On the 9th anniversary of the #IBelong campaign, the Americas advances towards preventing and reducing statelessness
Panama City – In partnership with governments and civil society organizations, initiatives supported by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in the Americas have reduced and prevented statelessness throughout the region. Granting a nationality to refugee and migrant children, validating their birth certificates, and promoting amendments to national policies and laws to overcome barriers to everyone’s right to a nationality have been made easier by these initiatives.
Individuals who are stateless are not recognized as citizens by any country. An estimated 4.4 million people in 95 countries are stateless, limiting their access to identity documents, health care, formal employment, property, political involvement and freedom of movement. Statelessness may lead to conflict and cause forced displacement.
One of the most recent achievements is the Colombian Government’s initiative Primero la Niñez (Children First), which is supported by UNHCR and has enabled close to 100,000 children born to Venezuelan parents to acquire the Colombian nationality.
Similarly, Proyecto Nacionalidad (Nationality Project) in Chile, which identified children who were born in Colombia but had traveled to Chile without valid birth certificates, enabled them to confirm their Colombian nationality. This project amended 64 children’s birth certificates, allowing them to obtain Colombian identity documents or passports and by doing so regularize their migratory status in Chile.
Another successful project to end statelessness in Chile is Chile Reconoce (Chile Is Aware), which has confirmed the nationality of approximately 1,400 boys and girls born in Chile to parents with an irregular migration status.
In the Bahamas, UNHCR offers technical advice to the government on the implementation of a recent court ruling that confirmed Bahamian nationality for children born to foreign women and Bahamian men in the country – including out of wedlock. This ensured equal nationality rights for children, regardless of their parents’ marital status, opening the door for positive changes and legislative reforms in light of this new development.
The technical advice provided by UNHCR has also been fundamental for countries in the region to adopt measures to prevent and reduce the risk of statelessness within their territories. In Costa Rica, where there is already a procedure for determining statelessness, the government has reduced the time period to rule on statelessness claims and has allowed applicants to obtain a valid travel document to leave and enter Costa Rican territory on a regular basis.
In the United States, the government has taken measures to include a definition of statelessness in its administrative framework; such a definition will be consistent with international conventions. The United States has also issued directives on how to enable stateless people in the country to access legal solutions within the US immigration system. United Stateless, a UNHCR-supported civil society organization that was founded and is led by stateless people living in the United States, has played a significant role in bringing about these positive changes.
“The exponential growth of forced displacement and human mobility in the Americas has persistently challenged the existing systems for addressing statelessness, often making it more difficult for refugees and migrants to register their children and obtain documents confirming their nationality,” said Juan Carlos Murillo, UNHCR Head of External Engagement for the Americas. “The efforts made by countries in the region and the results obtained demonstrate the need to continue investing in these processes to reach tangible milestones and protect stateless people or individuals at risk of statelessness.”
Addressing statelessness in the region is crucial for countries taking part in the Global Refugee Forum, an event in December 2023 in Geneva. In the Americas and elsewhere in the world, UNHCR collaborates with governments, humanitarian agencies, human rights and development organizations, as well as civil registries throughout the Americas to take measures to address statelessness and promote adherence to relevant UN conventions.
Recent achievements in the Americas coincide with the 9th anniversary of the #IBelong campaign, which has promoted actions and partnerships around the world to end statelessness. The campaign continues until the end of 2024, and in its final year will focus on the relationship between statelessness and development. Nonetheless, considering that millions of people do not have a nationality, further progress is still needed.
UNHCR has been working to establish the Global Alliance to End Statelessness, a platform that will bring together States, stateless-led organizations, UN agencies and bodies, intergovernmental organizations, and civil society organizations. CLARCIEV, El Consejo Latinoamericano y del Caribe de Registro Civil, Identidad y Estadísticas Vitales (the Latin American and Caribbean Council for Civil Registration, Identity and Vital Statistics), a UNHCR partner, recently adopted a regional declaration supporting a Global Alliance, making the Americas the first region in the world to officially show its support for this initiative.
“The Brazil Plan of Action and the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection guide countries in the Americas on how to respond and identify solutions to international protection challenges, with a specific focus on the reduction and prevention of statelessness and protection of stateless people in the region. We urge States to honor their commitment on preventing and ending statelessness and ensure that no one be left behind,” highlighted Juan Carlos Murillo.