Home at last: How Niger is working towards the eradication of the risk of statelessness
In the heart of the vast, arid landscapes of Niger, a silent yet critical issue lurks - the risk of statelessness. Stateless individuals, stripped of any recognized nationality, find themselves trapped in a legal limbo, robbed of their protection and fundamental rights.
In this challenging context, the importance of birth certificates cannot be overstated - these seemingly simple documents hold the key to identity, belonging, and protection for countless vulnerable persons.
Abala, is approximately 50km from the Mali border in the Tillaberi region, the locality welcomed the initial influx of Malian refugees during the 2012 crisis. That is when Issufu Salah's inspiring journey started.
A resilient father and tailor hailing from Adranboukar (Tahoua region), Issufu, aged 62, has been battling to secure birth certificates for his children born in Niger.
The horrors of war forced him, his wife, and their children to flee, seeking safety and stability. His voice, tinged with emotion, Issufu recalls, “The war in Mali traumatized us. We could see no future, and leaving was our only option for survival”.
Their arduous journey, which started with long hours on a donkey cart led them to Abala, a place of refuge where they received a warm welcome from the local community and the unwavering support of humanitarian organizations, including of UNHCR. Vital resources such as food, shelter, and non-food items offered by the UN Refugee Agency, rekindled hope in the hearts of the Salah family.
However, as the years passed by, Issufu realized the paramount importance of securing birth certificates for his children born in Niger.
"Birth certificates are the most important documents for any person," he asserts with unwavering conviction. "They allow you to identify yourself, get rid of problems, and receive assistance when needed."
While Issufu's three children born in Mali already held birth certificates, the two born in Niger have been successfully registered in the last years. Yet, his youngest, a mere five months old, is still waiting to get this vital document that holds the promise of inheritance and continuity ensuring their rights and protection beyond Issufu's lifetime.
Amidst sewing to sustain his family, Issufu reflects on UNHCR and other organizations relentless commitment to combat statelessness. He understands that their work is instrumental in shaping a future filled with hope and dignity for countless individuals like him.
“You know I did not go to school, and I don’t want my children to follow my same path, I want them to succeed” he underlines. “That certificate can allow them to do exams and have a diploma.”
Niger is determined to combat the risk of statelessness and subscribes to international conventions and regional initiatives to prevent statelessness and protect stateless people.
Despite the challenges and legal gaps that test intervention frameworks, the country's collective resolve remains steadfast. Poverty, insecurity, and migration flows, make birth certificates all the more crucial.
Beyond Issufu's heartening tale lies an urgent call to limit the risk of statelessness in Niger, as much as possible. The country's commitment to addressing this pressing issue and providing vulnerable populations with birth certificates, a legal identity and recognition is a vital step toward a brighter and inclusive future for all.
In the Tillaberi region, UNHCR undertook a successful campaign within the framework of a Peace Building Fund encouraging populations through mass awareness campaigns and mobile courts bringing civil registry services closer to the people to prevent the risk of statelessness to obtain civil documentation.