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UNHCR warns of vaccine gap risk for world's stateless

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UNHCR warns of vaccine gap risk for world's stateless

22 June 2021
Colombia. New measure grants citizenship to babies of Venezuelan parents
At a hospital in Bogota, Colombia, Yonielys Villegas, 25, holds her newborn son Enmanuel, who will benefit from a measure granting citizenship to babies of Venezuelan parents.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is warning today that many of the world’s stateless people may miss out on vaccinations as a result of their lack of citizenship or proof of identity.

“There are millions known to be stateless around the world, without the nationality of any state. This has hugely damaging impacts on their fundamental human rights, and now they may also be excluded from accessing life-saving vaccinations,” said UNHCR’s International Protection chief, Gillian Triggs.

In its latest report on The Impact of Covid-19 on Stateless Populations, the agency notes that the majority of national immunization plans do not provide clarity on their coverage of stateless people.

UNHCR warns that many who do not have nationality or identity documents will be excluded unless states make particular efforts to reach them and address the specific challenges they are likely to face.  The new report provides recommendations and examples of good state practice in this regard, including acceptance of alternate forms of proof of a person’s identity.

“In the interest of protecting people’s lives and securing public health, national vaccination plans must be implemented in as inclusive a manner as possible. Given that many stateless people already face widespread exclusion and marginalization, barriers to access must be addressed and special consideration given to their situation,” said Triggs.

Since the onset of the pandemic, many stateless people continue to face difficulties in accessing health care and social services. Many may fear coming forward for testing or treatment owing to their lack of legal status, which could place them at risk of detention or deportation. The cost of medical attention, including vaccinations, can also be prohibitive for stateless people, as they are usually not covered by national, public healthcare schemes.

UNHCR, which has a formal UN mandate to prevent and reduce statelessness, and protect stateless people, is aware of a global population of at least 4.2 million stateless people in some 94 countries.

Owing to the invisible nature of this issue, the actual figure is believed to be substantially higher.

More than a year into the pandemic, UNHCR is also warning that disruptions to birth registration services are creating new risks of statelessness.

With a number of countries having suspended civil registration services as a result of the pandemic, birth registration – which is key in establishing eligibility for nationality – has been affected.

Countries where birth registration services were partially or fully suspended are now reporting lower birth registration rates as well as substantial backlogs. Targeted campaigns to register births for hard-to-reach populations at risk of statelessness have also been suspended in many contexts.

The risks of statelessness are likely to be highest for minority groups – which make up the majority of known stateless populations.

More information on the impact of COVID-19 and statelessness and UNHCR’s recommendations on vaccines access and civil registration is available here.

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