Bulgaria, Moldova accede to Statelessness Conventions

Briefing Notes, 24 April 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 24 April 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Bulgaria and Moldova have become the latest states to accede to the international conventions on statelessness.

The Republic of Moldova formally deposited its instruments of accession to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness with the United Nations in New York on 19th April. Bulgaria acceded to the two important treaties a month earlier, on 22nd March.

UNHCR is very pleased by these new accessions to the global treaties to address and resolve statelessness. Achieving an increased number of states parties to the two statelessness conventions is key to making progress.

With the accession of Bulgaria and Moldova 73 states have acceded to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and 44 are now States parties to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. This is up from 65 States parties to the 1954 Convention and 37 to the 1961 Convention just a year ago. Thirty two States pledged at UNHCR's ministerial meeting in December to accede to one or both Convention. Moldova and Bulgaria have now acted on their pledges, together with Benin and Georgia which acceded in December.

Broadening the list of signatories to these two treaties is a goal of UNHCR, which is mandated by the UN to prevent statelessness from occurring, to resolve existing cases and to protect the rights of stateless persons.

In Europe, hundreds of thousands of people are affected by statelessness. Worldwide, the number of stateless people is estimated at up to 12 million.

Statelessness can occur for a number of reasons, and its impact on those affected can be dramatic. A person unable to obtain a birth certificate, for example, can have difficulties proving their identities and accessing state and other services potentially leading to other serious denials of rights.

In Moldova, more than 5,000 persons identified themselves as stateless during the most recent census, which did not cover the breakaway Transnistrian section of the country. So far over 2,000 stateless persons have been formally registered. Almost all are former Soviet citizens. Moldova recently passed a law establishing a statelessness determination procedure with support from the governments of Hungary and France, as well as from UNHCR, so a formal examination of statelessness claims is now taking place.

Bulgaria plans to establish a status determination procedure and intends to also draw on the experience of good practices of other countries. UNHCR will support the authorities by disseminating information on the new procedure in regions where stateless persons reside.

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Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Two decades after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, thousands of people in former Soviet republics like Kyrgyzstan are still facing problems with citizenship. UNHCR has identified more than 20,000 stateless people in the Central Asian nation. These people are not considered as nationals under the laws of any country. While many in principle fall under the Kyrgyz citizenship law, they have not been confirmed as nationals under the existing procedures.

Most of the stateless people in Kyrgyzstan have lived there for many years, have close family links in the country and are culturally and socially well-integrated. But because they lack citizenship documents, these folk are often unable to do the things that most people take for granted, including registering a marriage or the birth of a child, travelling within Kyrgyzstan and overseas, receiving pensions or social allowances or owning property. The stateless are more vulnerable to economic hardship, prone to higher unemployment and do not enjoy full access to education and medical services.

Since independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has taken many positive steps to reduce and prevent statelessness. And UNHCR, under its statelessness mandate, has been assisting the country by providing advice on legislation and practices as well as giving technical assistance to those charged with solving citizenship problems. The refugee agency's NGO partners provide legal counselling to stateless people and assist them in their applications for citizenship.

However, statelessness in Kyrgyzstan is complex and thousands of people, mainly women and children, still face legal, administrative and financial hurdles when seeking to confirm or acquire citizenship. In 2009, with the encouragement of UNHCR, the government adopted a national action plan to prevent and reduce statelessness. In 2011, the refugee agency will help revise the plan and take concrete steps to implement it. A concerted effort by all stakeholders is needed so that statelessness does not become a lingering problem for future generations.

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Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

In the Dominican Republic, UNHCR runs programmes that benefit refugees and asylum-seekers from Haiti as well as migrants and members of their family born in the country, some of whom could be stateless or at risk of becoming stateless. Many live in bateyes, which are destitute communities on once thriving sugar cane plantations. The inhabitants have been crossing over from Haiti for decades to work in the sugar trade.

Among these initiatives, UNHCR provides legal aid, academic remedial courses and vocational training for refugees and asylum-seekers. They also support entrepreneurial initiatives and access to micro credit.

UNHCR also has an increased presence in border communities in order to promote peaceful coexistence between Dominican and Haitian populations. The UN refugee agency has found that strengthening the agricultural production capacities of both groups promotes integration and mitigates tension.

Many Haitians and Dominicans living in the dilapidated bateyes are at risk of statelessness. Stateless people are not considered as nationals by any country. This can result in them having trouble accessing and exercising basic rights, including education and medical care as well as employment, travel and housing. UNHCR aims to combat statelessness by facilitating the issuance of birth certificates for people living in the bateyes.

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Statelessness in Viet Nam

Viet Nam's achievements in granting citizenship to thousands of stateless people over the last two years make the country a global leader in ending and preventing statelessness.

Left stateless after the 1975 collapse of the bloody Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, nearly 1,400 former Cambodian refugees received citizenship in Viet Nam in 2010, the culmination of five years of cooperation between the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Vietnamese government. Most of the former refugees have lived in Viet Nam since 1975, all speak Vietnamese and have integrated fully. Almost 1,000 more are on track to get their citizenship in the near future. With citizenship comes the all-important family registration book that governs all citizens' interactions with the government in Viet Nam, as well as a government identification card. These two documents allow the new citizens to purchase property, attend universities and get health insurance and pensions. The documents also allow them to do simple things they could not do before, such as own a motorbike.

Viet Nam also passed a law in 2009 to restore citizenship to Vietnamese women who became stateless in the land of their birth after they married foreign men, but divorced before getting foreign citizenship for them and their children.

UNHCR estimates that up to 12 million people around the world are currently stateless.

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