Ending Statelessness for the Next Generation

UNHCR Philippines aims to make a difference in the lives of the women, men, and children who are stateless and at risk of statelessness.

The Philippines is the first country in Southeast Asia to adopt a National Action Plan to End Statelessness by 2024. In the recent UNHCR 70th Executive Session at the Palais des Nationa in Geneva, Assistant Secretary Adonis Sulit of the Department of Justice (DOJ) shared the Philippines’ key achievements and action points in addressing statelessness since the launch of UNHCR’s #IBelong Campaign. This includes supporting the Global Compact on Refugees, resolving existing cases of statelessness, ensuring that no child is born stateless, and improving the quantitative and qualitative data on stateless populations.

[Read more: PH Joins Int’l Community in Committing to Resolve Statelessness]

 

Ensuring No Child is Born Stateless

To understand the plight of stateless populations, imagine, for a moment, that you don’t have a birth certificate. A piece of paper that seems so simple and trivial can easily be taken for granted. But a birth certificate proves that you exist. It proves that you are a Filipino citizen and allows you to access all the rights that come with it. For four-month-old Gabriel who doesn’t have one, it doesn’t come as easy.

Gabriel was born into the Sama Bajau community, an indigenous and nomadic ethnic minority who live mostly on the sea in Mindanao. They have been without documentation for decades. Years before he was born, his family and thousands of others were displaced after the 2013 Zamboanga conflict, seeking shelter in government-run evacuation centers. This was when they realized how having no form of documentation puts them at a disadvantage. Without a birth certificate, they cannot prove their identity. They do not have freedom of movement, nor access to health care and housing. Their children cannot enroll in school. They are Filipinos, but without documentation, they are at risk of being stateless.

UNHCR has worked closely with the Sama Bajau community, the local government authorities and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples since 2016. It is thought there are 10,000 to 15,000 Sama Bajau living in Zamboanga alone, around 85 per cent of whom have no birth certificates. This October, a pilot project supported by UNHCR and UNICEF seeks to register 1,500 people in the community. Working closely with the government authorities, including a mobile unit of the Civil Registrar’s Office, the aim is to issue families with documentation by mid-December.

 

Philippines. UNHCR helps marginalised indigenous group avoid statelessness

70-year-old Wanita Arajini, Gabriel’s great-grandmother, shares: “It has been difficult for us to access services and we always feared discrimination, because we were Sama Bajau.” © UNHCR/Roger Arnold

Philippines. UNHCR helps marginalised indigenous group avoid statelessness

Gabriel is the youngest child of Daniel Mordani, 29, his wife Niba, 19. His older sister Lira is 2 years old. © UNHCR/Roger Arnold

Philippines. UNHCR helps community at risk of statelessness

Daily life of residents in Valle Vista resettlement community, a few kilometres east of Zamboanga City, Mindanao, Philippines. © UNHCR/Roger Arnold

Philippines. UNHCR helps marginalised indigenous group avoid statelessness

The pilot project supported by UNHCR and UNICEF seeks to register 1,500 people in the community and will benefit the future generation. © UNHCR/Roger Arnold

Philippines. UNHCR helps marginalised indigenous group avoid statelessness

Jamila, 7, and Gabriella, 9, are Wanita Arajani's granddaughters. Documentation gives them better opportunities when it comes to getting an education and learning to read and write. © UNHCR/Roger Arnold

 

Ensuring that No One is Left Behind

Wanita Arajini, Gabriel’s 70-year-old great-grandmother, knows how difficult it has been and is hopeful that the rest of her family will soon benefit from the project. “Although it’s too late for my sons and daughters, I’ll focus on trying to make sure all my grandsons and granddaughters can go to school. I feel it’s their new hope to have a better life,” she says.

Gabriel is just one of the children that will directly benefit from the Philippines’ commitment to end statelessness. As highlighted by Assistant Secretary Adonis Sulit of the Department of Justice (DOJ), “Our deeply rooted culture of hospitality and compassion for others seek to ensure that no one is left behind. Thus, in order to effectively address the challenges created by statelessness, the Philippine Government is guided by our adherence to human rights instruments, and our national policies and commitments to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) following the fundamental Filipino value of pakikipagkapwa (feeling one with others). We wish to underscore that the Philippines has identified statelessness as one of the priorities under its National Development Plan, and is also embedded in the country’s long-term vision Ambisyon Natin 2040.”

[Read more: PH Joins Int’l Community in Committing to Resolve Statelessness]