By: Petra Nahmias, Senior Statistician, UNHCR
UNHCR has set itself an ambitious goal of eradicating statelessness by 2024. But how many people are even stateless in the world? Who are they? Where are they?
Currently, UNHCR reports on 3.9 million stateless people but this is known to be an underestimate and a global figure of at least 10 million is frequently cited. However, this figure is a very rough estimate based on limited data. As a result, its use to track progress on reducing statelessness and for policy, programming and advocacy purposes is limited. Governments and international organizations need good data to assist stateless people and to address the causes of statelessness – better statistics thus plays an integral role in improving the lives of stateless people and ending statelessness itself.
In order to address this issue, UNHCR and UNFPA decided to work with national statistical offices in order to increase their capacity to report on stateless populations. An Expert Group on Statistics on Statelessness was established to work on developing and adopting common standards and definitions through which we can improve the quality and relevance of statistics on statelessness. Poor statistics are, at best, a waste of resources and can, at worst, lead to catastrophic policy decisions. Clear standards, definitions and guidance are essential to improving official statistics.
Poor statistics are, at best, a waste of resources and can, at worst, lead to catastrophic policy decisions.
The establishment of the Expert Group on Statistics on Statelessness comes at a challenging but exciting time. In many parts of the world there is a rise in nationalism and xenophobia that can put vulnerable stateless people at risk and even create new stateless populations. But, at the same time, many countries have made strong commitments to address and end statelessness. At the High Level Segment on Statelessness, held in October 2019 to mark the midpoint of the #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness, over 350 encouraging pledges were made, including on improving data on stateless populations. The pledges indicate a strong government commitment in many countries to bring statelessness to an end.
At the beginning of December 2019, the Expert Group gathered together in Bangkok to discuss the development of International Recommendations on Statistics on Statelessness. Participants included experts from national statistical offices, and line ministries, with 16 countries represented from across Europe, Asia and Africa. Staff from UNHCR, UNFPA and UN regional commissions (UNESCAP, UNECA and UNESCWA) also attended to support the discussions at the meeting.
The deliberations were productive and fruitful with a mixture of plenary presentations and group work. The group developed an ambitious work plan to be able to deliver the recommendations on statistics on statelessness by the end of 2020. There was a high level of enthusiasm among participants, and it will be essential to maintain this momentum to be able to meet the commitments made.
The group developed an ambitious work plan to be able to deliver the recommendations on statistics on statelessness by the end of 2020.
The political sensitivity associated with statelessness was clear from the discussions. However, there was agreement that national statistical offices should provide objective and politically neutral statistics and that common standards and definitions are an important step in achieving this aim. Additionally, the different practices and experiences in each country can make comparability difficult and it is therefore important to include a wide variety of countries to make the recommendations as relevant as possible. New participants will be invited to join the group, particularly from countries in Europe and the Americas.
Examples of issues which were identified for further discussion and resolution included:
- Concepts of, and differences between, nationality and citizenship
- Differences between ‘at-risk’ population and persons with undetermined nationality
- Practically differentiating between ‘in-situ’ versus migratory statelessness situations
- Quantifying risk of statelessness and/or proximate determinants
As next steps, we will work in smaller groups on the different sections of the proposed recommendations. The plan is to have an initial draft by May 2020 with a follow-on meeting of the group to finalize the draft in June. The ambition is for the draft to be submitted to the United Nations Statistical Commission for a global consultation by November 2020 and, ideally, for it to be presented to the Commission for consideration for its session in March 2021.
Once we have the recommendations adopted, we will move to the next stage: implementation!