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Ashgabat meeting proposes way forward on migration and statelessness

Press Releases, 24 June 2014

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (June 23, 2014) Delegates at the International Conference on Migration and Statelessness in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, today emphasized the need to undertake targeted actions, including legal reforms and greater regional cooperation, to tackle pressing challenges in the areas of migration and statelessness in Central Asia.

The conference focused on identifying practical measures to realize the agendas for migration and statelessness set out in the 2013 UN High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development and the 2009 Regional Conference on Prevention and Reduction of Statelessness and the Protection of Stateless Persons in Central Asia.

The conference, which was hosted by the Government of Turkmenistan and co-organised by UNHCR and IOM, identified best practices for addressing situations of statelessness and for improving the management of migration in Central Asia and globally. Over 40 delegations took part.

Stateless people in the region face significant obstacles in accessing their basic human rights, such as education, documentation, medical support and the ability to travel, according to UNHCR's Director of International Protection Volker Türk."Statelessness is a major cause of human suffering around the world and decisive action is required to resolve existing situations and prevent new ones." he said.

Turkmenistan has achieved considerable progress with regard to the reduction and prevention of statelessness. This includes the introduction of safeguards to prevent statelessness in its 2013 nationality law. The country has also acceded to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons in 2011, and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness in 2012.

Since 2005, the Government of Turkmenistan has granted citizenship to more than 20,000 stateless people. Continuing this practice of resolving statelessness, the first day of the conference concluded with a citizenship ceremony, which saw the naturalization of nearly 1,000 stateless persons. Türk also emphasized that statelessness remains a major challenge in the 21st century across the globe. "A number of governments present at this conference have shown that the problem can be solved. UNHCR is counting on their leadership for our campaign to end statelessness within a decade."

This year UNHCR marks the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. With 10 million people worldwide believed to be stateless, many in a protracted situation of statelessness, UNHCR is launching a global campaign in September 2014 aimed at the elimination of statelessness within the next decade.

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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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Statelessness: A Message from UNHCR

An address from UNHCR's Director of International Protection Volker Türk to mark International Human Rights Day and the launch of a new report on Statelessness in the United States.
UNHCR : Breakthrough on StatelessnessPlay video

UNHCR : Breakthrough on Statelessness

UNHCR's ministerial conference in Geneva takes a great step forward in resolving the issue of statelessness. On the sidelines of the meeting, Serbia and Turkmenistan acceded to the statelessness conventions.