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UNHCR Announces Winners of Statelessness Research Award

Press Releases, 27 September 2013

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Tilburg University on Friday named the inaugural winners of the UNHCR Award for Statelessness Research. The announcement coincides with the anniversary of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons,

In the undergraduate category, the winner is Amanda Cheong, whose thesis "Changing Conceptions of Citizenship Among Stateless Chinese-Bruneian Immigrants in Vancouver," was nominated by the Department of Sociology at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

In the graduate category, the jury named two winners. The first is Eva Mrekajová, whose Master of Laws thesis on the "Naturalization of Stateless Persons" was nominated by the Department of International and European Law at Tilburg University. The second winner is Caroline McInerney, whose independent study paper entitled "Citizenship Laws of Madagascar: Future Challenges for a Developing Nation" was nominated by the University of Virginia School of Law in the United States. No prize in the doctoral category was awarded this year.

UNHCR and Tilburg University in the Netherlands had invited academic institutions globally to nominate outstanding pieces of research at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels in the field of statelessness. Fifteen papers were submitted.

They were judged by a jury comprised of leading academics from around the world, working in the field of nationality and statelessness. The jury was co-chaired by UNHCR and the Statelessness Programme at Tilburg University.

Each winner received a cash prize of €1,000. Their papers will be published in a special edition of the Tilburg Law Review. The winners will also be asked to present their research at the First Global Forum on Statelessness, which will be held in The Hague in September 2014, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Statelessness Convention.

UNHCR has a mandate to identify and protect stateless populations and to prevent and reduce statelessness. UNHCR's governing body, the Executive Committee, has requested the Office to undertake and share research on statelessness with academic institutions and governments, to promote understanding of the problem.

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UN Conventions on Statelessness

The two UN statelessness conventions are the key legal instruments in the protection of stateless people around the world.

State Action on Statelessness

Action taken by states, including follow-up on pledges made at UNHCR's 2011 ministerial meeting in Geneva.

Stateless People

Millions of stateless people are left in a legal limbo, with limited basic rights.

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.

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

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.

Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

Statelessness and Women

Statelessness can arise when citizenship laws do not treat men and women equally. Statelessness bars people from rights that most people take for granted such as getting a job, buying a house, travelling, opening a bank account, getting an education, accessing health care. It can even lead to detention.

In some countries, nationality laws do not allow mothers to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis as fathers and this creates the risk that these children will be left stateless. In others, women cannot acquire, change or retain their nationality on an equal basis as men. More than 40 countries still discriminate against women with respect to these elements.

Fortunately, there is a growing trend for states to remedy gender discrimination in their nationality laws, as a result of developments in international human rights law and helped by vigorous advocacy from women's rights groups. The women and children depicted here have faced problems over nationality.

Statelessness and Women

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