crisis for Syrian refugees as the war grinds on into a fourth year. And it's not just in Turkey. A recent report by the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, showed that 75 percent of Syrian born in Lebanon, since 2011, have not been properly registered. For many families, it's impossible. They don't have identification documents, destroyed in the fighting or left behind in a panicked escape. In Turkey, many Syrians are smuggled into the country. Any children born are in legal limbo.

SANEM GUNER: There is no legal status for babies who are being born to parents who don't have a legal status here, anyway.

AMOS: That's Sanem Guner, the Turkish director of the Hollings Center in Istanbul, a U.S.-funded think tank.

GUNER: They won't be entitled to go to school. They won't be entitled for any sort of aid. They won't be entitled to any sort of citizenship rights. Inside Turkey, they won't be able to travel, go anywhere.

AMOS: When the crisis began, Turkey opened its borders for fleeing Syrians - built camps to host them. But it was a temporary fix. Even now, the Turks have no official refugee policy, says Guner. Syrians are classified as temporary guests. A policy based on the calculation that Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, would soon be gone and the war over.

GUNER: It was a miscalculation of the timing, a miscalculation of the conflict. So they thought that this was a temporary situation.

AMOS: In the fourth year of the war, more than 300,000 Syrians are now settled in Gaziantep, a Turkish border town. A recent study by a Turkish aid group shows more than 100,000 are unregistered, says Ebrahim Jamkurt. Many say they're afraid the information will get back to Syria. He heads a new center to encourage registration with the Turkish authorities.

EBRAHIM JAMKURT: They are trying to make the procedure easier, but it is really difficult to handle with so high numbers. And that is why they can't fix until now.

(KIDS PLAYING)

AMOS: So there's no fix for Mohammed, another Syrian father afraid to give his last name. He has two children born in Syria and registered back home. But his new daughter, Shana, she's stateless.

MOHAMMED: (Through translator) I think, the most thing scaring me is to live without citizenship and to be stuck here in Turkey. I cannot move in with my family. We don't plan to get a baby. Frankly, that's what happened.

AMOS: And that's what's happened to thousands more Syrian refugees. Deborah Amos, NPR news.

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