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Children, long-term refugees among population at risk of statelessness in Horn of Africa

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Children, long-term refugees among population at risk of statelessness in Horn of Africa

3 February 2022
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The IBelong campaign aims to end statelessness around the world in ten years (2024).

A new report by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency has found that vulnerable children in Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia, including those of mixed parentage, with parents who have been displaced or are members of cross-border communities, and those who have been separated from their parents, are among persons most at risk of statelessness in the Horn of Africa. 

The report, titled  Statelessness and Citizenship in the Horn of Africa and authored by an expert on nationality and statelessness in Africa, Dr. Bronwen Manby, analyses nationality laws and their implementation in the four countries and highlights gaps that allow statelessness. In addition, it identifies the populations that may be stateless or at risk of statelessness and the reasons why this situation remains prevalent in the Horn of Africa and suggests measures that would address it at both national and regional levels. 

“Seeing the challenges faced by stateless people in this region is heart-breaking. Without legal identity documentation, children are robbed of opportunities to get quality education, and so many individuals are not able to make a meaningful impact on their societies. Refugees also face increasing risks of statelessness due to prolonged exile,” said Clementine Nkweta-Salami, UNHCR’s Bureau Director for the East and Horn of Africa and Great Lakes region. “

“Yet statelessness is preventable and can be easily addressed. Governments can do this by making more efforts towards ensuring nationality laws are in line with international and African standards for prevention and reduction of statelessness, and ensure that people’s right to belong to a country is guaranteed,” adds Nkweta-Salami.

Other groups at risk of statelessness are cross-border populations, including nomadic and pastoralist communities, as well as those affected by border disputes, long-term refugees, former refugees, and migrants without documentation of another nationality.  In the Horn of Africa as in the rest of the continent, the vast majority of people affected by statelessness already reside in their countries of birth or are children of refugees born in countries of asylum. 

The report also highlights two specific groups facing the risk of statelessness, including members of the various minority communities in Somalia, people of Eritrean descent and of mixed Eritrean-Ethiopian descent living in Ethiopia. In addition, long-term refugees and former refugees, and historical migrants without documentation of their country of origin are also likely to grapple with similar risks.

To identify and strengthen nationality systems and address the risk of statelessness, the report suggested nine priorities for states as well as regional bodies to consider. Among them is the accession to international treaties that provide for the reduction of statelessness, and the protection of stateless persons. In addition, states should incorporate relevant measures required by these treaties into national laws, especially the removal of discriminative provisions in laws and the insertion of complete legal safeguards to prevent childhood statelessness. 

Other recommendations include improving access to nationality pathways particularly for long-term refugees, former refugees, stateless people, and persons of undetermined nationality, as well as universal birth registration for all persons born in the territory of a state. States are also encouraged to support the adoption of the Protocol to the African Charter on People’s and Human Rights on the Specific Aspects to the Right to a Nationality and the Eradication of Statelessness in Africa.

“There are several good examples from East Africa on how statelessness can be addressed and UNHCR commends those efforts. However, there is still much more to be done both by national governments and regional organizations. UNHCR stands ready to support these efforts to fully put an end to this situation,” said Nkweta-Salami.

This report was first launched in December 2021 at the Regional Protection and Solutions Dialogue jointly organized by UNHCR and regional bodies, the East African Community (EAC) and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), in which member states that informed the report participated. It is the fourth in a series commissioned by UNHCR on nationality and statelessness in West, East and Southern Africa. The other three reports have covered the member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); the East African Community (EAC); and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

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