UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi warned today that recent advances in the battle to end statelessness – a leading cause of human rights deprivation for millions of people worldwide – were being imperiled by a rise in damaging forms of nationalism.
In Geneva ahead of the opening on Monday of UNHCR’s annual Executive Committee meeting, Grandi said that the growing number of countries taking action against statelessness meant the international community was nearing a point of critical mass in its efforts to stamp out statelessness for good.
“As recently as five years ago, public awareness of statelessness, and the harm it causes, was still negligible. That is changing, and today the prospect of ending statelessness entirely has never been closer,” said Grandi.
“And yet the progress is far from assured: damaging forms of nationalism, and the manipulation of anti-refugee and migrant sentiment – these are powerful currents internationally that risk putting progress into reverse. Solutions are urgently needed for millions without citizenship or at risk of statelessness around the world – including Myanmar’s Rohingya, and minority populations at risk of statelessness in India’s Assam. Without these, we risk a deepening of the exclusion that already affects the lives of millions of people. This is why a redoubling of efforts has become crucially needed.”
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, launched a global ‘#IBelong’ Campaign in 2014 aimed at ending statelessness by 2024. Since then some 15 countries have newly acceded to the two major treaties on statelessness, the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. With additional accessions and other commitments expected this week, total accessions to the first of these treaties, the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, could soon exceed the notable threshold of 100 countries.
In the first five years of the Campaign, more than 220,000 stateless people have now acquired a nationality, including as as a result of concerted national efforts that have been motivated by the Campaign, in places as diverse as Kyrgyzstan and Kenya, Tajikistan and Thailand. In July of this year Kyrgyzstan became the first country in the world to announce the complete resolution of all known cases of statelessness.
In addition, since the Campaign was launched two countries, Madagascar and Sierra Leone, reformed their nationality laws to allow mothers to confer citizenship on their children on an equal footing with fathers. However, 25 countries continue to make it difficult or impossible for mothers to confer citizenship on their children, one of the leading causes of statelessness globally. As not all nationality laws contain safeguards that ensure that no child is born stateless, statelessness can also be passed down from generation to generation.
Ending all forms of discrimination in nationality laws would help the international community live up to the commitment all States made when adopting the Sustainable Development Agenda to “leave no one behind.”
Today, leading figures in the media, human rights, refugee and statelessness worlds are joining member state representatives in Geneva in a special session of UNHCR’s Executive Committee meeting known as the High-Level Segment on Statelessness, to take stock of progress half way through the Campaign and to commit to take more action to end statelessness by 2024.
Among those attending are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett, British TV journalist and presenter Anita Rani, formerly stateless refugee and activist Maha Mamo, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Lamberto Zannier and others.
Some countries will be putting pledges into action, by formally lodging instruments of accession to the statelessness treaties.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established on 14 December 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee issues. It strives to ensure that everyone has the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to voluntarily return home when conditions are conducive for return, integrate locally or resettle to a third country. UNHCR has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1954 for its ground-breaking work in helping the refugees of Europe, and in 1981 for its worldwide assistance to refugees.