Four years into its #IBelong Campaign to end statelessness, UNHCR calls for more resolute action by states

Formerly stateless Makonde community member Amina shows off her Kenyan identity card, Kwale, Kenya, March 2017.
© UNHCR/Modesta Ndubi

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Four years after the launch of a decade-long campaign to eradicate statelessness globally, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, called today on states to take faster and more resolute action to help meet the campaign goal.

Important results have been achieved since November 2014 when UNHCR’s #IBelong campaign began. More than 166,000 stateless people have acquired or had their nationality confirmed, 20 states have acceded to the Statelessness Conventions bringing the total number of parties to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons to 91 and 73 to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Nine states have established or improved statelessness determination procedures, six states reformed their nationality laws and another two have eliminated gender discrimination preventing women from passing on their nationality to their children. National plans to end statelessness have been formally adopted in nine countries.

Yet, despite these accomplishments, millions remain stateless and living in limbo around the world, with the majority to be found in countries in Asia and Africa. It is difficult to determine with precision how many people are stateless or at risk of statelessness worldwide. In 2017, approximately 70 countries reported 3.9 million stateless individuals. But UNHCR estimates that this is only a fraction of the total – the true number could be as much as three times higher.

“Today I call on politicians, governments and legislators around the world to act now, to take and support decisive action to eliminate statelessness globally by 2024,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. “Humanly, ethically and politically it is the right thing to do. Every person on this planet has the right to nationality and the right to say I BELONG.”

Statelessness has many causes, but the biggest driver is problems in nationality laws, including discrimination. The impact on individuals and their families is immediate and can be dire. Statelessness means a life without a nationality and everything that comes with it. Being stateless can mean a life without education, without medical care, or legal employment. It can mean a life without the ability to get married, own a home, to move freely – a life on the margins of society, without prospects, or hope.

“Stateless people still face huge barriers to exercising fundamental human rights”, Grandi said. “Eradicating statelessness requires eliminating discrimination from nationality laws and practices. States like Kenya, Kyrgyzstan and Thailand are paving the way, showing that with political will and commitment, and concerted national efforts, the lives of tens of thousands of people can be transformed through the acquisition of nationality.”

Only 25 countries around the world retain gender discrimination in their nationality laws that prevent mothers from conferring their nationality to their children on an equal basis as men – with Madagascar and Sierra Leone being the most recent countries to change these laws.  In almost every region of the world, a declaration and action plan to address statelessness has been launched.  These regional initiatives are driving blocs of nations to work with each other to confront and resolve this human rights problem.  Among the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 16 is the elimination of statelessness – with its goal of ensuring legal identity for all by 2030.

With a view to boosting the capacity of parliaments and legislators’ to effectively prevent and reduce statelessness and identify and protect stateless persons, UNHCR in cooperation with the Inter-Parliamentary Union is releasing a new handbook on “Good Practices in Nationality Laws for the Prevention and Reduction of Statelessness.”

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About UNHCR:

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, leads international action to protect people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. We deliver life-saving assistance like shelter, food and water, help safeguard fundamental human rights, and develop solutions that ensure people have a safe place to call home where they can build a better future. We also work to ensure that stateless people are granted a nationality.

Note on Statelessness figures:

Statelessness affects millions of people around the world. Some countries have hundreds of thousands of stateless persons and there is no region of the world that is untouched by statelessness. The very nature of statelessness means it is difficult to determine exactly how many people are affected, or at risk. Data on statelessness are captured by governments and reported to UNHCR. In 2017, approximately 70 countries reported 3.9 million stateless individuals. But UNHCR estimates that this is only a fraction of the total – the true number could be three times higher.

Note on the #IBelong Campaign to end statelessness

On 4 November 2014, UNHCR launched its #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness by 2024. Statelessness is a man-made problem and relatively easy to resolve and prevent. With the necessary political will and public support, millions of people around the world could acquire a nationality and prevent their children from being born stateless. The #IBelong Campaign is supported by a Global Action Plan, which sets out concrete steps for States to help resolve the problem. By acquiring a nationality, millions of stateless people around the world could gain full access to their human rights and enjoy a sense of belonging in their communities.  In 2019 the Campaign will mark its mid-point and UNHCR will hold an event to showcase achievements and to collect pledges by states to prevent and eradicate statelessness. For more information please go to: http://www.unhcr.org/ibelong/

Note on the publication, “Good Practices in Nationality Laws for the Prevention and Reduction of Statelessness.”

This new handbook offers practical examples of domestic legal provisions that allow States to accomplish the following:

  • Avoid childhood statelessness entirely
  • Eliminate gender discrimination from nationality laws
  • Establish procedures to identify stateless persons and facilitate their naturalization
  • Ensure that any deprivation or loss of nationality does not leave individuals stateless

The Handbook also identifies and promotes certain good practices in nationality laws that all States are encouraged to consider.