Stateless People Know Where They Belong

“We cannot travel without documents. We cannot do anything to enjoy our rights.”

Nairobi, Kenya – The second anniversary of the #IBelong Global Campaign to End Statelessness was marked in Kenya through a photo exhibition of Kenya’s Nubians, testimonies by the some stateless persons in Kenya and public discussions on stateless communities in Kenya.

In the recent years, UNHCR Kenya has made major strides in its efforts to end Statelessness in Kenya. In collaboration with the government, UNHCR conducted a survey on the Pemba and Makonde communities living in the coast. This will inform planning and efforts towards their recognition. The Makonde study served as a strong point of information for the ongoing Makonde registration. UNHCR has also been working closely with Members of Parliament to mobilise support towards the amendment of the Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act 2011.

While noting the milestones attained in Kenya to end Statelessness in the last year, UNHCR Assistant Representative, Catherine Hamon-Sharpe pointed out the importance of recognising stateless communities living in Kenya. “Statelessness is a human rights injustice,” she said.

Discussions revolved around the recent directive by the President Uhuru Kenyatta to issue the Makonde community with documents. This is a major achievement for the stateless Makonde, UNHCR and its partners in the campaign to end statelessness in Kenya.

“We hope the Makonde registration drive will guide the future of other stateless communities and persons in the country.” Said Mr. Kouyou, UNHCR Deputy Representative. “What was once an invisible issue is now gaining momentum. It is our collective hope that those who were largely invisible are able to say ‘I Belong’.”

Since the #IBelong Global Campaign to End Statelessness was launched on November 4, 2014, the level of awareness about statelessness has increased tremendously in Kenya at all levels. As a result of the increased awareness and political-will, there is now a draft African Union (AU) Protocol on the right to nationality working its way to AU member States for review.

“We cannot travel without documents. We cannot do anything to enjoy our rights.” Said Martin Costa, a Makonde youth, highlighting some of the challenges they face as a stateless community.

A documentary on the Nubians titled ‘Kenya’s Nubians: Then and Now’ by Greg Constantine was screened during the anniversary. At the same time, a photo exhibition of Kenya’s Nubians was launched at the Kenya National Museums. “Stateless people know where they belong,” said Greg during the panel discussions.

It is estimated that there are about 20,000 stateless persons living in Kenya. These include the Pemba, Makonde, Nubians, Rundi, Rwandans, Shirazis, children born in Kenya to British Oversees Citizens and the Shona. However, “People at risk of being stateless are in the millions.” Notes Diana of Kenya Human Rights Commission.