UNHCR High Profile Supporter Nadine Labaki Delivers Keynote Speech at the 2019 Nansen Refugee Award Ceremony in Geneva

Acclaimed Lebanese filmmaker, Nadine Labaki, best known for her film Capernaum, delivers the key note speech on statelessness at the 2019 Nansen Refugee Award ceremony.

8 October 2019

GENEVA – Lebanese filmmaker and UNHCR High Profile Supporter Nadine Labaki delivered the keynote speech at the 2019 Nansen Refugee Award prestigious ceremony on 7 October at the Bâtiment des Forces Motrices in Geneva.

The UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award honours individuals, groups and organizations who go above and beyond the call of duty to protect refugees, displaced and stateless people. Established in 1954, the Award celebrates the legacy of Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian scientist, polar explorer, diplomat and first High Commissioner for Refugees for the League of Nations.


Kyrgyz Human Rights Lawyer Azizbek Ashurov has been selected as the winner of UNHCR’s 2019 Nansen Refugee Award. His work has supported the Kyrgyz Republic in becoming the first country in the world to end statelessness.

Azizbek Ashurov, through his organization Ferghana Valley Lawyers Without Borders (FVLWB), has helped well over 10,000 people to gain Kyrgyz nationality after they became stateless following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.


Statelessness affects millions of people worldwide, depriving them of legal rights or basic services and leaving them politically and economically marginalized, discriminated against and particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.



“I am nothing. I am an insect. I feel invisible. Animals are treated better than me. I wish I was never born”. 

These are the words of Firas, a stateless boy I met during my years of research for my film Capernaum. Like many stateless children I met, when I asked him: “How old are you?”  His answer was: “I’m not sure, my mother says I must be 12 or 13.” “So you don’t know your exact date of birth?” “No. My mother just told me that I was born during the winter. It was snowing that day.”

It’s almost always the same pattern; he doesn’t know his exact age because, like all his siblings, his birth was never registered because of lack of money. In some countries,  it unfortunately costs money to register your children.

When you think about it, this means that Firas never celebrated his birthday, the day he came into this world.

So, he says he might be 12 years old, but he actually looks like he’s 7 because of malnutrition and abuse: he chews on dry noodles for lunch and dinner every day.

He spends over 12 hours on the streets, leaving him with only few hours of sleep at night. He cannot even write his own name. When children his age were preparing to go to school, the school refused to enroll him because his birth was never registered.

Nobody saved his 11-year-old sister from being sold off for early marriage. Because of her status, she was an easy prey.

Firas now spends his days on the streets, selling tissues or delivering groceries or gas bottles to make a few dollars a day. Not one day passes without him being verbally or physically abused, exposed to the most vicious and dangerous people.

What do you think are the prospects for his future?

Firas will fall into the cracks of our systems and spend a life in the shadows. He will end up like a stranger in the very place where he was born and raised, becoming invisible, even in his own eyes.

He will probably be exposed to exploitation, maybe even human trafficking. He might even have to turn to crime and theft, simply to survive.

Some of these children are born and die without anybody knowing they ever existed.

A child is a blessing to most of us. But for a stateless child, his or her existence feels more like a curse.

What does it actually mean to have no birth certificate, no ID, to not be a citizen of any country, to not belong, to be invisible?

Today, millions of people around the world are stateless. A number that’s associated with so much misery and pain.

For most of them, simply living a normal life feels like an impossible dream.

Chances are that schools will not enroll stateless children, hospitals will likely refuse to treat stateless patients, companies will not want to employ stateless people. Something as simple as opening a bank account is like climbing a mountain. Even getting married legally to the person you love can be impossible.  All these are basic rights that most of us take for granted.

How does a stateless child without any identity, any nationality, with this unbearable feeling of not belonging anywhere, to any country, look at us? At the human beings who failed him?

What does he or she think of us?

According to Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, “Each child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name […] and the right to acquire a nationality.”

Every single child, regardless of who their parents are, where they were born, or in which circumstances.

Since 196 countries – meaning almost every country in the world – have signed this convention, how come statelessness remains a reality for millions of children around the world today?

Is this commitment just words, simply ink on paper for some people in power to sleep better at night?

No child should be paying the price for our flawed decisions and laws and fall in the cracks of our chaotic systems. No existence should depend on one piece of paper.

Stateless people may not exist on paper, in our systems, but they are here, very much alive. Flesh and blood with stories, dreams, and so much to give.

Let us not forget it is words – man-made laws – that keep people in the shadows. It can be words and will that invite them back into our world. With the stroke of a pen, a stateless person can finally belong.

All of you here in this room can change this reality. If we all work together, we become decision-makers, asking for this change, once and for all. We owe it to them to make them matter.

I know that statelessness has different forms and faces. But something as simple as abolishing birth registration fees, or addressing gender inequality in nationality laws can solve this existential issue for so many broken lives across the world.

We have no right to adapt to such injustice. When will we wake up and acknowledge that this alienation and frustration are a fuel for violence, anger and tension?

It is not a matter of politics alone; this is a human tragedy. We can all influence decision-makers to change this status-quo.

Today I express my dream that no human being will be called stateless again.

This year’s Nansen laureate, Mr. Ashurov, embodies that same dream.  I salute his efforts, and take this opportunity to also salute the efforts of my country, Lebanon, a small country who, despite its own struggles, is home today to over one million and a half refugees, displaced and stateless persons.

Thank you.”


More information on the Nansen Award can be found here: https://www.unhcr.org/about-fridtjof-nansen.html


More information on statelessness can be found here: https://www.unhcr.org/stateless-people.html


UNHCR’s IBelong campaign:

More information on UNHCR’s IBelong campaign to end statelessness can be found here:https://www.unhcr.org/ibelong-campaign-to-end-statelessness.html