2 years of #IBelong Campaign; global initiatives highlight the importance of eradicating statelessness
22nd November, GENEVA – “In the two years since the #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness was launched on November 4, 2014, the level of international awareness about statelessness has increased and the willingness by States to take concrete actions is on the rise.” On the occasion of the 2nd year anniversary of the #IBelong Campaign, the words of the UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi rang true.
The event, held at UNHCR’s Geneva headquarters on the 27th October, took place in the presence of ambassadors and supporters of the #IBelong Campaign from around the world, testimony to the commitment that has been made to ending this global problem. Barbara Hendricks, UNHCR’s Goodwill Ambassador, highlighted the plight faced by stateless children and spoke of the injustices they endured. She ended her speech with a moving rendition of ‘Motherless Child’-a spiritual dating back to the era of slavery in the United States, where Ms. Hendricks grew up. Mr. Sakinder Khan, UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programmes in Geneva, went on to address the gathering making reference to the Coalition on Every Child’s Right to a Nationality, a joint UNHCR and UNICEF initiative that will be launched at the UNHCR High Commissioner’s Dialogue on the 8th December 2016. The occasion also saw the launch of the photobook ‘I’MVISIBLE Photographs: Stateless Children and Youth’ and ended with a speech by Ivan Kochovski youth delegate to the 2016 #StatelessKids Congress who underscored that “nationality should not be a privilege but a right for all children”.
Over the weeks following this event, several other high-level meetings were organized as part of the commemorations of the 2nd year anniversary of the #IBelong Campaign. UNHCR in Lithuania used the anniversary to launch a report on mapping statelessness, which set out concrete follow up actions for the Lithuanian government and received substantial media attention. In Kyrgyzstan a roundtable event with UNHCR and government counterparts concluded with the creation of a working group and a set of practical recommendations aimed at improvement of national legislation to bring it in compliance with international standards to prevent and reduce statelessness.
On the 9th of November, UNHCR held an event in Quito, Ecuador, gathering 30 parliamentarians from 16 Latin American countries to promote accession to the two UN Stateless Conventions, reform of nationality laws to prevent statelessness, and to establish procedures for statelessness status determination. Present at the event was 28-year old Maha Mamo who spoke to parliamentarians about her personal experience of being stateless – giving a human perspective to what is sometimes considered to be just a technical legal problem. Across the globe, UNHCR’s regional office for Asia organised a panel discussion in Jakarta on “the right to a nationality and ending statelessness in ASEAN”. UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Turk, who was part of the discussions, highlighted the progress that has been made in eradicating statelessness in the region over the last 2 years and also congratulated ASEAN states on their successful co-operation. He stated that “the co-operation between Indonesia and the Philippines is a good example of how States can work together to resolve this global problem.”
The 2nd year anniversary also highlighted the important role of partnerships in meeting the #IBelong Campaign’s goals. In both Kenya and Senegal, UNHCR has partnered with universities and schools as part of efforts to raise awareness on the issue of statelessness, and for the 2nd year anniversary they mobilized their partners to highlight achievements. In Chad, UNHCR joined forces with government and UN officials in a live television debate to highlight the serious risks of statelessness in a country where approximately 88% of children between the ages of 0-59 months do not possess any form of documentation. In Europe, UNHCR’s offices in Belgium and Luxembourg teamed up with corporate partners to use key advertising spaces to publicize the #IBelong Campaign. In Luxembourg, and until mid-December, buses servicing the city centre are displaying posters calling on people to join the #IBelong Campaign. In Belgium, 125,000 leaflets in Dutch and French have been distributed in cinemas, restaurants, high schools, universities, sports and cultural centers across the country.
In a first for the #IBelong Campaign, the Senegalese group and #IBelong Campaign supporters, Bideew Bou Bess, released a single called “I Belong” which treats the devastating consequences of statelessness but ends by reminding listeners that they can act to change laws and make sure that all stateless people have the right to say ‘I belong’.
The #IBelong Campaign will now use this momentum to carry on its work highlighting the need for ‘equal nationality rights’, the #IBelong Campaign’s theme for the next two years. To stay informed and to get involved, sign the Open Letter.